The NHL Network released their list of the Top 20 Defensemen in the league on Sunday night. And while Dallas Stars defender John Klingberg made the list, he might not be as high as you’d think.
It’s been a long time since the Dallas Stars had one of their defensemen finish in the top ten in Norris Trophy voting. But there’s always a time for change.
The 2017-18 season was a good one for the Stars defense. After a few seasons of mediocrity and subpar play from their blue line, the Dallas defense turned a corner. Under the supervision and guidance of Ken Hitchcock, the Stars went from 29th to seventh in terms of goals against average.
It was the most significant jump of any NHL team and put the Stars back on the map defensively. And now, Dallas looks poised to have a strong and structured blue line for many years to come. They are a young group with skill and potential and offer a solid balance throughout the depth chart.
But of the top defenders on their blue line, there’s one that currently stands out among the rest: John Klingberg.
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It’s only been four years since Klingberg made his debut in the NHL and he’ll turn 26 on Tuesday morning. In other words, he’s still a young player that has yet to peak or hit his prime.
In his first few seasons, Klingberg went through a bit of a unique journey. After a stellar rookie campaign that he found a way to improve on in his sophomore year, his third season came with a bit of a learning curve as he lost his usual defensive partner in Alex Goligoski over the offseason and had to quickly learn the role of being a no. 1 defender and leader for a young and inexperienced defensive group.
But in 2017-18, he took a substantial step in proving himself to be an elite defender. Under Hitchcock’s guidance, Klingberg played a complete 82-game slate, skated an average of 24:04 (the highest average of his career), and scored eight goals along with tallying 67 points (a career-high). He’s a backbone on the Dallas Stars power play and also took on a new role on the penalty kill.
Klingberg’s revitalized and dominant presence in all three zones took the NHL by storm and put him on the map as a superstar no. 1 defenseman. He was voted to his first All-Star Game and was considered by many to be the frontrunner for the Norris Trophy in early February. But as his play and production took a toll along with the rest of the team throughout March, his status shifted.
But he still finished in sixth place in the Norris race and is set up for more promising seasons to come.
And on Sunday evening, the NHL Network made their notice public when they released their list of the Top 20 Defensemen in the league right now. As part of their offseason series ranking the 20 best players at each position, they compiled the best defenders together in a ranked format. As you can probably guess, John Klingberg made the list. But is he too high, too low, or just right?
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) August 13, 2018
As it happened with Tyler Seguin (who was ranked as the ninth best center in the NHL last week), it’s hard to rank defensemen because of the variety of skills that today’s blue liners possess. Some are known for their offensive dominance. Others are known for being an almost impenetrable force in the defensive zone. And finally, there are also two-way defensemen that do well in all three zones.
But it’s difficult to see Klingberg come in at no. 10 after such an impressive season serving as a true no. 1 defender and leader of the Dallas blue line. His offensive skills and puck possession skills have always been there, but his defense and special teams play were much improved and he became an all-around elite defender.
He was a durable force for the Stars’ offense and defense and was the most reliable option for Dallas in a variety of situations. On top of that, he doesn’t seem to have reached his peak yet. At the age of almost 26, he’s got a lot of time and space left to make an even bigger impact. And with a new coach in Jim Montgomery that builds his scheme using offensive defensemen, the 2018-19 season could very easily be Klingberg’s best year yet at the NHL level.
The list may not entirely support Klingberg’s legitimacy as a top defender like Dallas Stars fans do, but fitting in at tenth overall isn’t the worst number, either. When you consider that 306 different defenders skated in an NHL game last year across the league, being in the top three percent of defensemen sounds much more impressive, right?
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The fact of the matter is that Klingberg showed off his skills in a dominant and consistent fashion last season. That put the NHL on watch. But if you look at the players above him on the list, almost all of them are established veterans that have built their reputations through skill and consistency over the years.
Klingberg simply has to keep doing his thing and finding a way to reach new heights. It may seem near impossible when considering the caliber of performance he put together last season, but he’s got the space and tools to do it. And with a new head coach, he should have no trouble in finding a way to do big things for the Dallas blue line yet again while continuing to establish himself as the Stars’ next franchise defender.
We’ll see what 2018-19 has in store for the young and developing Swede.