The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a rebuild, or a re-tool, whichever you prefer. Â In any event, a process such as this requires a team to have a plentiful prospect pipe, ripe with blue chippers are all positions. Â The Leafs certainly may not be plentiful when it comes to blue chip prospects, but they do have a few who are developing quite nicely.
And you just never know when and where a potential blue chipper may come from.
If drafting has taught us anything, it’s shown to be far from an exact science. Â Can’t miss prospects turn out to be busts occasionally, and sometimes late round picks have proven to be key components for a team, just ask, among others, Tomas Kaberle, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Viktor Stalberg.
Okay, while he may not garner enough adulation to be put in a group with some of the NHL’s top stars, there is plenty of reason to believe he may in fact one day be worthy of the mention.
A sixth round draft pick of Toronto in 2006, there wasn’t much attention paid to the Swedish born forward early on in his development. Â But Stalberg quickly changed that, and did so in the only way he knew how.
With his play.
Stalberg quickly relocated from Sweden to the United States, and attended the University Of Vermont where he became a sophomore star. Â He scored 10 goals and 13 assists in 39 games and was being buzzed about throughout the year as a potential Hobey Baker finalist. Â Though Stalberg eventually fell short of being named a finalist for US College’s most prestigious award, he certainly turned enough heads and won more than enough votes in the offices of Toronto Maple Leafs management.
As the college off season began, he was quickly courted by the Maple Leafs, who convinced him to turn pro. Â Despite being a late draft pick, there was obviously considerable hype surrounding Stalberg as he entered his first professional training camp with the Leafs in September of this year.
He didn’t disappoint.
Stalberg led the NHL preseason in goals scored, netting six goals in eight games played. Â He also finished second in overall scoring with nine points, all while using his size and speed to his advantage, and not showing any intimidation while skating alongside fellow teammates and opposition at the NHL level.
He started the regular season as a member of the Maple Leafs, but was unable to find the net. Â A collision with hard hitting defenseman Anton Volchenkov knocked him out of the lineup as he missed time with his first concussion.
Shortly after recovering and being cleared, Stalberg was sent down to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, where he seemingly regained his confidence and scoring touch while playing top line minutes on the Maple Leafs top farm team.
Despite only playing in 19 games this season, Stalberg has 21 points for the Marlies, eight of which are goals. Â He also is a plus 6.
While starting the year on the big team, some could argue that it was of good importance for Stalberg to eventually suit up for the Marlies, where he could play top minutes and find his pro game.
Alongside Christian Hanson and Tyler Bozak, the Frat Pack line has adjusted quite nicely to the pro life at the AHL level, and has the Maple Leafs management group, led by GM Brian Burke, convinced that all can be serviceable NHL players before all is said and done.
Hanson was the first to get a call up, and showed that while he doesn’t quite possess natural scoring ability, he is someone who can always be counted on to work hard and skate every shift, while taking the body, adding a physical presence to the bottom two lines of the Leafs.
While Bozak took a little while to adjust (and a battle with H1N1 certainly didn’t help) he has came around, and many feel he is in line for a call up sometime before the NHL season is out.
But there are many who feel Stalberg perhaps possesses the greatest upside of the three, and he has rewarded those who have shown that faith in him with a recent call up to the Toronto Maple Leafs main roster.
Stalberg has been a star since getting the call a few days ago, scoring two goals in his last three games. Â He is also a plus player in every game played, which is somewhat remarkable when you consider that his first game in Buffalo last Friday saw him skate on three different lines as the night progressed, a night that saw the Leafs lose 5-2 to their QEW rivals.
It was also the night Stalberg netted his first NHL regular season goal. Â The puck, of course, kept as a memento, serving as a reminder of that Friday night in Buffalo where he took the puck and snapped it home past one of the best goalies in the game today, the Sabres’ Ryan Miller.
For the record, Stalberg has sent the puck to his parents back home in Sweden so it can be displayed. Â In part it is a nice gesture. Â After all, parents are the ones who incur the early costs for the child to play the game. Â They are also the ones up early on weekends, drinking bad coffee in cold arenas, traveling icy and snowed over roads to make tournament games on time.
Stalberg was also quick to admit however, that he didn’t really own a house of his own, and it laughed that it may look out of place in the decor (or lack thereof) that his current abode he shares with Hanson and Bozak.
It’s certainly too early to tell what type of impact Stalberg may have on this team as it moves forward with younger stars. Â But just like he uses his size and blazing speed to force his way down the ice, he will also have the final say on how far he goes in the NHL.
For Viktor Stalberg, it appears the sky is the limit.
Edit 1:28–After completing this article, I was just informed that Stalberg is day-to-day with a shoulder injury. Â He will not play tomorrow against the Islanders.