FRISCO This has already been a big week for John Klingberg.
Last Saturday, the fourth-year Dallas Stars defenseman had three assists in a 7-1 win at Buffalo. Klingberg followed that Tuesday with two more assists in a 6-1 win against Florida at American Airlines Center, a night where the first 10,000 fans through the turnstiles received a Klingberg bobblehead, which looks amazingly like the talented young Swede.
Klingberg didn’t register a point in Dallas’ 4-1 loss to Toronto on Thursday, but still has 14 points (13 assists) in 10 games in January. And on Sunday, the 25-year-old defenseman will make his first appearance at the NHL All-Star Game in Tampa, Fla., a fitting honor for “Klinger,” who currently leads league defensemen with 48 points (42 assists).
“It’s the best players in the world. For me to go there and just pick their brains a little bit and see how they prepare with their gear and other stuff like that [will be great],” Klingberg said. “We’re all hockey nerds inside. We do different things to be prepared for the game. To go there and see what all those guys are doing, that’s going to be a lot of fun for me. That’s exciting.”
Klingberg won’t be the only Dallas representative at the All-Star Game. Center Tyler Seguin will be making his fifth consecutive appearance at the midseason classic and fourth with the Stars.
Also, for the third consecutive season, the All-Star Game will feature a three-game tournament, played in a 3-on-3 format.
A fifth-round pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, Klingberg made his Stars debut in 2014 and finished his rookie campaign with 40 points. His offensive production jumped to 58 points in his sophomore campaign, but last season his play on both ends of the ice took a noticeable dip.
And after Dallas missed the playoffs last season, leading to the organization to not renew the contract of then-coach Lindy Ruff, in early April the Stars hired Ken Hitchcock to turn things around. The man who led Dallas to the 1999 Stanley Cup championship has earned a quick appreciation for Klingberg.
“Well, I think he’s at the crossroads of going from a talent to a player,” Hitchcock said. “I think the part that we’re proud of is he’s embraced a lot of the stuff that Rick [Wilson] and I are talking to him about. I think it’s made him a much better player and I think he’s [been] rewarded. He’s not just being rewarded for points, he’s being rewarded for good play, and I think that’s what we’re proudest of.”
Klingberg sowed the seeds for this All-Star appearance last summer, an off-season much longer than the Stars had hoped for. He remembers productive meetings with Hitchcock and assistant coach Rick Wilson, who handles the Dallas defense, as laying the foundation to polish his game on both sides of the puck. Now, he’s reaping the rewards of all that hard work, but he also realizes improvement remains an ongoing thing for himself and his teammates.
“With the long summer we all had, there was a lot of thinking. I just wanted to come mentally prepared and physically prepared for this season,” Klingberg said. “We [myself, Hitchcock and Wilson] wanted to change my game a little bit, just change it a little bit with the puck, keep playing my defensive game, but find the balance between doing something with the puck or doing it without the puck. I’m playing my best games so far. It’s not just offensively. It’s defensively too. I’m happy with my overall game.”
Seguin praised Klingberg’s play this season.
“It’s 100 percent well-deserved,” Seguin said. “I think he’s always been a good player, but now he’s the most-improved player as well. This year, he’s got pushback in his game. I think it’s been noticed. He’s a guy that’s got the biggest target on our team when other teams come in here, and handles himself so well. To be able to do what he’s done this first half is really impressive.”
2018 NHL All-Star Game
2:30 p.m. Sunday, KXAS/5
Atlantic Division (All-Star appearance)
F Aleksander Barkov, FLA (1st)
F Jack Eichel, BUF (1st)
F Nikita Kucherov, TBL (2nd)
F Brad Marchand, BOS (2nd)
F Auston Matthews, TOR (2nd)
F Steven Stamkos, TBL* (5th)
D Mike Green, DET (2nd)
D Braden Point TBL #
D Erik Karlsson, OTT (5th)
G Carey Price, MTL (6th)
G Andrei Vasilevskiy, TBL (1st)
Head Coach: Jon Cooper, TBL (1st)
Metropolitan Division (All-Star appearance)
F Josh Bailey, NYI (1st)
F Sidney Crosby, PIT (3rd)
F Claude Giroux, PHI (5th)
F Bryan Boyce, NJD #
F Alex Ovechkin, WSH* (7th)
F John Tavares, NYI (5th)
D Noah Hanifin, CAR (1st)
D Zach Werenski #
D Kris Letang, PIT (4th)
G Braden Holtby, WSH (3rd)
G Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (4th)
Head Coach: Barry Trotz, WSH (3rd)
Central Division (All-Star appearance)
F Patrick Kane, CHI (7th)
F Nathan MacKinnon, COL (2nd)
F Brayden Schenn, STL (1st)
F Tyler Seguin, Dallas (5th)
F Eric Staal, MIN (5th)
F Blake Wheeler, WPG (1st)
D John Klingberg, Dallas (1st)
D Alex Pietrangelo, STL (1st)
D P.K. Subban, NSH* (3rd)
G Connor Hellebuyck, WPG (1st)
G Pekka Rinne, NSH (2nd)
Head Coach: Peter Laviolette, NSH (3rd)
Pacific Division (All-Star appearance)
F Brock Boeser, VAN (1st)
F Johnny Gaudreau, CGY (4th)
F Anze Kopitar, LAK (4th)
F Connor McDavid, EDM* (2nd)
F James Neal, VGK (3rd)
F Rickard Rakell, ANA (1st)
D Brent Burns, SJS (5th)
D Drew Doughty, LAK (4th)
D Oliver Ekman-Larsson, ARI (2nd)
G Marc-Andre Fleury, VGK (3rd)
G Mike Smith, CGY #
Head Coach: Gerard Gallant, VGK (2nd)
* Fan-elected captain
# Named replacement