Stalberg's a real gamer

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

When Viktor Stalberg first started taking on the superstars of the NHL, it was an easy game.

He would fly down the wing or cut to the inside. Shoot high, shoot low and generally be a dominant force in every game he played.

And then he turned off the video game.

When the self-confessed gaming junkie — “I play ever day,” he said Friday — tried that act on the ice against the best professionals in the world, suddenly it wasn’t so simple.

“There’s no question I was (intimidated) at first,” Stalberg said at the MasterCard Centre following the first two-goal game of his career the previous night. “Most of the guys I was playing against in video games for the last four years then you go out there and you are a little star struck. I was like ‘Wow, I’m playing against these guys and have to snap out of it.’ ”

After a strong training camp, Stalberg got his chance early in the season but an injury temporarily derailed that shot. Management felt it was prudent to send him to the Marlies in late October to develop and he did, establishing himself as one of the AHL team’s leading scorers.

But with the roster overhaul around the trade deadline, Stalberg’s spot with the big team is likely cemented for the rest of the season. And the big, speedy Swede intends to make the best of it.

“I started to realize I have enough talent to use my skills in the league right now,” said Stalberg, who has five goals and two assists in 25 games. “Hopefully I’m just scratching the surface and will continue to progress as the season goes along.”

Stalberg’s biggest asset is his speed, a skill coach Ron Wilson is attempting to get the most of down the stretch. Little things have been stressed, such as flying to the outside rather than trying to cut to the middle where seasoned NHL defenceman will eat such moves for lunch.

“He has got amazing speed,” said fellow Leafs forward, Christian Hanson. “That guy could be an Olympic speed skater.”

Recently spending some time on Wilson’s checking line has taught Stalberg to be more of a complete winger while emphasizing the size he has to go along with those wheels.

“It was a good lesson for me to play on the fourth line, pay more attention to the defensive side and be a little more physical,” Stalberg said. “It makes me more diverse and a better player. You can’t be a liability for the rest of the team when you are out there.”

There were some of those nights early in Stalberg’s NHL career, but that’s to be expected from all but the elite rookies. And over the remainder of the season, one of the big goals is to even out the effort.

“He’s a dangerous player when he’s skating,” Wilson said. “Like a lot of young guys, at times he has struggled with consistency as he has learned to play in the NHL. But there aren’t many guys capable of what he should be able to do eventually in our league.”

And, the Leafs hope, not just with the video game.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca


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