Swedish Hockey Prospects Finding Sweet Spot in Dallas

Jaskin scored his second career goal on Saturday (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

With the Stars eliminated from the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the organization can finally hit the refresh button and focus on off-season changes. Due to injuries throughout the 2014-15 season, young Stars prospects found opportunities to prove their worth on the NHL roster. Going into the off-season and AHL playoffs, these players will continue to show their skills with the Texas Stars. Call-ups like John Klingberg and Patrik Nemeth made a big impact for both teams, while Swedish hockey prospects like Ludwig Byström took their place in the minors.

There’s no denying that the Stars’ system possesses a growing Swedish presence. So, who are these young Swedes clawing their way to the Dallas roster?

[Related: Dallas Stars Top 10 Plays of the Season]

Dallas Defensemen: John Klingberg & Patrik Nemeth

In 2014, Dallas relocated (or bought out) several defensemen, including Sergei Gonchar, Stephane Robidas, Aaron Rome, and Kevin Connauton. With roster space made for new faces, Patrik Nemeth returned and John Klingberg made his NHL debut.

Having scored the winning goal in the Texas Stars’ 2014 Calder Cup victory, Nemeth returned to Dallas in October expecting to make a name for himself on the blue line. Unfortunately, Nemeth suffered a severe arm laceration only five games into the new season. Within six months, Nemeth made a surprisingly quick recovery, and returned to the lineup on March 3. Nemeth has scored three assists since his return, and provided a physical net-front presence.

Weighing only 180 pounds at 6’2”, John Klingberg plays a different game. Klingberg made his debut in November, and finished the regular season as the highest scoring rookie blueliner in the league. Edging out top 2014 draft pick, Aaron Ekblad, Klingberg completed the season with 4o points. The Stars chose Klingberg in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, just like Stars captain Jamie Benn. In retrospect, choosing the former forward, turned defenseman was a solid investment, as Klingberg makes smart plays with the puck in his own zone and effectively joins in the offensive rush.

Unfortunately, John Klingberg isn’t in the Calder conversation, though he deserves consideration. His wise play and exceptional rookie stats tell a story that will continue through the years. As a defenseman, the league will likely overlook Klingberg for this trophy. After all, a blueliner hasn’t won the Calder since Tyler Myers did so in 2010. Klingberg’s impact on the Stars reaches wider than his point totals, however. The young defenseman brings developing wisdom and sparks a fire at the Stars’ back end.

Without Klingberg’s sharp play, the Stars wouldn’t have even been in playoff contention leading into the season’s final games. The Stars know they’ve found a good thing in Klingberg, as the organization just locked him up for seven years with an average $4.25 million cap hit. That’s no bridge contract, and the Stars didn’t waste time signing an essential asset in the off-season.

Backup Goaltender: Jhonas Enroth

Acquired in a late-season trade for Anders Lindback and a conditional pick, Jhonas Enroth picked up his first Stars win as a starting goaltender late in the 2014-15 season. Chosen in the second round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Enroth found himself playing in Buffalo throughout the past six seasons. Known for poise and patience in net, Enroth impressed the Stars’ management after leading the Sabres to a 3-2 victory over Dallas in early February. The Stars later traded for the Buffalo netminder a mere four days later.

Considering Enroth’s history backing up the Sabres, it’s difficult to tell where the offseason will take him. The Stars are notorious for their rotating cast of backups, and the 2014-15 season hasn’t proved different. Enroth will be a UFA in 2015, following a two-year contract signed with the Sabres in 2013.

To wind down the regular season, Enroth started in the final four games, earning all four wins, including a shutout against the Ducks. Across these final regular season games, the Stars’ management gave Enroth ample opportunity to prove his full capacity in net.

AHL Prospect: Ludvig Byström

Making his AHL debut in March 2015, 20 year-old defenseman, Ludvig Byström, is paving his way on North American ice. The Texas Stars called up Byström from Farjestads following an injury to Derek Meech. Snagged in the second round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Byström fails to post the same points as John Klingberg, but passes the defensive eyeball test.

In 11 regular season games with Texas, Byström has posted three assists. So far, Byström has only played one month on a North American roster, and is still getting used to the smaller ice and speed game. 2014-15 proves an up and down season for the young blueliner, as he inches toward the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs just months after Farjestads sent him to the lower Swedish-1 league for mid-season development. As a self-described, “offensive defenseman,” Byström has some time to prove himself at a higher level and to grow into the North American game.

Trade Deadline Picks: Mattias Janmark & Mattias Bäckman

In a late season trade that sent Erik Cole to the Red Wings, Dallas acquired Swedish prospects, Mattias Janmark-Nylén and Mattias Bäckman. Seeing as Detroit drafted Bäckman during Jim Nill’s tenure, the Stars GM likely knows what to expect from the developing prospect. Janmark, who was drafted during Nill’s first year with Dallas, however, made a strong impact in the Swedish Elite League.

Disappointed with low minutes in Grand Rapids, Mattias Bäckman voiced his frustration to Michigan Live. At 22 years old, Bäckman is ready to move up from prospect status, but acknowledges the challenges that playing in North America will bring. In 27 games with his home-town team, Linkopings HC, Bäckman scored four goals, and 13 assists, for 17 combined points so far in 2014-15. During an 18-game opportunity with the Grand Rapids Griffins, Bäckman only posted four assists. With the Calder Cup Playoffs looming, Texas recalled Bäckman on April 16, along with prospect, Jason Dickinson.

To get a taste of Bäckman’s play, check out his first career AHL goal:

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His play versus the Texas Stars is also impressive, as seen in this montage:

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At 6’1” and 190 pounds, Mattias Janmark has proven speedy on the breakaway, but also throws big hits and holds the blue line well. In only two AHL games with Grand Rapids, Janmark posted no points, but got a taste of the North American game. In 55 games with Frolunda HC, Janmark has posted 13 goals and 23 assists for a combined 36 points in the 2014-15 season. He has also proven productive in the playoffs, scoring four goals and three assists for seven points in 13 games.

Young Draftees: John Nyberg, Niklas Hansson & Emil Molin

The Stars went on a defensive tear at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, picking up John Nyberg in the sixth round. The 18 year-old, 6’2”, 190 pound left-handed defenseman should bulk up during his development time with Frolunda. In the 2013-2014 season, Nyberg scored 11 goals and 27 assists for 38 combined points in 33 games with Frolunda’s U18 team. Bumping up to the U20 SuperElit team later that season, Nyberg scored a single goal and three assists for four points in 19 regular season games.

As an alternate captain in 2014-15, Nyberg scored seven goals and 10 assists for 17 points in 25 U20 games. Since then, Frolunda gave the young blueliner his professional debut, playing him 17 games in the Swedish Hockey League, as well as stints with IK Oskarshamn and Mora IK of the Allsvenskan league. Nyberg is currently under contract in Frolunda until 2017, after signing with the team in October 2014.

Playing together for Rögle BK of the Allsvenskan league in the early season, 2011 and 2013 draft picks, Emil Molin and Niklas Hansson, have since diverged. Emil Molin posted nine assists in 50 games with Rögle, while Hansson scored two goals and 19 assists for 21 combined points on defense. Hansson, now an alternate captain, moved up to Allsvenskan from the Rögle U20 SuperElit league. While Hansson skated with the Swedish national U20 team during exhibition, he was not invited to play in the 2015 World Juniors. As the highest scoring Rögle defenseman, expect to hear Hansson’s name in the off-season, as he must sign an entry-level contract by June 2015 to avoid re-entering the draft.

Jim Nill Leading Dallas in Swedish Hockey Charge

It’s no surprise that the Stars’ roster is growing increasingly Swedish. Following 19 seasons with the European-laden Red Wings, Jim Nill is carrying the team’s drafting and development ideals to Dallas. Despite the Stars missing the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, following in the footsteps of a team who’ve made 24 consecutive playoff appearances is, no doubt, a step in the right direction. The path that the rebuilding Stars take to the Stanley Cup, however, is their own trail to blaze.