- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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He wasn’t. But he will be this year.
"I’m looking forward to getting that opportunity,” Stalberg said after Tuesday’s practice at the United Center. “I think that’s something I looked for last year and didn’t happen. I was frustrated with that at times. If I get the chance, it’s up to me to show I deserve that chance, and I’m going to do everything I can to make a difference there.”
The Blackhawks ranked 26th with a 15.2 power-play percentage last season. They scored 42 goals on 277 opportunities. Marian Hossa scored a team-high nine power-play goals, and Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland each had seven.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is hopeful Stalberg’s presence on the power play can make a difference, especially in front of the net. Quenneville likes the size and skill set of the 6-foot-3, 209-pound Stalberg.
Stalberg will get his first chance to impress Quenneville when the Blackhawks begin practicing on their power play on Wednesday.
“Viktor’s been talking about it and working on it, so tomorrow we’ll get to see that look,” Quenneville said. “That’s a great opportunity for him as well. I thought he’s produced very well for us 5 on 5, but an opportunity to get that quality ice time, I think everybody wants to be on the power play. And he’s got a big body and a quick stick.”
Stalberg took a noticeable step forward in his offensive game last season. After recording 24 points in his first full season, he upped his point total to 43 and scored 23 goals.
During the NHL lockout, Stalberg went overseas to continue his progression. He first played in the Swedish Elite League and then went to play in the KHL in Russia. He played on the power play in both spots.
“Getting on the power play, I think one thing is to get in front of the net and be that guy disturbing them and creating some traffic and havoc in front of their net,” Stalberg said. “Last season it seemed like no one took it upon themselves to get that spot. I don’t know if there was enough consistently with one guy being there, just kind of new guys all the time trying it out.
“Hopefully this year we can get a good start and get some momentum on the power play. It’s going to be big for us. We’ve struggled the last couple years. We’re looking forward to having a better power play this year.”
The season also could be a vital one for Stalberg as he will become an unrestricted free agent after the season.
“I think every year is big,” Stalberg said. “I don’t think it matters if it’s a contract year or not. I think you get a contact based on what you’ve done those years you played. But obviously I want to have a big year. I’m looking forward to keep improving.”
Stalberg wouldn’t mind a shot at one of the team’s top two lines either. He’s skated with the third line throughout the first three practices. He knows his chance with that could also be right around the corner with Quenneville.
“With Joel, we know the lines don’t stay the same for very long on this team,” Stalberg said. “That’s just his trademark. You can’t go around being frustrated or anything about that. I’m looking forward to playing with the guys I’m with right now and hopefully we can get off to a good start.”