The hardest position to crack in the Chicago Blackhawks roster in recent seasons also happens to be where the organization has some of its greatest prospect depth.
The Blackhawks were so deep at defenseman last season they allowed prospect Ryan Stanton to be snatched by the Vancouver Canucks off waivers and traded prospect Dylan Olsen to the Florida Panthers. Both became permanent fixtures in the NHL for their new teams.
And there are even more defensemen within the organization who are on the verge of being NHL ready. Adam Clendening and Stephen Johns are the two names mentioned the most, but Klas Dahlbeck, a 6-foot-2, 192-pound Swedish defenseman, has also put himself in that discussion.
Dahlbeck, who turned 23 on Sunday, was at the top of the list among the Blackhawks prospects who progressed this past season. Blackhawks personnel certainly took notice of his development during his second season with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs.
"He took a big step," Blackhawks director of hockey administration/general manager of minor league affiliations Mark Bernard said recently. "His rookie year (2012-13) over here, there's so much to learn at the American League level. They have to learn to do some things on their own for the first time. He was coming over from a different country, a different rink size.
"I really liked his game. He was consistent night in and night out. He had the same game every night. But he didn't have a lot of points. He had a really good summer, really worked on his shot. There was a big difference in Year 1 to Year 2."
That was Dahlbeck's intention. He told IceHogs coach Ted Dent after the 2012-13 season he wanted to contribute more offensively and then spent the time on the ice in the offseason to make sure he was capable of that this past season.
"Last summer he really worked on his offensive game, worked on his shot," Dent said in a recent interview. "He got involved in the rush. I think he's developed really well. He's a great team player. There's no maintenance. For that reason, I put an A on him."
While Dahlbeck increased his point total from six in 70 games in his first season to 35 in 75 games this past season, his upside for the Blackhawks is still his defensive ability. He's most likely to eventually fill a hole for the Blackhawks in a defensive-minded role.
"I think you would classify him as a stay-at-home defenseman -- defense first, penalty kill, keep the puck out of your net, be that anchor all teams have," Dent said. "Anything offensively he can add is more of a bonus."
Dahlbeck isn't a finished product yet. Dent said he's still learning how to block shots. The organization has tried to get Dahlbeck to watch Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson as much as possible and hopefully pick up some of his game.
"We use Niklas Hjalmarsson to compare to him a lot," Bernard said. "'Look at how Nik uses his stick, how he blocks shots.'"
Dahlbeck, a 2011 third-round draft pick, got a taste of the NHL late in the season. He never got into a game, but he practiced with the Blackhawks throughout the playoffs.
Bernard once wasn't sure what to expect from Dahlbeck, but now he knows better.
"When he came over, he surprised me a little bit," Bernard said. "Going forward, he's not going to surprise me. He's a very skilled defenseman. He doesn't want to waste one day of his development time. He works extremely hard. He's very coachable. He's now reaping a few rewards."