GREENBURGH, N.Y. - After the most disappointing season of his career, which ended with the Nashville Predators buying out his contract early this past summer, Viktor Stalberg stands poised to rewrite some history.
The 6-3 left wing, now 29 and on a one-year contract with the Rangers, has always displayed good speed, but he's admittedly more physical than when he was younger.
"The longer my career has gone, I think I realize the more physical you are, the puck seems to follow you around," Stalberg said Monday. "You finish your checks, create turnovers . . . In the long run, you get rewarded. I'm not a fighter by any means, but for sure, I need to finish my checks."
A former sixth-round pick of the Maple Leafs who played for the Blackhawks for two seasons and was on the Stanley Cup championship team in 2013, Stalberg signed a four-year, $12-million contract with Nashville a month later. But he didn't live up to expectations, scoring 10 goals in 95 games with the Predators, who sent him to the minors, then placed him on unconditional waivers.
He signed a $1.1-million deal with the Rangers, hoping to avoid what he termed "injuries and bad timing" that had sent his career sideways. And he has made the most of his chance to be a puzzle piece on a team that needs to be hard on the puck in a rugged division.
"One of the things that caught our eye right off the hop, he never slipped by an opportunity to take a guy out," Alain Vigneault said Monday. "He finishes checks, and that's an important part of forechecking and wearing the opposition down. He's been very, very effective; you can tell he's hungry, wants to compete."
In a way, he is the elder statesman for the third line. His locker at the training center is between his linemates, center Oscar Lindberg, 23, and J.T. Miller, 22, and Stalberg often talks in Swedish to Lindberg and English to Miller.
"Me and Oscar played a lot in the preseason and seemed like we're solid defensively and created chances, scored some goals," he said. "We know it's going to be a step up here when the regular season gets going. We got J.T. on the line the last game; he's got a lot of offensive instincts and one of the hardest shots I've ever seen."
Stalberg said the trio is "pretty similar" to his line with Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell in 2012-13, when he was 9-14-23 in 47 games. "You're not going to rely on your top guys to score every single game,'' he said. "You're looking for your third and fourth line to chip in some goals and spend some time in their zone."