Blackhawks breakdown: Viktor Stalberg

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Blackhawks breakdown: Viktor Stalberg

CSNChicago.com Blackhawks Insider Tracey Myers and PGL host Chris Boden will evaluate the 2011-12 performance of each player on the Hawks roster. One breakdown will occur every weekday in numerical order.

Viktor Stalberg enjoyed the best season of his short career. He played in 79 games, averaging just under 15 minutes of ice time per game. He scored a career-high 22 goals with a career-best 21 assists for 43 points -- none in very limited time on the power play -- and finished plus-6 with 91 hits. Stalberg struggled mightily in the playoffs, however, behind held without a goal and just two assists in six games vs. Phoenix. He finished even in the series, but was also penalized four times for eight minutes in Game 5 alone.

Boden's take: The 26-year-old made the kind of statistical jump you'd hope to see in his second full NHL season, for a guy with his skillset: a 10-goal improvement, to go along with a 19-point improvement. He did all that with zero power-play production due to getting very little playing time on that unit.

He has world class speed and uses the open ice to make himself dangerous to opponents. The hands are still a work in progress. They've improved, but since that open-ice skill isn't necessary on the power play, Joel Quenneville probably wants him to take another step there. How many times over the past two seasons have we seen Stalberg race in on a breakaway, but unable to finish? Stalberg even volunteered after the season to be the "net-front presence" the team so sorely needs on the power play. At 6-3, he has the size, but are the hands there? And would the subsequent banging affect the rest of his game?

Myers' take: The Swedish forward set career-high numbers in goals, assists and points. What's more, all of that came at even strength, as the Blackhawks, for some reason, just didn't try Stalberg on the power play that much. His biggest attribute, his speed, served him well; and the Blackhawks kept him among the top lines through most of the season. But it's also what Stalberg learned that made him more valuable this season. A few stints with the checking line helped Stalberg get better at puck possession; although when he had a gaffe there, it was noticeable and, too often, turned into an opposition scoring chance. Still, there is a tremendous upswing with Stalberg as he goes forward.

2012-13 Expectations

Boden: It'll be interesting to see if he reports to camp with a little more "dangle" to his game. He's been gifted with a gear that very few NHL players possess. Now it's about the next step to polish his game offensively, plus he must continue to increase his commitment and awareness on the defensive end. He's one of the players who needs to utilize starts and stops more than fly-bys. I wouldn't use him in front of the goalie on the power play. If he takes another step up in his game, he'll get a payday, as he'll be an unrestricted free agent one year from now.

Finally, is Stalberg a "Top Six" forward to join Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp? If Dave Bolland, Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell remain a trio, who goes Top-6 and who is fourth line? Daniel Carcillo, Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Saad or Michael Frolik? There's a matter of size, protection and skill to consider in those top two lines, as well. That's if we see many, or all, of the same faces come back.

Myers: OK, just about every other player -- or so it seemed -- got a shot at the power play last season. And Stalberg should be given one this coming season. As the offseason began Stalberg said he'd be willing to do whatever it took to get some special-teams time. He's a big body and could be that net presence the Blackhawks desperately want and need. Otherwise, if Stalberg keeps progressing off last year's numbers, he'll be a steady top-six player for the Blackhawks.

How do you feel about this evaluation? As always, be sure to chime in with your thoughts by commenting below and check out the video breakdown of Stalberg's season above.

Up next: Johnny Oduya

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

[SHOP: Get your Bulls gear right here]

The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

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