John Klingberg has the potential to be a talented offensive player for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
And yet, it’s fair to say his signing has, so far, been an major negative in every conceivable way for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
At his best, Klingberg is a skilled offensive player who does well with his creativity and vision with the puck, being able to create plays and knowing how to set up scoring chances.
The problem is that it’s been rare we’ve seen that Klingberg this season, and worryingly, we seem to have only gotten him at his worst.
Considering his age and previous decline from his peak, the Leafs probably should have known better. Still, they are stuck with him now, and with proper usage could still unlock his talent.
The Toronto Maple Leafs Could Still Unlock Value In John Klinberg
The issues with Klingberg’s game this season have always been evident with him: a lack of a sound defensive game, lacking awareness and positioning, and no physical presence.
The problem is that, while Klingberg has the offensive toolkit to be a top-line defender, without it, then it becomes difficult to justify him as a key part of your lineup. When he has the puck, he has good patience and composure that allows him to scan the ice, either making passes or taking shooting chances, but in his own end, that same aware game loses it’s standing.
The Leafs game vs the Buffalo Sabres really highlighted the state of John Klingberg in 2023.
Offensively, he can be a play-driver at his best, but his defensive IQ is non-existent.
Where previously, it’s just been a hindrance from being a premier player, this season, it’s become a major liability for Klingberg.
What’s good about his game, puck-moving and playmaking skills show up, but defensively, he lacks the awareness to stop a strong offensive Sabres team. Against the Bruins as well, you can see the lack of intensity in Klingberg’s defensive game.
Probably Klingberg’s most memorable moment against the Sabres consequently was his shot attempt at the end of the game, down 5-4 with under a minute left, Klingberg confusingly, instead of passing to the wide open Auston Matthews or William Nylander, Klingberg takes the puck for himself, a blocked shot that ends up leading to a Toronto Maple Leafs turnover, and Alex Tuch hitting the dagger into a Toronto empty net, a 6-4 win for Buffalo.
Klingberg slipping and falling trying to defend the play will likely be remembered for a while by fans.
Perhaps what will irritate Leafs fans most is that Klingberg played 25:04 against the Sabres. Against the Boston Bruins, he played 24:57.
His 41.64 Expected Goals rating is the worst on the the Toronto Maple Leafs blue-line. This might not have been so bad, since he was quickly demoted out of the top four and Timothy Liljegren was playing great. There was at least a chance Klingberg could handle third pairing minutes, but we never got to find out.
The injury to Timothy Liljegren has meant that the veteran Klingberg is forced to take on a heavier workload to make up for Liljegren’s loss. Besides T.J. Brodie, the other RHD option the Leafs currently have is Simon Benoit, a recent AHL recall. (Good in his only game so far).
It’s a tough pill to swallow giving what seems to be a promotion to Klingberg in ice time, but the Leafs are left with little choice, and gave to rely on Klingberg more as he suffers through a bad stretch, adding unwarranted groans to already legitimate criticism.
The problem is that there’s little that can be done unless Klingberg makes changes to his game. As much as fans love to say it, there really isn’t anyone in the Marlies who can play 20 minutes a night like Klingberg with less errors. Klingberg is still an NHLer, but signed for one-year, although it’s only a month into the season, it’s already becoming difficult to deal with Klingberg struggling on an already weakened defensive group, especially on the right.
Last year, Klingberg’s woes were able to be justified by the fact he played on a struggling Anaheim Ducks team that finished last in the NHL, but Klingberg having a decent 33 Points in 67 Games for Anaheim and Minnesota still made up for it somewhat, because even if Klingberg isn’t a defensive contributor, he could still be relied upon for bringing an offensive factor to a team’s defense, but if Klingberg can’t find his offense either, what Klingberg can bring to the Leafs becomes a question.
What Can The Toronto Maple Leafs And John Klingberg Do?
The easiest answer for how Klingberg can improve his game is by finding his offense. And by finding offense, that also includes using his superstar teammates more in terms of playmaking.
There needs to be trust on the ice, and Klingberg needs to be willing to use his ability to analyze the game and be willing to return to that puck-moving game he held in his younger years.
Defensively, it’s already been known it’s never Klingberg’s strong suit, but seeing him put pressure on Brad Marchand vs Boston, something just about everyone else should have, even if he’s not locking players down, intensity and effort are much needed. Sheldon Keefe needs to be willing to make Klingberg feel a bit uncomfortable. (naturalstattrick.com).
He’s already been willing to experiment on offense with Max Domi at Centre, and playing Calle Jarnkrok in the top-six. If Klingberg is needed to play 25 minutes a night, Keefe has to let Klingberg know there’s responsibilities demanded of him at both ends. I’m not someone who likes to give my opinion, but I believe in Sheldon Keefe as a Head Coach, a proven winner at multiple levels.
But the concern is that, with an already difficult situation with the Toronto Maple Leafs defensive core, if Klingberg, a veteran signed to $4.15M, can’t improve and change his early flaws, it’ll become a problem, especially given Liljegren being out long time.
Klingberg has made a career of knowing his strengths, knowing he’s never been the type of player who needs to change his game because what he does well has worked, now that it isn’t, either Klingberg has to be willing to either change or he’ll be off the team.
If he isn’t able to find himself and find a way to adapt, it’ll be difficult to see what the future could hold for Klingberg, not just in Toronto, but as an NHLer.