Dallas Stars training camp began with uncertainty surrounding the crease, players’ health, and line combinations. Now with just one preseason game left, let’s examine each position.
Goaltenders. The Dallas Stars have four of them. Plagued by injury, Ben Bishop was limited to just three games in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and has not played in a game since. A healthy former Vezina finalist in Bishop would be the best option, but he has not seen preseason action and will likely start the season on LTIR. Anton Khudobin has been a solid backup to Bishop and had a magical 2020 playoffs posting a .917 save percentage over 25 games. After a down season which he admits was “a little bit difficult” due to lingering hand numbness from an injury and battling the effects of COVID, he will be looking to bounce back. Jake Oettinger is the future of the crease and had a solid performance during his rookie season in 2021. But he is waivers exempt which makes him the easiest player to send down to the minors where he will be able to develop. Braeden Holtby was brought in as insurance considering the uncertainty around Bishop and to ensure the Stars were strong in net. A former Stanley Cup Champion and Vezina winner, Holtby had a few down seasons and was bought out in Vancouver. He has had the strongest preseason performance in the crease. Given these circumstances the goaltending will likely be Holtby and Khudobin in 1a/1b roles.
The Stars were held together with duct tape and sheer will last season. Tyler Seguin had hip and knee surgery and only played in 3 games. Alexander Radulov played in 11 games before getting surgery for a lingering core issue. Radek Faksa was just now able to rehab his wrist this offseason from a 2020 playoffs injury. Roope Hintz got surgery this summer after being a point-a-game player on essentially one leg as a perpetual game time decision. With the exception of Bishop, everyone is back to full health or nearly full health. The team now has many more options for lines and specialty teams. A normal schedule will allow them practice and recovery time — something they did not have last season due to a COVID outbreak and Texas winter storm condensing their schedule.
Jamie Benn’s move to center during the 2021 season has made three scoring lines possible for the team. In the past several years, they have operated with two scoring lines, a checking line, and an essentially inconsequential fourth line. As of now, the forward lines look as follows:
Benn’s chemistry with Denis Gurianov has continued in the preseason, with Michael Raffl fitting in well on left wing with his size and speed. The top line saw immense success last season on a team that struggled to score and will stay intact. Hintz made his preseason debut on October 7 taking half the game to click with his linemates, and tallying a goal late in the third. Seguin and Radulov have years of chemistry together, and there is the option to play Benn on their left wing. That line proved to still be very effective in the October 5 game versus the St. Louis Blues as they commanded play.
A common complaint from fans is that the former FCC checking third line (Radek Faksa, Blake Comeau, Andrew Cogliano) got too many minutes while barely producing. The checking line now falls to the fourth line with Luke Glendenning taking the place of Cogliano. This line should win faceoffs and be hard to play against.
One young player to watch is Jacob Peterson. The 22-year-old Swede had an impressive training camp which had him seeing games on Seguin and Radulov’s left wing. The asterisk by Kiviranta’s name in the lineup indicates that Peterson could slot in there, pushing Joel Kiviranta down to the fourth line. If he is not playing enough, he would be sent down to the minors to play higher minutes and grow his game. In terms of other prospects, Ty Dellandrea had flashes of NHL play last season, and Riley Damiani also generated excitement from fans. But they will get the chance to develop in the AHL for another season and could be called up if needed.
The Stars’ defense is formidable. Ryan Suter will partner with John Klingberg and Esa Lindell with Miro Heiskanen. Suter and Klingberg have both spoken regarding learning the details of each other’s play, and it should only get better with time. With some experience playing together, a defensively solid Lindell should allow Heiskanen to increase his offensive capabilities even more this season. The third pairing is less certain and will depend on injuries but any of Hanley, Sekera, Hakanpää, or Petrovic are capable. Thomas Harley, the highly capable defensive prospect, will spend another season in the minors developing through high minutes and important power play roles that he would not receive yet in the NHL.
So, how does the team feel? Optimistic. Anton Khudobin said, “You have to always think optimistically. That’s what I think.” And that’s true. But there is also a new lightness surrounding this team and excitement is palpable. Famously stoic Captain Benn has smiled and cracked jokes during media sessions, Tyler Seguin has a new calmness and strength in his easy grin, Jason Robertson is ready to move beyond the ghosts of overtime past, and the list goes on. Watch them on October 14 as they face off in Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers to kick off the 2021-2022 Dallas Stars Season. This team is anxious to play.