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30 in 30: Stars have remade lineup down middle

by Corey Masisak

The Dallas Stars were probably in need of an overhaul after a fifth straight season without a Stanley Cup Playoff berth, and it is fair to say there has been one.

Dallas has a new general manager, Jim Nill, a new coach, Lindy Ruff, and as many as three new centers on the roster. It is possible the only member of the Stars' top-six forwards on opening night who was on the roster before the start of last season is Jamie Benn, who likely is going to be switching positions.

Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and Brenden Morrow were traded before the deadline last season. Loui Eriksson was part of the package sent to the Boston Bruins in one of the biggest trades of the offseason. Who joins holdovers Benn and Ray Whitney on the top two lines?


Under-valued: Jamie Benn -- Regressed last season (33 points, minus-12 in 41 games), but this should mean you'll be able to get the forward on the cheap come draft day. Benn has the potential to be a fantasy star and could develop into a point-per-game player with 60-plus penalty minutes as early as this season -- especially with Tyler Seguin as his linemate.

Over-valued: Erik Cole -- After a breakout 2011-12 season with career-bests of 35 goals and 61 points, Cole regressed tremendously last season (nine goals, four assists in 47 games). He could end up a top-six forward for Dallas, but his monster season looks more like a fluke; expect around 20 goals and 45 points.

Sleeper: Valeri Nichushkin -- Nichushkin has an outside chance to end up a top-six forward for the Stars (they aren't very deep on the right side), and this could be huge for the 6-foot-4 rookie. With his size and skill, he could be a Calder Trophy candidate and is worth selecting in the final rounds of your draft.

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Tyler Seguin was the centerpiece of the return from the Bruins and is expected to move to his natural position in the middle and play next to Benn. The other player from that trade, Rich Peverley, could earn the No. 2 or No. 3 center job, or he could end up on one of the top two lines as a wing.

On the same day Seguin was acquired, Nill added another center, Shawn Horcoff, in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers. Not to be forgotten, the Stars earlier traded for the rights to Sergei Gonchar and quickly signed him to a two-year, $10 million contract. If he can be healthy and productive, the Stars could have an above-average defense corps in front of goaltender Kari Lehtonen.

Are the moves enough to get Dallas back into the playoffs? The Stars are moving to the new-look Central Division, and there could be a wild scramble for two potential playoff berths behind the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues.

Here is the projected lineup for the Stars in 2013-14:


Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Rich Peverley

Ray Whitney - Shawn Horcoff - Valeri Nichushkin

Erik Cole - Cody Eakin - Alex Chiasson

Ryan Garbutt - Vernon Fiddler - Antoine Roussel

Lane MacDermid - Chris Mueller


Alex Goligoski - Brenden Dillon

Sergei Gonchar - Stephane Robidas

Trevor Daley - Jamie Oleksiak

Aaron Rome


Kari Lehtonen

Dan Ellis

NOTES: With so many new faces up front and a new coach, projecting lines is not an easy task. Benn and Seguin are likely to play together on the top line. Beyond that, just about anything is possible. Horcoff, Peverley and Eakin could be competing for the No. 2 center job. Peverley or Eakin are likely to end up on a wing to fill a hole, perhaps both if the rookie Nichushkin is deemed not ready for NHL duty, with Fiddler sliding into the No. 3 center spot.

Nichushkin is likely to get a long look, and maybe even a nine-game NHL trial before a decision is made on him. Chiasson looked great in a short stint at the end of the season and could grab a top-six spot. A prospect -- Brett Ritchie, Scott Glennie or Radek Faksa -- could impress during camp and make the roster.

The questions on the back end are, who does Gonchar play with, and does Oleksiak earn a permanent place on the team? If Oleksiak is ready for full-time duty and the group stays healthy, this will be the strength of the club.

Lehtonen has developed into one of the top goaltenders in the League, and being mostly healthy for the past three reasons is a big part of that. He's starting a new five-year contract and has the seventh-highest NHL salary-cap figure at the position. Dan Ellis has arrived to back him up, with Jack Campbell set for a second year in the American Hockey League.

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