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5 Questions: Dallas Stars

Injuries will test depth; goaltenders Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi must improve

by Sean Shapiro / NHL.com Correspondent

An NHL season is filled with twists and turns for each of the League's 30 teams. Here are five of the major questions that could define the 2016-17 season for the Dallas Stars:

 

Can the Stars rebound from their training camp injuries?

Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said he never has seen the injury bug bite this hard. The Stars lost forward Mattias Janmark for at least five months, and possibly the entire season, because of surgery to repair a joint disorder in his knee. Center Cody Eakin is out until at least November because of a knee injury. Forwards Tyler Seguin (fractured heel), Ales Hemsky (groin), Devin Shore (ankle), and captain Jamie Benn (core muscle surgery) missed time during training camp but are expected to be ready for the season opener, against the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 13. But it has left an uneasy feeling in the Stars locker room.

 

Will the two-goalie system work? 

Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi again will share the goaltending, but Dallas needs to see better results than last season. Each goalie won 25 games but combined for a .906 save percentage. Neither stepped up during the Stanley Cup Playoffs and cost the Stars in their loss to the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Second Round.

 

Can John Klingberg take the next step?

In two seasons Klingberg, 24, has established himself as one of the top offensive defensemen in the NHL. Last season he had 58 points (10 goals, 48 assists) in 76 games, but didn't have the same offensive impact in the postseason, when he had four points in 13 games. Ruff said he expects Klingberg to take a step forward in his defensive-zone play and start killing penalties. Klingberg said he's ready for that role and could be a Norris Trophy candidate if he progresses the way Dallas hopes.

Video: DAL@CHI: Klingberg steals puck, scores backhander

 

How will the defense shake out?

Dallas is going to be younger on defense this season after the departures of Alex Goligoski, Kris Russell and Jason Demers. Dan Hamhuis likely will assume Goligoski's role on the top pair with Klingberg, with Johnny Oduya and Stephen Johns appearing to be entrenched on the second pair. That leaves four players competing for the final two spots on the opening-night roster: Jordie Benn, Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak and Esa Lindell. Benn, Nemeth and Oleksiak were scratched at times during the playoffs last season but could see increased roles. Lindell, 22, had a solid showing with Team Finland during the World Cup of Hockey 2016 and could parlay that into a roster spot.

 

Can the power play live up to the hype?

After the first preseason game, forward Jiri Hudler said the Stars should have the "powerhouse of power plays" this season. With the personnel in place, that's not far-fetched. The Stars have five returning players who had at least 55 points last season: Benn (89 points), Seguin (73), center Jason Spezza (63), Klingberg (58) and left wing Patrick Sharp (55), and added Hudler, who scored 46 points (16 goals, 30 assists) in 72 games with the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers and then signed a one-year, $2 million contract with Dallas on Aug. 24. Last season, Dallas scored on 22.1 percent of its power plays, fourth in the NHL.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm6: Spezza finishes toe drag for PPG

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