The Big Four
Dallas is pretty much set with its top four defenders with a group of street smart, veteran leaders on the blue line. Mattias Norstrom, Sergei Zubov, Philippe Boucher and Stephane Robidas are all responsible, they can get the puck out quickly and are make up a very mobile, versatile rearguard for a team that has been dubbed “Devils West” for their attention to detail on the defensive end.
Robidas is the only one of the four who didn’t play more than 20 minutes per game last year, but with Sydor off to Pittsburgh, he’ll be a guy the Stars rely on to eat a lot of those quality minutes. Known more for his defense than his offensive flash, Robidas is one of two regulars who did not score a goal last season.
Get the point
The Stars may be known for their defensive play, but they boast some of the more dangerous power-play defensemen around in Zubov and Boucher. Zubov might be one of the best in the business, strictly in terms of quarterbacking a man-up unit, and his numbers continue to be gaudy from up top. He scored 54 points last season and added nine power-play goals, while Boucher had a breakout season a year ago and dumped in a team-high 12 extra-man markers.
In the Wings
Mark Fistric -- A first-round pick in 2004 (No. 28 overall), the 21-year-old has decent size at 6-foot-2 and will be given a chance to earn a roster spot in training camp this fall. Last year with AHL Iowa, in his first pro season, he scored 24 points and racked up 83 penalty minutes.
Matt Nickerson -- Another big body at 6-foot-4, he was taken by the Stars in the third round in 2003. The 22-year-old dressed for 40 games last year with AHL Iowa and piled up 97 penalty minutes to go with three assists on the year. After splitting time between the AHL and ECHL, could emerge as a full-time NHL defenseman before the end of the year.
Matt Niskanen -- Another first-round pick (No. 28 overall in 2005), he signed an entry level contract in March and had a brief 13-game cameo with AHL Iowa last season. In 13 games in the American League, the 20-year-old had three assists, was a minus-4 and had six penalty minutes.
Ivan Vishnevskiy -- Yet another former first-round pick (No. 27 overall in 2006), he drew praise from the organization at a recent prospects tournament in Traverse City. Could also challenge for a roster spot, even if at 5-11, 176, he’s not as big as some of his fellow defense candidates.
Nicklas Grossman -- Nicklas Grossman played in eight games last year, but he could become a regular on the blue line this season. The Stars have plenty of veterans on defense, with three of their top-four at least 34-years-old, so the need for developing youngsters has taken on more importance. Grossman is a smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman with decent size and the 22-year-old is projected as a top-four defenseman when he reaches his prime.
The Stars could have a Lidstrom-type on the blue line for years in Grossman, and given the chance to shine this year, he could have a breakout season. With veterans like Sydor and Jon Klemm no longer on board, the door’s been opened for a young group of defenders to get some minutes back there. Grossman is one of those guys, and at 6-foot-4, he certainly stands out from the crowd.