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Season Preview: Dallas Stars

Offense again will be biggest strength, goaltenders need to be better

by Sean Shapiro / NHL.com Correspondent
At a glance

2015-16 record: 50-23-9, 109 points, 1st in Central Division, 1st in Western Conference

2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Defeated Minnesota Wild in six games in Western Conference First Round, lost to St. Louis Blues in seven games in second round

Additions: F: Jiri Hudler; D: Dan Hamhuis

Subtractions: F: Vernon Fiddler, Travis Moen, Valeri Nichushkin, Colton Sceviour; D: Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski, Kris Russell

 

Projected opening night lineup

Forwards

Jamie Benn -- Tyler Seguin -- Jiri Hudler
Patrick Sharp -- Jason Spezza -- Patrick Eaves
Antoine Roussel -- Radek Faksa -- Ales Hemsky
Curtis McKenzie -- Adam Cracknell -- Brett Ritchie
Devin Shore

Defensemen

Dan Hamhuis -- John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya -- Stephen Johns
Patrik Nemeth -- Jamie Oleksiak
Jordie Benn

Goalies

Kari Lehtonen
Antti Niemi
Maxime Lagace

Video: MIN@DAL, Gm5: Ja. Benn beats Dubnyk with nifty move

The Dallas Stars returned to the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season largely because of their offense, Dallas led the League with 265 goals (3.23 per game).

Offense is supposed to be the Stars' strength again this season. Captain Jamie Benn was second in the League with 89 points last season and has recovered from offseason surgery on a core muscle. Tyler Seguin had 73 points in 72 games and is expected to be ready for the regular-season opener against the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 13 after he sustained a hairline fracture in his heel playing for Team Canada in a World Cup of Hockey 2016 pretournament game. Center Jason Spezza, who had 63 points in 75 games, said he lost 15 pounds during the offseason and now weighs 210. At 33, he has looked faster and fitter during training camp.

John Klingberg had 58 points last season and has turned into one of the top offensive defensemen in the NHL. Forward Jiri Hudler, who set personal NHL bests two seasons ago with the Calgary Flames by finishing with 31 goals and 76 points, signed as a free agent.

Hudler could replace the production expected from restricted free agent Valeri Nichushkin, who signed with CSKA Moscow in the Kontinental Hockey League on Sept. 20.

The Stars also are missing center Cody Eakin and forward Mattias Janmark. Eakin is out until November because of a knee injury, and Janmark will miss 5-6 months and could be out for the season after having surgery to correct a joint disorder in his knee.

The Stars have reshuffled the deck on defense after the departures of Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers and Kris Russell. Dan Hamhuis signed a two-year contract July 1 to fill a veteran role alongside Johnny Oduya and Jordie Benn, but the rest of the defensemen will be young. Klingberg (24), Stephen Johns (24), Jamie Oleksiak (23), Patrik Nemeth (24), and Esa Lindell (22) are younger than 25.

Hamhuis is expected to help solidify a defense that allowed 228 goals last season, and Dallas coach Lindy Ruff expects Klingberg to evolve into a better all-around defenseman in his third NHL season.

The goaltending will be a time-share between Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. Each won 25 games last season and combined for a .906 save percentage. The goaltending woes were highlighted during the playoffs when the Lehtonen-Niemi combination was outplayed against the Blues and led to speculation Dallas could look to upgrade at the position if the opportunity presents itself.

 

Why they should make the Stanley Cup Playoffs

If the offense continues to click like it did last season, the defense improves, and Lehtonen and Niemi play well enough to erase any concerns.

 

Why they could miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs

The injuries, including the one to Seguin's heel, are too much to overcome, the defense doesn't improve as hoped, and the goalies struggle on a team that plays back-and-forth, up-and-down hockey.

 

Breakout candidate

Radek Faksa. The 13th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft made his NHL debut last season, finishing with five goals and 12 points in 45 games. He was solid during the playoffs with three goals and two assists in 13 games. A two-way center who can kill penalties, the 22-yer-old will take a bigger role while Eakin is out and could earn opportunities on the power play.

 

On the hot seat

Lehtonen and Niemi. The two-goalie system had mixed reviews last season. Each saw extensive time during the playoffs, and coach Lindy Ruff had to change goalies during a game three times in 13 postseason games. The Stars have high expectations this season, but the goalies will have to step up.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm3: Lehtonen grabs Steen's slap shot

 

Trophy candidates

Jamie Benn (Hart, Ross); Seguin (Ross, Lady Byng); Hudler (Lady Byng); Klingberg (Norris)

 

Quotable

"I like how this team plays. It was one of many factors why I signed here. They push the pace and create chances. You want to push the tempo and add an extra attacker, so I'm looking forward to playing with a system like this." -- defenseman Dan Hamhuis

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