NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
The transitional season for the Dallas Stars is complete following the hiring of a new general manager and coach last summer. A lot more will be expected this season in the wake of qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in six seasons in 2013-14.
Stars captain Jamie Benn believes expectations should be high, particularly after the offseason acquisitions of center Jason Spezza and right wings Ales Hemsky and Patrick Eaves.
"Very excited about the players we got and I think they are going to make a big difference in our team," Benn told the Stars website. "Bringing in Spezza and Hemsky are going to give us two solid top lines now. I think our forward group is looking pretty sharp and hopefully our [defensemen] can continue their good play from last year."
The fact Benn and those young players on the roster were able to experience the playoffs for the first time also should provide the fuel needed to continue progressing in the Western Conference. The Stars lost a six-game series to the Anaheim Ducks in the first round, including a 5-4 overtime loss in Game 6 at American Airlines Center.
Here are three things that need to happen this season in order for the Stars to have success:
1. The power play improves -- Despite finishing fourth in the League last season with 290 power-play opportunities, the Stars ranked No. 23 with the man-advantage. The power play was inconsistent and needs to show some level of steadiness in coach Lindy Ruff's possession game. Last season the power play consisted of center Tyler Seguin receiving a majority of the one-timers in the zone. Seguin said he isn't sure if that plan of attack will continue or change with the additions to the lineup.
"I think the power play can improve and needs to improve," Seguin said. "I think the acquisitions we acquired will help us be even better. I'm not sure if we'll have two solid [power play] lines or one stacked line, but I think flexibility and having those options will only benefit us at this point. I'm sure Lindy is going to have a lot of fun with it."
2. Secondary scoring --
Center - DAL
GOALS: 23 | ASST: 43 | PTS: 66
SOG: 223 | +/-: -26
The Stars need to have players pick up the slack when Seguin and Benn aren't producing. That shouldn't be too much of a problem with Spezza, Hemsky and Eaves on board and filling in spots throughout the lineup. In addition to Spezza and Hemsky, look for possible third-line center Cody Eakin
to get an opportunity to improve on the 16 goals and 35 points he had last season; however, currently he is an unsigned restricted free agent. Second-year right wing Valeri Nichushkin
is coming off a solid rookie season of 14 goals and 34 points, and veteran left wing Erik Cole
could contribute more offense in his second season in Dallas.
"There was a point last year where we needed depth scoring but with the guys we brought in, others with more experience and a few others looking to have bounce-back seasons, we should be in good shape," Seguin said.
3. Lehtonen needs to remain a force -- Even though GM Jim Nill acquired goalies Anders Lindback and Jussi Rynnas in the offseason, Lehtonen is expected to play about 60 games. He played extremely well in the Central Division, one of the League's toughest; five of the seven Central teams made the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I think [Lehtonen] has been under some criticism and he was under a heavy workload, but when the chips were on the table late last season he was the guy that got us there," Ruff said. "We asked him to play a lot of games in a short period of time and I think that maybe took a little bit of a toll, maybe physically and mentally. We all have to learn from the playoff experience."