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Stars showing signs of growth in tough division

by Kevin Weekes

As those who read this blog know, I enjoy shifting the spotlight onto players or teams that might not be getting the credit or attention that they deserve. This week, I'm able to do both.

Having said that, let's talk about the Dallas Stars and Ryan Garbutt, a guy who is doing a heck of a job this season.

The Stars may be stuck in the incredibly competitive Central Division, which boasts top teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild. But Dallas has managed to hold its own and even beat the defending champion Blackhawks on Tuesday night in Chicago. That is impressive, especially when you look at how young Dallas' roster is. But all of Dallas' young players are coming along. From Antoine Roussel, who scored the winner in Chicago on a penalty shot, to Alex Chiasson to Cody Eakin.

NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes says the Dallas Stars will benefit from tough competition in the Central Division. (Photo: Bill Smith/NHLI)

The Stars are a fast team. Talking to different players and coaches around the League, the feeling is they are a very difficult team to play against and they're a better team than their record would indicate. Those guys fly and really push the pace with a lot of skill.

But the player I really want to talk about is Garbutt. This guy started in the Central Hockey League with Corpus Christi. He worked his way up through the minors and is now playing with the Dallas Stars. It's an unbelievable story. Just the way he's able to win footraces, I've seen him win so many footraces just in the past few games. I really think he is a great example for a lot of aspiring young players, and maybe some guys in the minors right now who need to see what possibilities are out there if you really believe in yourself and are willing to put in the work.

I really want to highlight that this week because I think it's a great story.

We already know about Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, and Ray Whitney being a 1,000-point scorer. The core offensively is there and for the most part is quite young. Towering 18-year-old Valeri Nichushkin has been impressive, especially when playing alongside Benn and Seguin. All of those young guys are impressing me and I like the direction the Stars are going in right now.

A lot of people think the Stars are at a disadvantage competing in a division with so many great teams, but I actually think it will work to their advantage in the long run. Because the level of competition is so high, they have no choice but to continue their development on a nightly basis. That’s what is so great about the West right now. It's so deep and the teams are so good that it forces you to be really good. It forces you to take your game to the next level.

Naturally, a lot of the credit has to go to coach Lindy Ruff. I think he's done a really good job. For the most part, there is a lot of on-the-job training in the NHL for his players. They've tried to grasp what he's teaching. But he's also allowing them to play an up-tempo game and there is an element of risk involved in playing that kind of game. He hasn't played it safe and it's a good decision to not do that, just based on the skill there.

The real test for this club will be if their defense can survive the loss of veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas, who is out 4-6 months with a broken leg. Time will tell how Dallas does with that loss. He's a steady veteran defenseman that can skate. He makes simple plays and competes. He does a lot of things that go unnoticed but not undervalued for that team. He'll be missed, but this is a great opportunity for young defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, who was recalled from the American Hockey League. They have high hopes for him and he's a tall, rangy defenseman who can skate. This opens up a great opportunity for him and gives another great young Dallas player a chance to develop.

They'll be in tough most of the season in a very competitive division, but I like a lot of what I'm seeing deep in the heart of Texas.

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