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As early injuries add up, Stars turn to AHL in search for depth

Dallas hopes reinforcements can help it stay afloat with three key players shelved entering a tough road trip

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- The Stars last season used 21 forwards and 14 defensemen, so they know the drill.

They probably just didn't think they were going to need to go through it this quickly.

Dallas on Friday announced that Blake Comeau could be out several weeks with a lower-body injury suffered in Thursday's season opener, that Jason Dickinson could be out a week or more with an upper-body injury suffered Thursday, and that Roman Polak is out at least a week with a small fracture in his sternum.

That means that Dallas had to recall two forwards just to get to the regular 18 skaters each team uses in a game before Saturday's contest against defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis.

 

[READ MORE: Polak to be re-evaluated in one week after fracturing sternum | Stars recall Caamano, Gardner from Texas]

 

The Stars recalled Rhett Gardner and Nick Caamano and might call up another couple of players on Saturday as they play three games in four nights in three different cities. It's a great opportunity for Gardner and Caamano, who are each expected to make their NHL debuts, and also a great chance for the organization to see the depth they believe is among their best ever.

Video: Montgomery gives update on Stars' injuries

"It's life in the NHL, next man up," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said. "We went through it all last year, so we're a resilient group and a deep organization and we're going to be OK. We lost two of our top four penalty killers so that's going to factor into who gets called up."

Both Gardner and Caamano were solid defensively in the 2019 NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Mich. in September and also during the preseason. That's one of the reasons both were still on the roster late in the process while other had already been sent to the minors.

"Caamano and Gardner have shown the ability to identify a role," Montgomery said at the time. "If I look at Gardner, he's winning faceoffs, he's on top of pucks, he's getting back for pucks, he's getting back low and a heavy body down low in the offensive zone. So if you're looking for a fourth line typical role that's going to help you, I think he's someone I can match up. And Caamano is playing with great pace, he's making great wall plays and exits in the D-zone, and he's finishing a lot of checks."

Comeau has been one of the team's most intense defensive forwards, while Dickinson is a speedy player who has shown he can play both sides of the puck. Getting replacements who mirror those skills can make the transition easier for Dallas as it deals with injuries.

Still, the Stars found out last season that none of this stuff is easy. Taylor Fedun will jump in for Polak, and while he's right-handed, he weighs 40 pounds less. That will create a different dynamic.

But the players will have to adjust. They were juggled last season, they were juggled during preseason, and they will be juggled again. It's what this team does.

"I think it was good last season, because everybody played with everybody and you were ready for anything," said center Tyler Seguin.

Plus, there's always the chance more injuries occur and more shuffling will be required.

Gardner, 23, was drafted by the Stars 116th overall in 2016. He played four seasons at the University of North Dakota and played 11 games for the AHL's Texas Stars last spring (scoring four goals and adding an assist). The big center is listed at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds and was a solid force during the preseason.

"I saw a prototypical third-line shutdown center," Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal said at the Traverse City tournament. "He's got a little bit of offensive upside in the pro game, but he's obviously that prototypical third-line shutdown center and every game he seems to play he gets better.


"He is a little older player at 23, but he's got a well-rounded game where he can play a 200-foot game."

Gardner tallied 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) in 37 games in his last year at North Dakota last season, so he's not expected to be a big scorer.

Caamano, 21, was taken 146th in the 2016 draft by the Stars. He had a big final year in junior hockey with 57 points (25 goals, 32 assists) in 64 games played with Flint and Hamilton and then had 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists) in 73 AHL games last season with the Texas Stars.

He served as captain of the Stars prospects team in Traverse City and also received solid reviews for his defensive play.

"I thought he led by example, wearing the 'C'," Laxdal said at the time. "He's at that point in his career now where we expect him to take a step. He wants to the on the (NHL) radar. He had a real nice year for us last year in Texas and we expect him to push for a job in Dallas."

That is the process for these young forwards, and the competition in the AHL is intense to get the call-up.

If need be, Dallas can recall Joel Kiviranta or Jason Robertson or Joel L'Esperance or Tye Felhaber or Riley Tufte or Michael Mersch or Adam Mascherin. The hope for the Stars is that some of these players can come in and make an impact.

Bottom line, they needed 21 forwards last season. The guess is they will use quite a few this season, as well.

 

Dallas Stars at St. Louis Blues

Saturday, 7 p.m. CT

TV: FOX Sports Southwest

Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM, 96.7-FM

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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