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As roster comes into focus, Stars trying to make decisions for long run

With Dellandrea returning to juniors among other cuts, Dallas will be patient with its younger players

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

My friend in Michigan thinks the Eagles are the greatest band in the world.

He's probably right.

They certainly have produced some memorable lyrics:

"That same old crowd was like a cold, dark cloud, that we could never rise above."

"You call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye."

"Why do we give up our hearts to the past, and why must we grow up so fast."

And of course, "They'll never forget you 'til somebody new comes along."

Video: Montgomery on what younger players showed at camp

Some also work for sports stories. The Stars on Wednesday assigned Ty Dellandrea back to his junior hockey team in Flint, ending much speculation that the 19-year-old center might be able to at least get a nine-game tryout in the NHL this season.

While the decision was difficult, you can hit the Eagles sounder on this one and say: "Things in this life change very slowly, if they ever change at all."

The lyric from "Sad Café" is pretty much an admittance that while it's great to have dreams, you also have to be able to live in the real world. Pro sports are a business, and businesses thrive on smart risks. It's not always fun, but it's how things work.

Everyone I talk to loves what Ty Dellandrea is doing. The 13th overall pick in the 2018 draft had a great camp, and showed a glimpse of why he was taken so high. Not only does he possess great skills and a toughness that goes beyond his 190-pound frame, he's an incredibly mature person who gets along with everybody. It was a great month here for Dellandrea.

 

[GAME DAY GUIDE: How to watch, live stream Stars preseason game vs. Wild]

 

But as the Stars get ready to go attack the NHL schedule, the top brass knows it has to have its best lineup ready. The belief right now is a few more older players are better prepared to help the team -- and that Dellandrea will be best served by returning to the Ontario Hockey League.

"Unless they're going to be in the lineup and play a big role, then we want them playing 20 minutes of hockey someplace else getting better. That, and the cap, those are the two big factors," Stars general manager Jim Nill said. "You look at a player here and you need to do what's best for right now and for down the line. We feel this is the right decision in both cases. We think the chance for him to be a big leader and possibly play for the World Junior team, that's the best for his growth this year."

Dellandrea is in an interesting place, because he has to be elevated to the NHL or returned to the OHL this season. There's an agreement the NHL has with Canadian junior hockey that keeps players out of the AHL until they turn 20. The Stars could have allowed him nine games in the NHL and then returned him to the OHL without activating the first year of his rookie contract. Many of us thought that's what would happen.

Video: DAL@MIN: Dowling secures OT win with breakaway tally

Give Dellandrea a nice taste of the league and then return him, and he'd have a head start on next season.

But after some preseason games, the Stars decided they wanted to move forward with older players. Justin Dowling, 28, is expected to be on the opening night roster, and currently Rhett Gardner (23), Nick Caamano (21), and Jason Robertson (20) are still with the team and battling for a spot.

Stars coach Jim Montgomery said there's a reason for that.

"Caamano and Gardner have shown the ability to identify a role," Montgomery said. "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."

"Robertson just seems like he's gotten used to the pace of the NHL, and he's making a lot of plays," Montgomery added. "Every time he makes a play, it's the right decision, and his passes get through. He has great touch on his passes, which is why he was drafted where he was drafted."

Also notable about Robertson is he's had four years of junior hockey experience and can go to the AHL this season. As a player who doesn't need waivers, he can bounce back and forth between the NHL and AHL and learn along the way. He's at the right place in his career development to get this chance.

Gardner is coming in off of four years at the University of North Dakota. He's a big body at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, and he's mature both physically and emotionally. He's ready for this chance. Caamano played a full season with the Texas Stars last year and captained the prospect team in Traverse City, Mich., so he's also in a good place to take this chance.


That's kind of how all of this development works. The Stars allowed Miro Heiskanen to spend a year in Finland. They allowed John Klingberg to go back to Sweden for an extra year. It makes sense to be patient, Nill said.

"There's not many 18- or 19-year-olds who can compete in the NHL, that's just the way it is," Nill said. "The competition is going to get tougher as the regular season starts and as games get more intense, so you have to keep that in mind. It's hard to play in the NHL, it's the best league in the world, and you want to make sure these players are ready for that."

Thomas Harley just turned 18 and he has impressed in camp for the Stars, but the smooth defensemen is probably going back to his junior team in Mississauga before the regular season starts. That's what seems best for him at this stage in his career.

In the meantime, Gardner, Caamano and Robertson will be battling with forwards like Joel Kiviranta and Joel L'Esperance, who were sent to the Texas Stars Wednesday -- and with Tye Felhaber and Riley Tufte, who were sent down earlier. That's what best for them at this stage of their careers.

"We're in a situation where we have to make decisions every day, but we also know that we have the entire season to see what players can do," Nill said. "It's like with Roope Hintz last season, the player at the end of the year can be a lot different than he was at the beginning of the year. You just have to be patient and see what happens."

The Stars are doing that by the NHL book right now. And while some fans have the "restless heart" the Eagles have talked about and would like to see a faster track for certain individuals, you can also lean back on this old ditty:

"Who is going to make it? We'll find out … in the long run."

 

Dallas Stars vs. Minnesota Wild

Thursday, 7:30 p.m. CT

Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas

TV/radio: FOX Sports Southwest; KTCK 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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