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Stars go through tough practices as training camp opens in Cedar Park

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

Dallas Stars hockey is back. Forty-six players hit the ice for the start of training camp Friday at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park. Coaches split the team into two groups and ran both through a tough on-ice session that lasted about 75 minutes.

"We put them through a pretty tough battery of drills, pretty hard skate," said Stars coach Lindy Ruff.

"It wasn't easy out there, and I don't think the first day should be easy," said Stars captain Jamie Benn. "He put us through a pretty tough skate and it was a good one."

The Stars practice again Saturday and then scrimmage at the H-E-B Center Sunday. Ruff said the goal is to get things in order for Monday's preseason opener against the St. Louis Blues at American Airlines Center.

"What we are working on the first couple of days is to have our system and battle in place for Monday," Ruff said. "[Then] we can continue through training camp and the preseason games and just hammer home the areas we are going to try to improve in and the areas we were good at and want to maintain."

There's a lot of optimism around the Stars, who are coming off a good 2015-16 season that saw them finish with the best record in the Western Conference and come within one win of a trip to the Western Conference Final.

But that Game 7 loss to St. Louis in the second round of last season's playoffs - a 6-1 rout at American Airlines Center - still stings. And it's providing motivation heading into this season.

"We've been sitting on that all summer. It wasn't the way we wanted to go out, especially at home and the way we lost," Benn said. "One-hundred percent it's motivating."

The Stars have undergone some changes during the offseason. The two key additions are veteran Dan Hamhuis and veteran forward Jiri Hudler, who both signed as free agents.

"The new additions coming in, they are not shy at all," said Stars defenseman John Klingberg. "You can hear them talk around the locker room. It is exciting. The guys know who they are taking into the locker room."

Hamhuis has been skating with his new teammates for the past month in Frisco. Hudler has been around the team for just about a week.

"In the locker room I don't feel like I've been around for a week, I feel like I've been around for a couple years," Hudler said. "At this time, it's tough to find it to be like that in the league. I've been in the league long enough, but you are still a little nervous about how it is going to be and if you are going to click with the boys in the room. This is more than I expected. Everybody is really nice, and this is a fun group. The class coming out of the room is unreal. I like that."

And Stars GM Jim Nill said he like what he saw from his team as it went through its first day of practices in Cedar Park.

"The guys are very focused, and they know there is some unfinished business from last season," Nill said. "They are ready to go."

Notes: Eakin hurt in practice; Seguin at camp, but not skating

*Stars center Cody Eakin was injured in Friday's afternoon session at camp. He suffered a lower body injury after a collision with the boards. He is not expected to practice tomorrow.

*Stars forward Tyler Seguin is in Cedar Park for training camp, but he will not skate. Seguin is out with a hairline fracture in his heel suffered during a pretournament game at the World Cup of Hockey.

"I am going to take my time and make sure I do it right," Seguin said. "Make sure I am 100 percent before I get back to doing what I do. I am taking it day by day."

There is still no timetable on Seguin, but Stars GM Jim Nill said it is nothing long-term and expects Seguin to be ready by opening night. The Stars plan to reassess Seguin's situation Tuesday or Wednesday to determine when he can start skating.

"We're hoping he will be close by then, but we want to make sure he is 100 percent first," Nill said.

*Stars captain Jamie Benn looked good in his first practice at camp. Benn underwent offseason surgery for a core muscle injury. Benn may not play until later in the preseason, but he said there is no question about the regular season opener.

"I don't think there will be any problems when the first game comes around. I'll be excited and ready to go," Benn said.

*Center Radek Faksa, who missed Czech Republic's last two games at the World Cup of Hockey with concussion-like symptoms, was cleared by doctors before leaving Toronto. Nill said he could start skating Monday or Tuesday.

*Right Wing Ales Hemsky suffered a groin injury in the Czech's win over the United States Thursday at the World Cup. He is returning to Dallas and will be evaluated at that time.

*Defenseman Esa Lindell, who played for Finland at the World Cup, will join the Stars for practice on Monday.

*Not skating to open training camp are forwards Jason Dickinson and Travis Morin. Dickinson had offseason hip surgery and is not expected to be ready until late October or early November. Morin is ill, which prevented him from passing his physical. Morin did skate on his own after practice.

Stars talk Nichushkin not returning

One player who will not be at training camp is forward Valeri Nichushkin. The 21-year-old, who was a restricted free agent, passed on offers from the Stars and agreed to a two-year contract with CSKA of the KHL in Russia.

The Stars still hold the NHL rights to Nichushkin and can re-sign him when his two-year KHL contract expires.

"It's his decision," Stars GM Jim Nill said. "He's only 21. He can go over there and continue to develop. Hopefully, we'll get a more mature player when he decides to come back over."

Nichushkin, the Stars' first-round pick (10th overall) in the 2013 NHL Draft, has registered 64 points (23 goals, 41 assists) in 166 games with Dallas. In 2013-14, his rookie season, he registered 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists) in 79 games. He sat out almost all of the next season due to hip surgery. Last season, there were some ups and downs and Nichushkin expressed frustration over his playing time in an interview with Russian media. He ended up with 29 points (9 goals, 20 assists) in 79 games.

"It's just disappointing. I am disappointed. This is probably the last time I am going to say anything about Val. I think he got frustrated with the lack of producing," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "Inside a year where we had a lot of pressure on us to produce and move up, when other guys were playing better some of those guys got that ice time. At the same time, I asked a lot of different players to take less ice time. I think just maturing and understanding that it just isn't given to you sometimes was the hard part for him. I still think he is going to be a terrific player. Missing a whole year hurt him. I think he wanted it to happen faster than it happened. It's unfortunate, and it's unfortunate we don't have him."

Now, the Stars will move forward.

"It's an opportunity for others," Nill said. "We have a lot of depth."

Friday's practice lineup

GROUP A

Jamie Benn - Mattias Janmark - Jiri Hudler
Curtis McKenzie - Devin Shore - Brendan Ranford
Cole Ully - Adam Cracknell - Denis Gurianov
Samuel Laberge - Mike McMurtry - Branden Troock

Dan Hamhuis - John Klingberg
Patrik Nemeth - Andrew Bodnarchuk
Mattias Backman - Nick Ebert
Chris Martenet - Matt Mangene

Kari Lehtonen
Max Lagace
Henri Kiviaho

GROUP B

Patrick Sharp - Jason Spezza - Patrick Eaves
Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Brett Ritchie
Remi Elie - Justin Dowling - Matej Stransky
Brandon DeFazio - Gemel Smith - Connor Chatham

Johnny Oduya - Julius Honka
Jamie Oleksiak - Jordie Benn
Stephen Johns - Ludwig Bystrom
Brandon Anselmini - Dustin Stevenson

Antti Niemi
Philippe Desrosiers
Landon Bow

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