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Gleason just happy to be 'one of those lucky kids' in NHL

The last-second call-up impressed coaches in a whirlwind debut, and that's a good thing for the 20-year-old blueliner

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

One thing seems pretty clear in the NHL -- every coach wants to win every game.

When you understand that fact, you can read a few things in about players and how they are treated.

Take Ben Gleason, for example. Probably the 11th man on the Stars depth chart of defenseman, Gleason took advantage of a rare opportunity Saturday. Called up because of injuries to four Stars defensemen and an illness by Roman Polak, Gleason drove three hours to make his NHL debut, and killed it.

Gleason played 18:13, recorded an assist and three takeaways. Now, when you consider the fact somebody had to play with all of the players who were out, that puts the time on ice in perspective. But when you consider the Stars sent Dillon Heatherington back to the AHL on Sunday, paving the path for Gleason to play Monday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, that also draws a pretty good picture.

All in all, the 20-year-old from Ortonville, Michigan is taking advantage of an open door. Gleason has gone from being a tryout player on the Stars team at the Traverse City prospect tournament, to earning a contract with the Texas Stars, to playing 18 minutes in an NHL game.

It's pretty heady stuff.

Video: Gleason on NHL debut, earning first career point

"He did everything with his head up," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said. "He made really good decisions."

And that's really all you can ask at this stage. If John Klingberg (hand), Stephen Johns (neck/headaches), Marc Methot (lower body), Connor Carrick (ankle) and Polak are out, then the Stars are pretty much in survival mode. Gleason helped them survive Saturday in a 5-4 OT loss to Nashville. As the game went on, assistant coach Rick Bowness chose Gleason over his contemporaries -- and that says a lot.

He played more minutes than Heatherington and Julius Honka, and he was still around Sunday to go through practice in Frisco.

"You're working for a job," Gleason said. "I'm fortunate enough to come to practice today and skate with the big guys … it feels really good."

It should also feel good for the Stars, who definitely can use the depth on defense this season. Gleason is just 20. He played for Hamilton in the Ontario Hockey League last season, and produced very nice numbers. Gleason tallied 48 points (nine goals, 39 assists) and was plus-21 in 63 games for the OHL champs and scored 18 points (three goals, 15 assists) in 18 playoff games.

Those numbers would make him a pretty impressive draft pick, but the Stars added him for nothing. Now they have a guy who might be moving up the prospect depth chart at a pretty young age.

 

[RADS RETURNS: Alexander Radulov set to be back in lineup for Stars against Blue Jackets]

 

Asked if he could have ever imagined this in September, Gleason said: "You want to say yes because this is what you are working for. But two months ago, if you'd had asked me if I was going to play in the NHL this year, I probably would have said no, because I wasn't even thought about on a team yet."

Now he is. In fact, now he is in a pretty good place.

Of course, this is a business and the Stars have a lot of things they are juggling. They have eight defensemen under NHL contracts, so they will all be here when they are healthy. They also have their own draft picks that they are trying to groom.

But … they also want to win games.

"If you can prove you can play here and make plays, you have the potential to have a career in the league," Montgomery said. "It's been really fun to be around him, because I don't think the smile has come off of his face."

And if that's all this trip to the NHL is for now -- a smile -- then that's OK, too.

Video: NSH@DAL: Gurianov puts Stars up with first NHL goal

Gleason was able to attend Jason Spezza's after-game party for his 1,000th game played, and also has a ton of stories to tell. He doesn't have a car yet in Cedar Park, so he was driven to Dallas Saturday morning and said his legs didn't stop shaking the whole time. He was told before the trip that he might just skate in warm-ups, but then got the news when he walked into the building Saturday.

"When I got to the rink, they said, `Welcome to the NHL, you're playing today,' " Gleason said. "And I said, `Ohhh-kay, that sounds all right.' "

It was indeed, and it could be even more all right going forward. At the very least, his legs should be just fine going into Monday's game.

"I was pretty nervous, I felt like I didn't feel my legs until the end of the second period," Gleason said about his debut. "But I knew this league is very hard, and it's hard to get a job here, and that's what I'm working for.

"I felt pretty proud of myself to say that I'm one of those lucky kids who get to play in the NHL."

If he keeps making the coaches happy, he'll get to play for a lot more than just a few games.

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, and listen to his podcast.

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