Stars coach Lindy Ruff said he wasn't sure what to expect from Adam Cracknell when the Dallas Stars opened training camp a little less than a month ago. Now, three games into the regular season, count Ruff as pleasantly surprised.
"I would put him in the surprise category," Ruff said. "He came in as a guy we thought gave us some depth and with all the injuries we've really needed the depth."
And Cracknell has provided some quality depth, being a key player in the Stars' bottom six group of forwards. He's played both center and wing and chipped in offensively, registering three points (two goals, one assist) in the first three games.
"I like the fact that he's been able to hang onto pucks and been able to get to the net and he's been rewarded for it," Ruff said.
The contributions of players like Cracknell and others have given the Stars some solid offensive depth in the first three games. Nine Dallas players have scored goals and 17 players have registered points in the first three games.
"That's huge," Cracknell said. "It's such a long season and some guys will go through droughts, so if we can count on someone to produce in some sort of way, maybe not always on the scoresheet, that's huge for us. To get goals from all different areas and all different lines, it gives a lot of confidence in this room for everybody."
And Cracknell's been able to make an impact despite playing just under ten minutes per game. In Thursday night's 2-1 victory at Nashville, he scored a goal, had five shots on goal, eight shot attempts, two hits and won four of six faceoffs in 8:38 of playing time.
"My play is the result of our guys playing well. We're playing well as a unit," Cracknell said. "When we're called upon, we have to go and do a job, and when we do the right things, we get rewarded, and that's what happens. And that's something that we build on."
Cracknell has some good possession numbers as well. He has a plus-16 rating in shot attempts for/against when he is on the ice during five-on-five play. His five-on-five shot attempts for/against percentage of 62.5 is best among Dallas players who have suited up in all three games.
The Stars signed Cracknell to a one-year, two-way contract in the offseason. They saw a player who could add depth, size (6-3/220), two-way ability, versatility, and NHL experience. With the Stars missing Ales Hemsky, Cody Eakin, and Mattias Janmark at forward, Cracknell cracked the opening night roster.
This is the 31-year-old Cracknell's eleventh season as a pro. He's played 137 NHL games with St. Louis, Columbus, Vancouver, Edmonton and Dallas. Last season was a breakthrough for Cracknell, who was able to stick in the NHL for an entire season for the first time.
And this season, he feels like he is building on that in finding a role with the Stars early in the season.
"This is the most confidence I've played with so far in my career in the NHL," he said. "I don't feel like I have to be a robot here, chip it in and go get it. Make plays if they are there and keep being responsible. When we do play the right way I think that is when we are creating chances. If you get on the scoresheet, you get a little more confidence, but you can't forget what got you there."
Injury Notes: Hudler still sick
*Stars forward Jiri Hudler, who missed Tuesday's game due to illness, is still sick and did not practice Wednesday. He is not expected to play Thursday.
"He's got the flu, and he is still struggling with it," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said.
*Stars forward Ales Hemsky (groin) continues to practice with the team, but Ruff said Hemsky is not expected to be ready for Thursday's game.
"He's doing a lot better," Ruff said. "My plan is to get him a good practice today, another hard skate tomorrow, another good practice and then get him in."
*Stars defenseman Johnny Oduya did not practice Wednesday. Ruff said it was a maintenance day.
Quotable: Lindy Ruff
"We proved last year we were a very good team. If we think we are going to do it by being this beautiful, fancy playmaking team, it is not going to happen night after night. First, you have to put the work in and after that a lot of plays will unfold. We still have work to do. [Tuesday's win in Nashville] was a big step in the right direction, but we've got to clean up our special teams. Our power play has to become quicker. Our five-on-five play became quicker; now our power play has to become quicker."
Stars Practice Lineup
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Eaves /Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Jason Spezza
Patrick Sharp - Devin Shore - Brett Ritchie
Curtis McKenzie - Adam Cracknell - Lauri Korpikoski
Various defense pairs with Dan Hamhuis, John Klingberg, Patrick Nemeth, Stephen Johns, Esa Lindell, Jamie Oleksiak, Jordie Benn
Not skating: Johnny Oduya (maintenance), Jiri Hudler (illness)
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.