Heika: I do think they can get them going. I believe the depth players have scoring ability, and I believe Jim Montgomery's style of hockey will bring that out. We saw a little of that in preseason, and I think we will see it going forward. In theory, the top line should draw so much attention from the opposition that the rest of the lines get favorable match-ups. If they do, then they should take advantage. Of course, you can also break up the top line and spread out the scoring, and we'll discuss that further below.
Heika: Your dog is adorable and I'm sure Jamie Benn is honored. I have a pudgy Yorkie named Baxter and I call him Chubbs (Benn's nickname) sometimes. It's amazing the impact that man has on the world. I'm choosing to be optimistic about this season. I believe this team has the talent to be a playoff team, and I believe Jim Montgomery and the coaching staff can push the right buttons and get them at least to the first round. Once there, then a lot of what happens between now and April will determine the outcome, but I encourage you to be positive. I don't think you will be disappointed.
Heika: I wouldn't call it insane just yet, as he's at 21:26 per game through the first three. But he did log 23:51 against Toronto, and that is pretty salty for your third game. I think he'll just get better and better. He was the third overall pick for a reason, and his performance so far seems to match the hype. One of his strengths in Finland was he never seems to get tired. He's 19, he's in great condition, and he plays an efficient game. He also doesn't seem to mentally stress, and that seems to add to his physical freshness. I think one of the interesting things in the first three games is we have only see him average 50 seconds a game on the power play. If that number goes up (and the guess is it will), then he could move up into 23- or 24-minute range.
Heika: That's how it's laid out on paper. The offense should be in its prime and the power play should be one of the best in the league. The defensive structure should be improved and players like John Klingberg, Esa Lindell and Stephen Johns should be hitting their prime. And Ben Bishop looks like a goalie who (when healthy) can be Top 10 in the league. Mix in improvements from young forwards, Miro Heiskanen and Anton Khudobin, and the Stars should be a team that can at least dream about a long playoff run. Lots has to come together, and they may have to add another scoring forward in trade, but I think what they have here is the potential to be pretty good NHL team. Now, once you get to the playoffs, a lot changes, so whether they are a real contender will have to be answered in April and May, but right now I think they definitely should be a team that makes the playoffs.
Heika: Yeah, it's not a joke now. What we saw in preseason seemed to indicate that players like Mattias Janmark, Radek Faksa, Devin Shore, Blake Comeau and Jason Spezza can add some goals. And from what we saw in the first three games, there are some scoring chances coming there. Still, this is a profession that demands results, so we'd like to see at least a little support there. I think the concern right now is that the fourth line is off to a very rough start, so players like Roope Hintz, Jason Dickinson, Gemel Smith and Brett Ritchie could get in a rotation where they are in and out a lot, or simply not getting much ice time. We'll see where it goes, but when your younger players get into that kind of situation, it's hard to contribute anything scoring wise.
Heika: They have the cap space, they have the tradeable assets, and they have the need, so I think you could picture a move. I know Jim Nill is as plugged in as any GM, so he will ponder many possibilities.
The problem with Panarin is I'm not sure Columbus wants to trade him, he can become a UFA in the summer, and he seems to want to play in New York or Los Angeles. That would be an expensive rental if you could pull it off. But if the Stars are playing well, they might consider a big name. Among the names moved near the trade deadline last year were Evander Kane and Paul Stastny, and I think the Stars have the ability to be in on that level of trade this season. We'll see if they think a smart option is out there.
Heika: I think it's his openness with ideas and how he wants to make decisions. He is very comfortable being the captain of the ship, and he says the final decisions will be his, but he wants input from everyone. He wants to be challenged, he wants new ideas, he wants this to be a hockey think-tank. I think that's a great attitude for a coach to have. It's early, but there is a real positive attitude throughout this team right now, and I think Jim Montgomery's style could keep that positive attitude going for some time forward.
Heika: I'll start with the defense. The problem with how fans want to align the group of defensemen is that it runs counter to how the coaches want to run it. You want what you perceive to be the best players playing or the players with the best futures playing, but they want to win the next game.
When Stephen Johns suffered his neck/headache issue, it pretty much put Roman Polak in the lineup. When you have Klingberg, Heiskanen and Honka in, that's just not enough size to go against most NHL lineups. So until Johns returns or until the Stars face a smaller lineup, I don't see Honka coming in for Polak. He could come in for Connor Carrick, but Carrick has more experience and a thicker trunk, and that's been two things the coaches believe are helpful. Certainly against a bigger Anaheim lineup, I would think they go with Polak and Carrick again. If Johns comes back and you can ponder a lineup where he and Honka are paired or Methot and Honka are paired, that's when I think you might see Honka again.
As far as the forwards go, Smith might get a shot pretty quick. The fourth line has struggled, so I don't think the coaches mind shaking things up there.
Heika: Yes. He's smart, skilled and thick enough to defend in his own end (a potential issue for Klingberg, Heiskanen and Honka). He brings experience to a D that is a little wary to trust too many younger players at one time. We'll see over a longer segment of games if he can keep this up, but he has been very good so far.
Heika: Thanks for asking. I like it quite a bit. I understand the need for a paywall with publications, but I also understand that I can get a lot more readers if the stories are put out there for free. The fact anyone can click on their phone and read my stories makes me very happy. You want your work to be read, and I feel my work is reaching more eyes right now. I also like working with the people here. There are so many people churning out great content that you can link tweets all day and send Stars info out to the masses. That's fun, too. I loved my time at The Morning News, but this has been a nice change for me.
Heika: It's an interesting debate. I think that Valeri Nichushkin has an upside that needs to be explored right now, and you can explore it without hurting your team. If Nichushkin is playing on the fourth line, I think it's easy to argue that Dickinson, Smith or Ritchie are a better choice. But if you want to try a forward with Benn and Seguin, or with Seguin and Radulov, or with Spezza and Radulov, I think the guy to try right now is Nichushkin.
In just brief moments, it sure looks like Nichushkin and Radulov have chemistry, so I think that's an experiment worth taking. I know it's tough when a player you like is scratched or doesn't get the same opportunity as another player, but I think I know what the coaches are trying to do here, and it makes sense to me.
Heika: He's typically pretty calm and he has great hands. He makes little plays that keep the puck in the right area of the ice, and you sort of look at some of those (where he just swipes a puck out of the air and it lands right on a teammate's tape) and think he's lucky. But he does it over and over, and you start to see he has a knack. He still can be stronger in front of the net and he still needs experience to know when he can make a dangerous pass, but I think that will come with experience.
Heika: I don't think so. John is what he is. If you look at Karlsson or Burns or Ekman-Larsson, they are not the best defensive player on their team. Klingberg is going to need help defending, and Esa Lindell typically does a great job in that role. I thought Tuesday's game could have been Lindell's worst ever, so that definitely played a role in Klingberg looking bad. Klingberg is getting better, but he is 6-foot-2, 180 pounds. Once the season gets going, he usually drops down to closer to 170. He is going to battle that weight issue in every game. That said, he's getting more experience and is leading the team in penalty-kill time on ice at 2:20 per game right now, so I actually think he's getting better at defending.
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.