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Familiar surroundings

Hitch on new coaching staff: 'We're all very comfortable in Dallas'

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

The Dallas Stars will have a new coaching staff for the 2017-18 season, but the comfort level will be high since all are in familiar surroundings.

Head coach Ken Hitchcock rounded out his coaching staff last week, hiring Rick Wilson and Stu Barnes as assistants and retaining Curt Fraser as an assistant as well. 

"We're all very comfortable in Dallas," Hitchcock said. "Rick has his family there. It's where I started, and I am comfortable there. Curt has been there for years. And Stu gets to go back. We are comfortable living in the city. All of us have friends outside of hockey. It's an easy place for us to go back to."

Wilson spent 16 seasons with the Stars organization, serving as an assistant coach from 1992-2002 and as associate coach from 2002-09. He also briefly served as head coach in the 2001-02 season. Barnes played in Dallas from 2003-08 and served as an assistant coach from 2008-11. Fraser has been an assistant coach since in Dallas since 2012.

Wilson seemed an obvious choice to serve on Hitchcock's staff. He was an assistant coach during Hitchcock's first stint in Dallas from 1996-2002. Wilson will be in charge of the Dallas defensemen and the penalty kill. Wilson has a good track record working with younger defensemen and the Stars penalty kill, which ranked last in the league last season, obviously needs some work.

"I just like the way he thinks the game. He thinks the game in a very aggressive, common sense manner but he does it from a defending base," Hitchcock said. "I looked at it in two ways. Who is going to grow the young defensemen the quickest, who is going to stabilize their mindset, and who is going to bring the penalty killing back quickly? Rick stood out to me. We are on completely the same page as far as killing penalties."

Hitchcock gave Wilson high marks for the job he did with defensemen in Minnesota and then in St. Louis, where he was again an assistant under Hitchcock.

"We've got a lot of young guys here that are going to need to play on a regular basis, and we need someone who can teach quickly the idea we have of what's the proper way to play defense," Hitchcock said. "What I like about Rick is he has this method of relentless teaching. He doesn't do it through conflict, but he stays with it, so he gets you with a proper base in your game before he starts working on your skill. He works on your competitive level and your systematic approach to playing the game and then he starts developing the skill from there."

There isn't a lot of history between Hitchcock and Barnes, but they know each other and both are Western Hockey League guys. Hitchcock liked the history Barnes had with the Stars, especially with some of the players.

"It came out that Stu had background with some of the players and had continued relationships with some of the players when he got out of coaching and got into media, and he had a good feel for the team," Hitchcock said.

Barnes will handle the Dallas power play which had its ups and downs last season and ended up ranked 20th in the league. Wilson suggested that role for Barnes after watching him handle it when the two were coaching together briefly in Dallas.

"Rick said he was really good with us and he ran the power play, he communicated the strategy on the power plays," Hitchcock said. "He felt like he could take over that responsibility from [Fraser]."

The work on the power play is already underway.

"We've had one really good session on it now. Curt and Stu are going to work together over the next couple weeks, and then we'll revisit this in August and make sure that Stu is up to speed," Hitchcock said. "Some things have changed in the National Hockey League from when Stu was running the power play but not a lot. We are in a unique position where we already have a group of five that's very successful. We know what that group is, so that part is going to be easier transition-wise than it would be for other teams and coaches."

Fraser's role will change under Hitchcock. Now that he is turning over the power play to Barnes, Fraser will work with Hitchcock on the big picture and the game plan. And he will be the eye in the sky during games.

"He will work directly with me, so [Fraser] will be responsible for the game plan and the game plan's evaluation after post-game," Hitchcock said. "In between periods, he'll communicate with me on a period-by-period basis. He's going to be the guy I am going to spend a lot of time with one-on-one."

Rounding out the staff will be goaltending coach Jeff Reese and video coach Kelly Forbes. Reese will be in his third season with the Stars and Forbes will be in his ninth. 

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.

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