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Chance with Stars may come soon for final roster cuts

Opportunities for prospects to 'earn their way back' will arise throughout the season -- and Dallas' brass will be watching

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Corey Perry probably won't be on the ice for a little while as he continues to rehab a fractured bone in his foot.

It happens in the NHL … a lot.

Last season, the Stars started the season learning that defenseman Stephen Johns wouldn't be able to play because of post-traumatic headaches, and then lost Marc Methot to a knee injury. About the same time, Martin Hanzal had his back injury flare up again, and just like that the Stars were without three key players who they thought were going to play significant roles.

Those injuries opened the door for players like Taylor Fedun, Gavin Bayreuther, Roope Hintz, Justin Dowling and Joel L'Esperance. They didn't know it in October, but they found out pretty quickly that the roster goes way beyond 23 players.

So while the Stars on Friday pretty much got their group down to 22, there's no doubt many of these names we've seen in preseason are going to resurface for the Stars.

Tweet from @jeffodom: As expected, the Stars have officially returned Thomas Harley to the @OHLSteelheads. Additionally, Nick Caamano, Rhett Gardner and Jason Robertson have been loaned to the @TexasStars, cutting the camp roster to 25 players.#GoStars

Dallas assigned Jason Robertson, Rhett Gardner and Nick Caamano to the Texas Stars on Friday. They expect to send Joel Hanley there Saturday once he clears waivers. When you consider that defenseman Joseph Cecconi is hurt and can't be assigned, and that Hanzal and Johns are still on IR, you can begin drawing up the lineup for opening night.

The Stars are ahead of the curve in that department, and their plan is to make use of that time by playing an exhibition game Saturday against Colorado and then fine-tuning things in the ensuing days.

"We've got to finish off the training camp with our best effort to get prepared for the pace of action and the game we want to play starting next Thursday," coach Jim Montgomery said of the plan that starts with a 5 p.m. preseason game Saturday against Colorado. "Then Sunday will be a day off, players have earned that, and then we start building toward Oct. 3.

"Monday will be a defensive day, Tuesday will be an offensive game plan day, and Wednesday will be a mix of special teams and high pace."

It's a sound blueprint, and maybe we should have all figured this out before camp even began. But the truth of the matter is this isn't how we thought we would get here, and the players who were sent down Friday weren't the ones we imagined would still be hanging around.

Video: Monty wants Stars to finish preseason on high note

Rhett Gardner opened eyes with his training camp. So did Caamano. Robertson made up for a slow tournament in Traverse City, Mich. by charging hard in his final two preseason contests. They received a positive message in going back, and the ones who returned earlier now get to compete with these players head-to-head again.

"These players did a good job in training camp, and we want them to know that we're going to be monitoring what they're doing, and they've got to go earn their way back here," Montgomery said.

It's a process, as Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett likes to say, and it's one that can help you become better. Hintz did it last season, going back and forth and learning. By the time he returned to the NHL full-time, he had confidence and drive.

"It's confidence that comes from the drive," Montgomery said, explaining how one leads to another. "If you win one-on-one battles, and you have the puck more, you're like, 'I can do this,' and then you start doing it. Then your confidence comes and you're helping the Dallas Stars win hockey games."

That can be a difficult message to remember, said Montgomery, who went through the process in his own NHL career. But he said players like Caamano, Gardner and Robertson should feel good even though they were sent down.

Video: MIN@DAL: Faksa deflects Harley's shot past Dubnyk

"For the three young men, it's more of a positive right now in their mindset in that it's the first time it's happened," Montgomery said. "The more times it happens to you, it gets harder and harder every time … and you get harder and harder mentally."

Perry slipped on a stair and fractured a bone in his foot a few weeks back. His status still is up in the air. With the current players available, Dallas has 12 forwards healthy. They head out on a three-game road trip after the season opener, and will likely need at least one extra forward for that.

There's now an open competition in Cedar Park to be first in line for that call.

That's how quick things can change for those bubble players, because they could be right back in Victory Green next week. The Stars last season needed 21 forwards and 14 defensemen throughout the season. It's a stat worth mulling over on a day like this.

Training camp meant something, and now it's up to the players -- all of the players -- to take the next step.


Dallas Stars vs. Colorado Avalanche

Saturday, 5 p.m. CT

Where: American Airlines Center

TV/radio: None

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 and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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