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Forward Group Has Gulutzan Giddy

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

This is the first in a series of articles after having visited with Stars Head Coach Glen Gulutzan, previewing the club’s various position groups, special teams and overall team outlook.

The Dallas Stars underwent some significant changes this offseason, and the biggest overhaul came at the forward position.

NHL legend Jaromir Jagr wears the Stars jersey for the first time

Coming into the mix via free agency were Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney, and coming to Dallas from Buffalo in a trade was Derek Roy. Two long-time, key members of the Stars’ forward group – Steve Ott and Mike Ribeiro – departed via trades.

“They are going to be big holes to fill,” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said of losing Ott and Ribeiro. “Getting Derek helps us and free agent-wise, to get Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr up front, it just adds those pieces everyone thought we were missing last year in linemates for certain guys and giving us more depth up front. At this level, there are going to be injuries, there are going to be ups and downs during the season, and when you have more guys that can pull that offensive sleigh it is going to help.”

Jagr, one of the game’s legends, had 54 points (19 goals, 35 assists) in 73 games with the Philadelphia Flyers last season.

“There are a lot of stars in the NHL and he is a superstar,” said Gulutzan. “He is up there when you are talking about Gretzky, Lemieux, Yzerman, Lidstrom and those guys. He’s in that category. He’s a superstar. I think his longevity in this league is a testament for what he does away from the rink as well to keep himself able to play at such a high level. I think that is going to translate well for our guys. He’s a presence on the ice, and people know he is out there. He still has the ability to break the game open, to make something out of nothing with his skill. I just think that lends itself to confidence within our group, too.”

Whitney ranked 12th in the NHL in scoring last season with 77 points (24 goals, 53 assists), and Gulutzan said he was key to the Phoenix Coyotes’ offense.

Ray Whitney has 1,003 points in his NHL career and has one Stanley Cup championship with the Hurricanes in 2006.

“We went through all the goals he was a catalyst for in Phoenix, and he accounted for over 30 percent of them. When you look at our group, our top guy accounted for 25 percent,” Gulutzan said. “He’s accounting for 33 percent of the offense for a team that went to the final four. He’s an elite player. Doesn’t matter what age, when you watch him on video and you play against him, don’t make a mistake when he is out there. And then you add the character, the knowledge of teams and their strengths and weaknesses, it is valuable to a coach and it is valuable to a team.”

Roy, who was acquired from Buffalo for Ott and defenseman Adam Pardy, is coming off a down season due to injury woes, and is expected to be out until November following offseason shoulder surgery. But Gulutzan said the veteran center will give the Stars forward group a different element this season.

“He’s going to add to our team speed. He plays a little quicker game, a pacier game,” said Gulutzan. “We can certainly use that. He’s going to make us more difficult to play against because he is a quick, smart hockey player. He kills penalties, he takes faceoffs. He is going to give us a different dynamic.”

The Stars ranked 22nd in the league in scoring last season at 2.49 goals per game, and those three additions will be a boost to the Stars’ top six, which is expected to also include Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder, who all are coming off excellent seasons.

Benn set career highs in goals (26), assists (37) and points (63) despite missing 11 games. Eriksson hit the 70-point mark for the third straight season. Ryder set a career-high mark with 35 goals.

A healthy Brenden Morrow, who was slowed by injury last season, will be a plus as well for the Stars.

“He gives us grit and determination. He’s our best net front player and on the power play he’s been our best net presence guy for years,” said Gulutzan of the captain. “I think that is where he earns his money is in the hard areas. With his health being back the way it is, I think he is going to be a force.”

Vernon Fiddler, Eric Nystrom and Tom Wandell are back from last season’s team, but Adam Burish, Jake Dowell and Radek Dvorak have moved on. The Stars re-signed Toby Petersen, but he is now on a two-way contract so that opens the door for him to play in the AHL.

Ryan Garbutt and Tomas Vincour, who both saw playing time with Dallas last season, are back as well. Garbutt, who played 20 games, signed a two-year, one-way contract and Vincour, who suited up for 47 contests, is in the final year of his entry-level deal.

Tomas Vincour has to come in here and play real hard. We know he has the capability to do that,” said Gulutzan. “Ryan Garbutt and Vincour both have to play hard.”

There are several other younger players in the hunt for roster spots including Cody Eakin, who was acquired from Washington in the Ribeiro deal. The 21-year-old Eakin, a center, played 30 NHL games last season with the Capitals and another 43 games with the Capitals’ AHL affiliate.

Matt Fraser, Colton Sceviour, Scott Glennie and Luke Gazdic, who all played with Texas last season, will be among those who get looks. So will Reilly Smith and Alex Chiasson, who are coming out of the college ranks but saw some pro action late last season. Smith played three games with Dallas and Chiasson played nine games with Texas.

“It depends on what fits best for us and how the camp goes,” said Gulutzan.

Training camp will also help decide line combinations.

“The lines are going to be whatever works the best. I think wherever we can find that chemistry and whoever clicks together, that’s what we will keep together,” Gulutzan said. “We said it last year: when you put Loui Eriksson with Ribeiro, it worked. When you put Eriksson with Ryder and Benn, it worked. When you’ve got good players, like we do, and they are playing hard, it is going to work. We’re just going to find out what works and what combinations.”

Someone will have to fill in for Roy while he is recovering from shoulder surgery. Wandell will get a look or somebody else – possibly one of the team’s younger players – could grasp that opportunity. Gulutzan said there should be plenty of competition in camp for spots, and that is always a good thing.

“We certainly have more depth up front, more options to play certain players with other players and also guys that can push up. Derek has his shoulder, so we have other guys that can push up into those spots,” Gulutzan said. “You look around the league, and in our division, depth is key. I think we have some depth in our organization. I think we have some young guys who can come in and make an impact. That creates competition at the bottom. We have six defensemen signed and someone from Austin or coming over from Europe has a chance to make the club. When there is competition all over – there’s competition for the top six spots, there’s competition at the bottom, there’s competition in the minors – it brings out the best in players.”

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