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Heika: Stars believe pieces are in place to boost scoring depth

With a new system and improved personnel, the team isn't concerned the issue will linger into this season

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

BOISE, Idaho -- The Stars aren't near as worried about a scoring depth problem as you are.

While that issue has been discussed a great deal among fans in the summer, the powers-that-be believe the personnel and system is there to make sure the team has plenty of scoring throughout the lineup.

"I know people are worried about it. I'm not worried about it. It's not a big issue for me," said general manager Jim Nill as he watched his players practice Sunday morning at CentruryLink Arena.

 

[SHUFFLING THE DECK: Stars show willingness to mix things up as Montgomery tests new combinations during scrimmage]

 

Nill said he feels players within the club will improve. Jason Spezza had his worst season ever with 26 points in 78 games, and is primed for a comeback. Devin Shore and Brett Ritchie could easily improve on their numbers. And the team is adding winger Valeri Nichushkin in a return from the KHL and veteran winger Blake Comeau as a free-agent signing.

"I think Spezza is going to have a better year, (Mattias) Janmark is going to have a better year, Shore is going to have a better year. There are a lot of players who can do more, and if everyone adds three or five goals apiece, it adds up," Nill said "Then you start adding players like Nichushkin and Comeau, and I like what we have there."

Video: Victory Green tops White in annual camp scrimmage

The ace card in all of that is that the Stars should be playing a more aggressive offensive system under new coach Jim Montgomery where players will get put in a place where they can score more.

"I think Jim is going to add to their games," Nill said. "That's what you have to look at."

Montgomery said he has not even talked about depth scoring with coaches or players.

"We don't see it as an issue, because we're working on this year," he said.

And while it was just an intrasquad scrimmage Sunday, the Stars got goals from Nichushkin, Spezza, and Tyler Pitlick. They also had two from Denis Gurianov, who will likely start in the AHL, but could be a quick call-up if he starts to produce.

Video: Jim Montgomery reflects on training camp in Boise

"There's a reason he was a first round pick," Montgomery said of the winger who was taken 12th overall in 2015. "The hardest thing to do is score goals, and he has that potential."

The entire lineup does. While scoring dried up late last season (Dallas finished 18th overall but was worst in the league from February on), there were mitigating factors. When Ben Bishop suffered a knee injury, the team played with less offensive confidence in front of back-up goalie Kari Lehtonen. If the forwards were concentrating on defending more, then it became a more likely scenario that they would dump the puck when they hit the neutral zone. That diminished the offensive opportunities. Likewise, the lack of attack led to fewer power plays because the team wasn't forcing the opposition to defend.

Three years ago, under head coach Lindy Ruff, the Stars got off to a good start, played with confidence, and created offensive numbers all over the ice. Dallas was first in goal scoring at 3.23 goals per game, ninth in power-play opportunities and set an NHL record with 25 empty-net goals. Because the Stars were often leading late in games, they received great scoring chances in the third period.

Not unlike a football team that has a lead and rolls up rushing yards late, a hockey team with a lead spreads the scoring around pretty well. Spezza had 33 goals in 2015-16. Cody Eakin had 16, Janmark had 15, Ales Hemsky had 13, Vernon Fiddler had 12 and Colton Sceviour posted 11.

The Stars believe if they play the right way, there is plenty of talent in the goal-scoring department and many of the depth players can strike double digits.

Video: Tyler Seguin discusses 'snowy' scrimmage

"It's very similar to a good offensive football team that gets a lead and then they pound the ball in the third and fourth quarters and the other team gets tired," said Montgomery. "For me, it's our relentless pressure and our ability to possess pucks and make people defend a lot.

"You may not see it in the first period, but in the last 30 minutes of the game, that's when I think we start to break teams down."

That will take time to learn, and that's one of the reasons the preseason is so important. If the Stars can make Montgomery's detail-oriented approach habit, then a lot of problems can be solved.

Even problems they don't think they have.

Here are five observations from Sunday's intraquad scrimmage.

 

1. Jason Robertson looked terrific

Robinson is just 19, but the second round draft pick from 2017 didn't look out of place at all. He scored a goal on a penalty shot, dazzled with his quick hands and seemed in the right place at the right time.

He'll head back to Kingston (where he had 41 goals and 46 assists last season)to play Major Junior this year, but he's definitely leaving a good impression on the coaching staff and front office.

"It was really the first time I've ever played against those guys, played against NHL guys in a structured scrimmage," Robertson said. "To be out there on a line with Devin Shore, it's kind of a surreal feeling, especially being a 19-year-old."

 

2. Bad ice made early evaluation difficult

The Zamboni broke at CenturyLink Arena, so there was no scrape or flood before the first part of the scrimmage. The piles of snow made it difficult to handle the puck and also made it difficult to get speed. Both Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin looked good in net, but they also weren't tested.

The Zamboni was fixed and the ice received a clean flood before the second session.

"We got a little worried when the Zamboni broke down," Montgomery said. "That's why we only went 20 minutes, because it was supposed to be 30 minutes. When ice gets bad, bad things can happen."

 

3. Alexander Radulov picked up where he left off last season

Alexander Radulov was all over the ice in both good and bad ways. He is an energetic force on every shift, both driving positive possession and also sometimes creating chaos for his linemates. The wily winger also was jawing with the officials for much of the scrimmage.

"I thought Radulov, he's worth the price of admission to watch him," Montgomery said. "He's just a lot of fun to watch."

 

4. Miro Heiskanen continues to draw praise each day

It's become almost a daily ritual that someone compliments Miro Heiskanen, the 19-year-old defenseman who the Stars are hoping will be a rookie of the year candidate. Center Tyler Seguin which teammate has impressed him during the first three days of camp, and he mentioned a familiar name.

"Obviously, Miro," Seguin said. "He impressed me on the ice a little bit, but more off the ice. He's definitely a humble kid. He's a shy kid off the ice, but he's got that confidence and swagger on the ice. It's a good mix. I think he's going to be a great fit here."

 

5. The Stars have a lot of work to do

Montgomery is trying to change a lot of habits and install a lot of details, so he will be busy. The rookie coach said he expects to use his first power play unit Tuesday against St. Louis in the exhibition opener, and that means fans will probably see the line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov.

And while getting lines humming is important, the real job is getting the team playing like a team.

"I thought were supporting pucks really well offensively," Montgomery said. "If there was a negative to that, the puck pressure wasn't as good as what I would like."

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.

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