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Hitchcock: Regulars to see plenty of ice time for Stars during preseason

Jamie Benn and Ben Bishop are among those slated to get playing time in Tuesday's exhibition opener against St. Louis

by Mark Stepneski and Scott Burnside /

CEDAR PARK, Texas -- Let's be honest, most preseason NHL games often have all the appeal of a two-day-old burrito. But Dallas head coach Ken Hitchcock isn't going to fall into the trap of simply meeting the NHL-mandated minimums for dressing veteran players for preseason games. 

Instead, Hitchcock feels that, especially for home dates -- and there are three of those in the Stars' six-game preseason schedule -- it's important for the Stars to ice a strong team because fans deserve that.

"I know we've got to play eight pros, but we're playing a lot more than eight pros," Hitchcock said Monday as the team prepared to return to Dallas after four days of working out in Cedar Park, home of the team's American Hockey League affiliate.

"We're playing a good lineup, and the reason for that is, we owe the people who pay good money to watch us play. We owe them a good lineup and we're going to do that. We're going to play a lot of good lineups in exhibition, but especially at home, I want to see top lineups play."

To that end, fans attending Tuesday's first preseason game against the St. Louis Blues will see starting netminder Ben Bishop, who will play the first two periods (Mike McKenna will play the third). Captain Jamie Benn and Mattias Janmark are also expected to play.

Video: Stars ready for preseason

There won't be any appreciable roster cuts in the next couple of days from the 59 that skated in Cedar Park -- perhaps some junior players returned to their clubs after meeting with GM Jim Nill -- but Hitchcock has set Sept. 23 as the point in the preseason schedule when he will have the number of players in camp down to 30. And from there, the final cuts will take place leading up to the team's Oct. 6 Opening Night at home against the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.

No need for concern

Benn, Janmark and Jason Spezza were not on the ice for the final workouts at H.E.B. Center at Cedar Park on Monday. But these players were all given the day away from the ice by the coaching staff, as opposed to having suffered any injuries. As noted, Janmark and Benn are expected to play Tuesday, and Spezza will travel with the team Thursday to Colorado for the team's second preseason game.

"We scheduled this before," Hitchcock said. "Those guys, I wanted to make sure that we weren't pounding on them if we're going to ask them to play quite a bit early (in the preseason schedule). I didn't want to pound on them here and then just say oh by the way you've got to jump in again."

More than meets the eye

Certainly for veterans, the key to preseason games for the most part is to: A) Avoid playing in as many as possible, and B) Making sure you don't get hurt in the ones in which you have to make an appearance. But this year's six-game slate for the Stars has a little more oomph to it, given the new coaching staff and addition of key personnel in the offseason.

"With the new coach, you're learning a new system. We've got some new players on the team, so, yeah these preseason games are more important in a year like this than other years where maybe you've had the same coach for four years and you're running a lot of the same systems," said veteran defenseman Dan Hamhuis after Monday's workout.

"I think it's really an important couple of weeks for us," he said.

Hitchcock views the preseason schedule as having two parts.

The first three games are for whittling down training camp roster numbers and the final three games are for making final cuts.

"In the first three games, we'll try to whittle it down to see who can play and also offer rewards to guys that did really well and after that we'll get into picking our team," said Hitchcock.

One example of that is Nicholas Caamano, who will at some point will return to junior hockey in Flint but who has been impressive at rookie camp in Traverse City and with the main camp in Texas. Caamano, taken 146th overall at the 2016 draft, will get a spot in the Stars' lineup Tuesday night.

Leaders leading

Hitchcock was especially pleased with his leadership group setting the tone for the stint in Cedar Park, both on and off the ice and without micromanagement from the coaching staff.

 "Who's running the stretches? Who's organizing making sure guys are in meetings on time?" Hitchcock explained. "We just wrote down the times and we showed up. We weren't chasing them, they were chasing each other and they were on time for everything. They were enthusiastic. They were on time for the stretches. They finished the off-ice workouts. We weren't even around for it. Guys took charge that we wanted to take charge which is a great sign for us moving forward."

Well at least most guys showed up on time (see below).

Faksa ready to adjust

Radek Faksa has played Center since joining the Dallas Stars in the 2015-16 season, and he's been centering a line in training camp here in Cedar Park. But he could be in for a change when Martin Hanzal (ankle) returns from injury.

Hitchcock said he is considering playing Faksa and Hanzal on a line together and with Hanzal slated to play center, that means Faksa would move to wing.

"It will be different, but a long time ago I played on the wing," Faksa said. "It will take some time to get used to, but it wouldn't be a problem. But we will see what will happen."

Faksa and Hanzal have a little bit of history. They played together for Czech Republic at the World Cup, which is where they got to know each other. They've spent some time since Hanzal, one of the Stars' key free-agent signings, arrived in Texas and have gone out to a few dinners.

Faksa, who is entering his second full season in the NHL, signed a three-year, $6.6 million contract extension this summer.

"I didn't expect it to be three years," Faksa said. "It was nice for sure, the longer term. I am happy that Dallas has confidence in me, so I am happy about it."

Faksa has liked what he's seen of training camp under Hitchcock so far.

"He's a smart coach," Faksa said, "and everything he does makes sense."

Video: Stars get down to business in Cedar Park

Faksa spent some unexpected quality time with his new coach on the bench during a break in one of the sessions over the weekend. It was just the two of them sitting out there while the rest of the players in Faksa's group were off the ice in a video session.

"I didn't know they had video on so I just stayed on the ice," Faksa said. "They didn't tell me, and I just got stuck there. Not proud of it."Heiskanen not coming over for camp

Nill said Monday that defenseman Miro Heiskanen will not attend Dallas Stars training camp due to injury. The Stars were waiting for a progress report on Heiskanen, who was having concussion symptoms after taking a hit to the head in a Champions Hockey League game in Europe earlier this month.

The Stars had planned to bring Heiskanen over to North America to play in the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan and then attend training camp, but the injury derailed those plans.

Nill said Heiskanen, the Stars' first-round pick (third overall) in the 2017 NHL Draft, will remain with his team in Finland's top league. Even if Heiskanen had attended training camp, he likely would have played in Finland this season.

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 reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

You can follow Scott on Twitter @OvertimeScottB

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