BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Roman Polak entered Stars camp with little expectations, and that's fine with him.
The veteran defenseman knows what he can do and knows how he can help a team, so he wasn't worried when speculation mounted that he would be the team's seventh -- or even eighth -- defenseman.
But as the Stars head down the stretch and try to secure their first playoff berth in three seasons, Polak is playing in the top four and logging games of 20 minutes or more. He sits fourth among defensemen with 19:41 in average time on ice, and leads the Stars in blocked shots (134).
"I just show up every day and do my job," said the matter-of-fact native of Ostrava in the Czech Republic. "My whole career has been like that. Even when I'm older, they had me as the sixth or seventh, but then I move up."
Polak followed the same plan in Toronto last season. He was expected to battle with a bunch of young defensemen, and the guess was the younger players would win out. But he averaged 17:32 in seven playoff games, and then signed a one-year free agent contract with the Stars for $1.3 million.
He was expected to battle Marc Methot and Stephen Johns for playing time, but Johns was hurt in training camp and Methot was hurt in October. Dallas acquired Connor Carrick, Taylor Fedun, Jamie Oleksiak and Ben Lovejoy over the season to help the defense. They gave shots to minor leaguers Gavin Bayruther, Joel Hanley, Ben Gleason and Dillon Heatherington.
Video: ANA@DAL: Polak flips backhander past Gibson
And through it all, Polak was still the answer.
"I was surprised last year when Toronto played here and he played so much," said center Radek Faksa, who trains with Polak in the summer. "I think he just shows up, and coaches keep putting him in. He's done so much to help us win these 2-1, 3-2 games, and you have to love that."
Stars coach Jim Montgomery said that the coaching staff is always trying to get the lineup it thinks is best for that night. And throughout the injuries that have had the Stars using 14 different defensemen this season, Polak has been a consistently good option.
"When someone has that effort every night and plays with second and third effort and does everything for the team, it's hard for coaches not to have a lot of trust in him," Montgomery said.
Polak also helps bring a veteran presence and a light spirit to the room. Captain Jamie Benn said having a player like Polak around helps a lot.
"He's one of those teammates who will really go out and lay it on the line for you," Benn said. "He has a big voice in this room. I'm not sure that anyone in this room thought we would be getting out of him what we are getting out of him, but it's working out for us."
Video: COL@DAL: Polak loses his stick in the glass
Polak said he understands the surprise. It's been that way his whole life. He said one of the reasons he's never surprised is because he simply lives day to day and tries not to get caught up in expectations.
"I don't think it's hard for me, because I always like to joke around, and I think that helps me. I want to have fun, and I think that helps you when you're dealing with pressure," Polak said. "I do work hard, and I think that helps. I have always wanted to help the team win and do my best, and so that's what I try to do every day.
"I think that pays off in the long run."
And possibly in a long playoff run.
"It feels like we're already in the playoffs, and we're having the playoff mentality, and I like that," he said. "Even if we lose a game, we still are playing hard, the work ethic is there. There are going to be nights when the execution isn't there, but you just have to fight through that, and we're learning that."
Thanks in large part to Roman Polak.
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.