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Montgomery on Stars' forward battle: 'People gotta step up'

The coach wants to see more from the group jockeying for Dallas' final spot over the last three preseason games

by Jeff Odom @jeffodom / DallasStars.com

FRISCO, Texas -- As the preseason nears its end with three tune-ups left before opening night, Stars coach Jim Montgomery is still looking for someone to stake their claim for the club's final forward spot.

Who will be that taker? Right now, it's anyone's guess.

"We need someone to go out and grab it, you know?" Montgomery said after Monday's practice at Comerica Center. "Not disappointed, but not overly excited either. People gotta step up."

 

[SIGNED: 2019 first-round pick Thomas Harley inks three-year, entry-level contract with Stars]

 

With 11 forwards all but assured a spot in the lineup for the regular season opener -- depending on Corey Perry's recovery from a fractured foot -- Dallas has eight players on its camp roster still jockeying for the last spot: Justin Dowling, Denis Gurianov, Joel Kiviranta, Ty Dellandrea, Joel L'Esperance, Jason Robertson, Nick Caamano and Rhett Gardner.

Out of that group, only Dowling has found the back of the net this preseason -- a road overtime winner against Minnesota on Sept. 17 -- but he has been held out the past few days with an upper-body injury. 

Video: Stars building line chemistry in final week of camp

Kiviranta, coming off a 31-point campaign in the Finnish Liiga, has shown flashes of promise and created several quality scoring chances in the Stars' exhibition opener. Gurianov, a first-round pick in 2015, and L'Esperance spent 21 games and 18 games with the Stars last season, respectively, and hope to stick with the big club in 2019-20. 

Asked what the group needs to show coaches in its final audition, Montgomery said it's about generating more offense, something the Stars have lacked out of the gate so far in exhibition play (four total goals scored, two shutout losses in four contests).

"One, attention to detail and habits without the puck. That their checking skills are really good and then making plays and possessing the puck -- not throwing pucks away trying to make plays," he said. "Possess pucks so that we can create more offense."

If they do those things, Montgomery said, it could be the difference in making the final cut or being sent down.

"(They've) got an opportunity to play in the NHL, they should be excited about that opportunity," Montgomery said. "And hopefully, we're gonna see that here in the last three (preseason) games."

 

Goalie plan for final three games

Montgomery said the plan is for Anton Khudobin to play the full game at home against Minnesota on Thursday, then give Ben Bishop a complete start in Saturday's exhibition finale against the Avalanche.

As for Tuesday's trip to St. Louis, it could be Khudobin who gets the start, Montgomery said, along with Jake Oettinger or Landon Bow. If Khudobin can't go -- the veteran has been on a day-to-day maintenance plan as a precaution and hasn't seen game action since Sept. 16 -- the team will split duties between Oettinger and Bow.

Montgomery said he's not concerned with a light load for either Bishop or Khudobin, noting the two didn't see significant minutes last preseason.

"Normally I would say it's really important, but last year, those guys only played one and a half games each and they had a pretty good year," Montgomery said. "They're veteran players and they've been good in camp, so we would like them to get that, but we're gonna make sure we have them ready for Oct. 3, most importantly."
 

Harley signs entry-level deal; Perry to be re-evaluated

Video: Thomas Harley signs entry-level deal with Stars

» The Stars inked defenseman Thomas Harley to a three-year, entry-level contract on Monday afternoon. The 18-year-old was the club's first-round pick in June's NHL Draft and has impressed Dallas' staff throughout camp and preseason play.

» Perry, out since the start of training camp, will have his foot re-evaluated later this week, Montgomery said.

» Dowling, who left last Thursday's game in Colorado with an upper-body injury, is expected to return to practice on Tuesday. Asked if the center needs to play in one of Dallas' final three exhibition games, Montgomery said yes.

"Yeah, he's gotta earn his way into the lineup. He's gotta get in games, yes," Montgomery said.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Jeff Odom covers the Stars for DallasStars.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeffodom.

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