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Hitchcock's focus turns to picking Stars roster

More than 30 players are in the mix as the Dallas head coach looks to sort out his forward and defense groups

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

The Stars on Friday split up their training camp roster into two groups, including one from which the NHL roster will be selected.

After a week of evaluation, it's time to get down to business.

"Now, we are trying to pick a team. We want to see how guys formulate," head coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We've got a group of 31, let's build this thing."

The group of 31 that skated Friday afternoon in Frisco included 18 forwards, 11 defensemen, and two goaltenders. It didn't include injured center Martin Hanzal (ankle), but he is expected to start skating with the team Saturday.

Hitchcock hinted Thursday night there could be some surprises with the group, but there didn't appear to be any.

With Hanzal coming back in, Hitchcock indicated that his four centers likely would be Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Hanzal, and Radek Faksa. Seguin centered Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov Friday and Spezza had Mattias Janmark and Brett Ritchie on his wings. Those lines are starting to get a lot of repeated looks together.

But Hitchcock is still looking at options on his other lines. On Friday, players who often line up at center got looks on the wing. Among them, Devin Shore and Jason Dickinson.

"We've only got four center spots, so guys have to move over. How do they look when they move over?" Hitchcock said. "Where does everybody else fit? These guys are going to have to find positions on the wall to help us."

In particular, someone that can fit into the top nine group of forwards. Hitchcock said there are a number of candidates he and his staff will give a look over the next few games.

Video: Hitchcock discusses Hintz

The forward currently on the rise is Roope Hintz. The second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft who is making the jump to North America from Finland this season is making a push.

"Hintz has stepped up here. His game has gone up another level," Hitchcock said. "He was our best forward [Thursday in Denver]. He's now challenging, where you weren't sure before."

On defense, Hitchcock said he has a top three right now and is looking for a player to round out the top four. He also needs a third pair. Preseason games will be key in seeing how that plays out.

"We know we have three that are rock solid and we've got to look for a fourth and whoever emerges is going to get that spot," Hitchcock said. "That third pair has to be specialists. One guy is maybe killing penalties and the other guy is on the power play, or the other guy is playing when you are up a goal and the other guy when you are down a goal.

"But the only way you can have your third pair as specialists is you've got to be solid in the first two [pairs]."

The player making a push on the defense is Jamie Oleksiak who could be an option to play on the right side.

"He is taking things to another level which is really impressive for us," Hitchcock said. "He's cool under fire, he's competitive as heck from the dots to the boards, and he's playing really sound right now. He's an interesting candidate to maybe even play on the right side."

Oleksiak skated on the right side with Esa Lindell in Friday's practice. Marc Methot and John Klingberg were paired together, while Dan Hamhuis skated with both Greg Pateryn and Julius Honka, and Patrick Nemeth partnered with Stephen Johns.

Nothing of note on the goaltending front. It's Ben Bishop and Kar Lehtonen.


Notes

  • Hitchcock said he hopes to get Hanzal in the final preseason game and anything before that would be a bonus.

  • The Stars are expected to go with another "hardworking" lineup in Saturday night's preseason game at St. Louis. Hitchcock said the high altitude played a factor in Thursday's 5-1 loss to the Avalanche in Denver and he wants to give some of the players from that game another chance. "I want to see a lot of the guys that played [Thursday] night play again [Saturday] in a pretty hostile situation. I want to see how they react," Hitchcock said.

  • The Stars are expected to go with many of their top players in Monday and Tuesday's preseason games in Dallas.

  • The Stars have sent forward Nick Caamano, who had a strong showing in camp, back to his junior team, Flint, in the Ontario Hockey League.

  • Forwards Justin Dowling and Brian Flynn and goaltender Landon Bow did not skate in either the AHL or NHL practice groups on Friday.

Friday practice lineup

Here's how the Stars lined up in Friday afternoon's practice in Frisco.

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Mattias Janmark - Jason Spezza - Brett Ritchie
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Jason Dickinson - Roope Hintz - Devin Shore
Curtis McKenzie - Adam Cracknell - R.J. Umberger
Remi Elie - Gemel Smith - Denis Gurianov

Marc Methot - John Klingberg
Esa Lindell - Jamie Oleksiak
Dan Hamhuis - Greg Pateryn/Julius Honka
Patrik Nemeth - Stephen Johns
Dillon Heatherington - Brent Regner

Ben Bishop
Kari Lehtonen

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

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