FRISCO, Texas -- Jim Montgomery was a much different coach in April than he was in October last season.
And he expects to be even more different after a summer of study.
Montgomery came out of the college ranks with no NHL coaching experience last season, and led the Stars to the second round of the playoffs, where Dallas lost in double overtime of Game 7 to eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis. That experience has put the 50-year-old bench boss in a much better place when training camp opened Friday at Comerica Center.
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"Light years ahead," Montgomery said when asked where he was compared to training camp last season. "We know each other, I can talk to Jamie (Benn) about a rush and we know exactly what we're talking about. Same thing with D zone, just because our language is constant and we're familiar with each other."
Montgomery said he felt the 60 players on the ice had three crisp sessions that focused on fast play and relentless attack. He said the natural flow of drills was impressive, and he credited the carryover from repetition and familiarity.
"You can tell the systems are in place, it's a lot easier, my voice is just normal," Montgomery said with a chuckle. "The players have come back in real good shape, the top line in each group was the best line, the best detailed, so that's nice to see."
Video: Monty says Stars are 'light years ahead'
While Montgomery said not to put too much emphasis on who was playing with whom, the veterans appear ready to go. Benn played with Joe Pavelski and Denis Gurianov. Radek Faksa played with Blake Comeau and Andrew Cogliano. Tyler Seguin played with Alexander Radulov and Roope Hintz. Those are among the key players who went through the playoffs last season, and those are the players who will help push the hunger to the younger players during training camp.
"These players are extremely proud," Montgomery said. "They had the hurt in the belly, and now it's a fire in the belly. But we've got a long season to get back there. It's a long way and we're going to have to overcome a lot of ups and down just to get there. So our focus is. `Yeah, we were close, but yet we're so far away right now.'"
Part of that far away is going through the regular season. While there is consistency, there also is the threat of challenges. Last season, Dallas lost Marc Methot, Stephen Johns and Martin Hanzal for large chunks of the season to injury. Already on Friday, general manager Jim Nill said Johns will not play for the foreseeable future and that Perry would be re-evaluated in two weeks after suffering a fracture in his foot.
That means the depth players will have to be ready to help.
"It's an opportunity for other players," Nill said. "We just got back from Traverse City at the prospects tournament, and our players played very well there. I'm excited about the youngsters coming up, the kids we signed as free agents, and the guys coming up from Texas. I think we're in a good spot. We have as much depth as we've ever had and now we have to go do it."
Montgomery said those younger players should get plenty of opportunities to shine in the first four preseason games, and that should create some great competition. Then, the task will start in earnest to be ready for the season opener Oct. 3 against Boston. The Stars will then play at St. Louis in Game 2 and will play seven of the first 10 games on the road.
Montgomery said being ready for that start will be crucial.
"It's really important," he said. "With our schedule, we're not going to have a lot of practice time. Plus, Pittsburgh twice, Washington twice and opening with two teams that went to the Stanley Cup Finals, it's not an easy schedule, and it's really condensed. It's very different than last year."
Of course, Montgomery also is very different from last year, and that should make things a little easier. Seguin said he felt Montgomery and the team had some "growing times" last season, and that they should be able to work around those more quickly this season.
"He's got to learn three or four new players, their personalities and their games, but everyone else he knows," Seguin said. "And we know him, so that's another reason our expectations are so high."
And the expectations are indeed quite high, which seems to be just fine with everyone involved.
"I think guys are hungry for more success," said Pavelski after his first practice with his new team. "They felt they were close last year, a bounce here or there and they were going to keep playing. You get that taste, you want more of it. That's what I've felt since I came here, and that's exciting, because that's one of the reasons the decisions was made to come here."
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.