A new season always brings changes, and changes often mean opportunity. And opportunity is what is facing Stars defensemen Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak this season.
Both players were on the NHL roster last season, but their playing time was limited. Nemeth played in 38 games and Oleksiak saw just 19. But with the Stars going younger on defense this season, both players see an opportunity to grab a bigger role in 2016-17.
"I am just coming in with the same mentality as last year, be confident in my abilities and know that I can play in this league," said Oleksiak. "I just have to prove that on the ice and make the most of my opportunities."
Said Nemeth, "It's an important [year]. You want to improve every year; you want to get better. Every year is important for me, especially with the situation last year, to play well."
Both Nemeth and Oleksiak got behind the eight-ball early last season with the Stars carrying eight defensemen. They didn't crack the top six out of camp and when the Stars got off to a great start and the defense stayed healthy, there weren't many lineup changes. That meant a lot of time in the press box for both players, and it was tough to grab regular ice time.
"We kept that lineup together for a good period of time, almost 30 games, which isn't easy for an Oleksiak or a Nemeth," said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. "It isn't easy to step in on a one-game evaluation. I know the pressure they're feeling to perform. That's hard on young defensemen."
Oleksiak played in 11 of the first 46 games before getting a conditioning stint in the AHL. Nemeth played in 11 of the first 52 games, and he went on a AHL conditioning stint 16 games into the season.
"It was a learning year for them. It's a tough league up here, and they know it," said Stars GM Jim Nill. "But I think they are going to grab it [this season]. They are more than ready."
And the makeup of the blue line this season plays in the favor of the 23-year-old Oleksiak and 24-year-old Nemeth. With the Stars parting ways with veterans Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers, and Kris Russell the door is more wide open for young players to compete for spots.
Ruff said he hasn't determined defense pairs yet. Still, Dan Hamhuis, who was signed as a free agent this summer, and John Klingberg seem a likely top pair. Veteran Johnny Oduya and 24-year-old Stephen Johns, who came up late last season from the AHL, were a good pair last season and may be a fit again. Then there are Oleksiak, Nemeth, veteran Jordie Benn, and 22-year-old Esa Lindell. And there's a push from some others, including 20-year-old Julius Honka and 24-year-old Mattias Backman.
"This year there a lot more younger guys, obviously skilled guys that can jump in the lineup, but there is more competition because there aren't guys set in the lineup," Oleksiak said. "I just have to be confident in my abilities and demonstrate that to everybody else. The competition is great for the team, and it makes us all push each other. I am really looking forward to it."
So far, Oleksiak and Nemeth have received good reviews from Ruff for their performance in training camp and the preseason.
"At different times both have stood out, how well they've played in different areas," said Ruff. "Nemeth a few times on the offensive side and Oleksiak on the side of being physical and eliminating players."
Both players will bring size. Oleksiak is 6-7, 260 pounds and Nemeth is 6-3, 230 pounds. The size is important, but so is mobility and the ability to make plays and move the puck. And Ruff said the biggest challenge for all the young defensemen, including Oleksiak and Nemeth, is consistency of play.
"If you look at where both those guys are, it is about being a guy that can be counted on in key situations, be out there late in the game and make the right decisions," Ruff said.
Ruff said both Nemeth and Oleksiak have shown that they are embracing the challenge in training camp and the preseason. And both players said they are ready to learn from last season and take advantage of the opportunity that is in front of them this season.
"[Last season] was tough," Nemeth said. "You learn to not think too much and when you get the chance, just go out and play. It was a tough situation but let's move on for a new year."
Stars cut roster by nine players
The Stars cut their roster by nine players Monday. The roster now stands at 40 players.
Assigned to Texas (AHL): D Ludwig Bystrom; G Philippe Desrosiers; D Nick Ebert; F Brendan Ranford; F Branden Troock
Released from Professional Tryout: F Brandon DeFazio
Released from Amateur Tryout: D Brandon Anselmini; G Landon Bow; F Michael McMurtry
"My sister set the bar pretty high, and there is some friendly competition there. It was fun to watch her and appreciate what she does and what other athletes do in Rio. I got to see [Michael] Phelps, [Usain] Bolt and USA basketball. It's inspiring to see how hard these people work and how hard they train. It was definitely a good experience for me."
Stars defenseman Jamie Oleksiak on watching his 16-year-old sister, Penny, swim for Canada at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Penny won one gold medal, one silver, and two bronze, becoming the first Canadian to win four medals at the Summer Games.
This story was not subject to the 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.