If you have followed the Dallas Stars over recent years, you know that the pipeline of players knocking on the NHL door is one of the biggest sources of confidence for the organization. Last year there were a myriad of examples as to why that confidence is justified.
The Texas Stars went wire to wire, finishing with the best record in the AHL and winning the Calder Cup. Travis Morin earned an individual sweep with regular season and playoff MVP awards. Curtis McKenzie was named the AHL Rookie of the Year. Brett Ritchie was also phenomenal in his rookie campaign, showcasing why the team has such lofty expectations for the former second-round pick. Dallas call-ups like Colton Sceviour, Patrik Nemeth, and Cameron Gaunce were impressive in their moves to the NHL. The AHL postseason performances of defensemen like Jamie Oleksiak and Jyrki Jokipakka were solid, as they both finished in the Top-10 in plus-minus rating, with the 6’ 7” Oleksiak leading the entire league.
Even outside of the AHL, Stars youngsters continued to impress. Defenseman John Klingberg was outstanding in Sweden. Jason Dickinson had a career year in the OHL. Devin Shore was a standout for the University of Maine. And Philippe Desrosiers was among the elite goaltenders in the QMJHL.
And yet for as many reasons as to why the Stars future looks so bright, the biggest one might be the fact that the Stars can be patient in how they develop these players.
The Dallas Stars currently have 20 NHL contracted players on their roster. That does not include restricted free-agents Cody Eakin and Brenden Dillon, both of whom are almost certain to be re-signed this summer. That means that the Stars essentially have 22 players on their NHL roster, before they even tap into that deep pipeline of theirs. Of the lengthy list of aforementioned players, only Sceviour is counted among the 22. (Note: Rich Peverley is included in that list, and his playing status still remains uncertain at this point)
With the exception of the four guys who were just acquired this summer, every Stars player on that list was used with regularity last season. On a team that made it back to the playoffs, and gave the Western Conference Champion Anaheim Ducks all they could handle in the playoffs. And it’s a pretty safe bet to assume that newcomers Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky will get their share of time this season.
So the question is, what happens to all of the kids?
Some might call it a problem. But it really isn’t as much of a problem as it truly is a question. The Stars either go with the summer-improved roster of a team that led this team back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Or they view some of these prospects as upgrades, and play them over a more established name.
The good news for the Stars is that they can allow the unpredictable nature of the season play out and be confident they are in good hands either way. Regardless, it is very important to remember that just because a prospect can play in the NHL right now, it does not mean they have to.
Stars GM Jim Nill is on record many times saying that he does not see the benefit in top-prospects being healthy scratches at the NHL level. He’d much rather see them play in the AHL. With the quality of play in the AHL – specifically in Texas – that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Remember the examples of the call-ups who looked extremely prepared when asked to jump from the AHL to the NHL.
However, if someone does come into the Stars locker room and strongly impresses with their play, look for Nill and company to find a place for them. It happened with Sceviour last year, and there appear to be a number of talented players who could make a similar case for themselves this year.
There is also the inevitability of injuries to consider. No one ever knows who they will effect, or when. But you know they are eventually coming. With the Stars depth, they can be comfortable knowing they will have people to turn to whenever they do.
The point is that the Stars have options. And while that might cause a few stressful days and nights of rearranging whiteboards, it’s never a bad thing to have choices. With how calculated the Stars front office has proven to be, the ability to develop players by choice rather than necessity can be invaluable. You get to slot guys in both when you want and where you want without having to play a guy out of position or call them up too soon.
It’s one thing to have a loaded prospect pool. It’s something completely different to have one that you can bring along on your schedule. The Stars have both. And it’s just one more reason to be excited about what’s to come in Dallas.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for the Stars radio broadcasts. He can be heard 30 minutes before face-off and immediately after games all season long on SportsRadio 1310AM and 96.7FM The Ticket. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.