On Tuesday night the Stars concluded their six-game exhibition schedule, and immediately thoughts shifted to opening night and the Dallas roster. As the club continued to trim names on Wednesday, the final puzzle pieces are close to being in place for October 9th.
Prior to training camp there was much conversation about the various position battles that would decide the last few roster spots. Now that the team is close to their finalized list, it would be easy to look at the players still in Dallas versus those who are not and assume the answers end there.
Most people tend to look at the preseason as a race to opening night that ends with 23 winners, and then everyone else. But the truth is that regardless of where they open the year, the last two weeks were pivotal for a lot of players, as well the Stars organization as a whole. And several players had great showings.
Travis Morin had thee points in four exhibition games, and proved that his slick play can translate from the AHL to the NHL. Despite a pinky injury throwing a fork in the road, Brett Ritchie displayed the size and offensive ability that makes him such a highly-touted prospect. Curtis McKenzie did what he was supposed to do. He scored. He hit. He fought. He went hard to the net. Jamie Oleksiak’s preseason pleased the coaching staff and he remains the lone “fringe guy” currently still on the defensive roster. Jyrki Jokipakka was very impressive in both ends of the ice and turned heads with his play. Even John Klingberg shined in training camp, before experiencing some growing pains in a couple of games. Still, you could see the upside (and right-handed shot) that make the Stars excited about his future. The same can be said for Julius Honka, who proved that he was much closer to NHL-ready than most people thought. He is slated to spend the year in the AHL instead of Europe, which will likely even further speed-up his development.
While some of these players are not quite in the Stars’ immediate NHL plans, most of them were given strong looks to see if - and how - they might fit in this season. And to suggest that they do not, simply because most are not going to start the year in Dallas, would be a gross misjudging of their ability.
Even though the majority of them will not be with Dallas on opening night – and it’s quite possible that not a single one will dress against the Blackhawks – the Stars know that when spots open up, they have players that they can confidently plug into their roster. While it might not be utilized on the season-opening roster, that is an incredible piece of ammunition to have.
If you look around the league, the injuries have already taken their toll on certain teams. Star players like Jordan Staal, Pavel Datsyuk, and Derek Stepan are all sidelined for weeks or months before the first game of the season. Even though Lindy Ruff said after Tuesday’s game that he was happy the Stars had dodged any major injuries in preseason, they still had their nicks. Kari Lehtonen suffered a concussion. Jordie Benn left Monday’s game early and didn’t return. Trevor Daley blocked a shot on Tuesday and had to be helped off the ice. Early in camp Sergei Gonchar suffered an ear laceration, and Valeri Nichushkin was cautiously nursing a small tweak. All of these players are expected to be ready by opening night, but the crystal-clear point remains. Throughout the entire NHL, health is a fickle variable. A team’s depth will get tested. It’s not a question of if, it’s a matter of when.
Last season the Stars used 34 different players. If you’re keeping score, that is 11 more than were on the opening night roster, and 14 more than dress on a game night.
Whether it’s injury, sickness, fatigue, performance, change-of-pace, or any other reason, you can guarantee that players not on the opening night roster will get an opportunity with the Stars this season. Based on what we saw in preseason, there is reason to expect them to fit right in when that time comes.
And that is further proof that this preseason was about a lot more than whittling down to 23 names.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for Stars television broadcasts. He can be seen 30 minutes before face-off on ‘Stars Live’ and immediately after games all season long on Fox Sports Southwest. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.