We’re just about a week into preseason and a few storylines have begun to surface. The Stars still have two weeks, four more exhibition games, and an intrasquad scrimmage in Cedar Park before they open the regular season. That’s what is left for Jim Nill, Lindy Ruff, and the rest of the Stars front office to evaluate and make some big decisions regarding the team’s roster. As the countdown to October 9th continues, here are a few initial noteworthy items we’ve seen so far:
Two Pair Over Three-of-a-Kind
Based on how it has looked through training camp and the first two preseason games, the Stars appear to be keeping newcomers Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky together on the same line. It’s hard to argue with the decision based on the results they provided in Ottawa over the final two months of last season. However, many people (including me) thought Dallas would start with Hemsky on the right wing, alongside Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. The lack of a consistent RW presence on the #1 line last year made for nightly decision-making – both before the game, as well as during. Hemsky’s acquisition theoretically could have solved that issue, but that’s not how the Stars have played it thus far. Even in Wednesday’s game when Spezza was scratched, Ruff still didn’t play the trio together for the majority of the game. (In a close game in the third period, Ruff did send them out together.) While keeping Spezza and Hemsky together does still leave to-be-determined spots on the top-line right wing and second-line left wing, it also gives the Stars two top lines that both feature All-Star tandems, proven to have excellent chemistry and numbers together. Everything is always changeable, even between now and opening night. But from the early looks of it, there seems to be an answer to one of the major roster questions of the offseason.
Honka If You’re Excited
When the Stars drafted 18-year old defenseman, Julius Honka in the first round of this summer’s draft, the hope was that he could evolve into a big part of the defensive puzzle a few years down the road. With his play so far through the Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, training camp, and his first NHL exhibition game, that time could arrive sooner rather than later. Honka has really been impressive in his first taste of NHL action. His speed, decision making, and offensive upside has been on display in spades. Furthermore, it’s all come without him looking out of place – which would be perfectly understandable if it did. As impressive as he has been the Stars still view him as a part of their future, and not their present. It’s still undecided where he will pay this season, but it won’t be in Dallas. He will take at least one, or possibly two, years to continue to development outside of the NHL. However, the youngster has made as good of a first impression as he could have, and the Stars and their fans should be extremely excited about both what they have awaiting them in the skilled, young blueliner.
The Dallas backup goaltending spot is a job that is going to be won this preseason. It’s a two-horse race between Anders Lindback and Jussi Rynnas. If the Stars were waiting to see if someone would hiccup out of the gates and make their decision easy, it didn’t happen in training camp. Both men looked very sharp in Fort Worth, with Rynnas especially shining in his scrimmages. Read into it what you will, but in the first preseason game, Ruff elected to have Lindback – who is signed to the larger contract than Rynnas – split the time with Kari Lehtonen. Lindback seized the opportunity, stopping 19 of 21 shots against and picking up the win against St. Louis. Rynnas did not fare as well in his preseason debut, allowing 3 goals on 14 shots Wednesday night in Florida. Ruff has said that he wants to get Kari ample time in preseason to prepare him for the upcoming year. That won’t leave much time for Lindback and Rynnas, and it magnifies the importance of the looks they do get. There are still opportunities to win (or lose) the job, but they will be in short supply from here on out.
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.