Well, one of the players he mentioned was none other than Dallas center Steve Ott
. The gritty center man is entering his ninth season with the Stars and during his time in Big D, he has developed a reputation as a guy who is tough to play against, someone who can get under the opposition’s skin in a number of ways, a guy who isn’t afraid to drop the gloves and can contribute goals and assists on an occasional basis.
But Nieuwendyk wants to see him contribute those goals and assists on an occasional basis. And with bigger, physical guys joining the club like Eric Godard and Sheldon Souray
, the Stars fan favorite also shouldn’t have to drop the gloves as much.
Such a change in roles is just fine with him.
“Individually, replacing Brad Richards is going to be pretty tough to do. He’s a super skilled player. He’s very offensively gifted. Myself along with some other guys are going to have to take on the offensive role to fill that void when we lost Brad,” Ott said. “I think collectively, myself put in that situation and a few other guys pulling along that we can still put out some pretty good offensive numbers and help contribute. I think we can play an extremely solid game together and get our offense from that as well.”
Dallas captain Brenden Morrow
, a teammate of Ott’s ever since he first arrived in the NHL during the 2002-03 season, knows he’s more than capable of stepping up his offensive production.
“In that situation in the past, he’s played well. He’s performed and gotten points. Joe [Nieuwendyk] sees him as a top-six forward and Steve’s willing to embrace that,” Morrow said. “He’s done it in the past and we’re confident he’ll be able to put up some good numbers.”
Ott’s career high in points came in 2008-09 when he racked up an impressive total (27-19-46) despite playing in just 64 games. Many of those points came when Morrow was injured, opening the door for him to make a bigger offensive contribution.
“I think it [the reason I had 46 points] was more opportunity,” he said. “When you’re in a top-six forward group, you’re playing with some extremely skilled players. Throughout my junior career and parts of the season when Morrow was hurt, when I had the opportunity to play in a top-six role, the points came a lot easier and the production came a lot easier.”
And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he’s confident he can duplicate that production this year, hopefully with his captain again skating in all 82 games for a second straight season.
“I’m very excited to be in that steady position to be counted on offensively. Grabbing chemistry with a line is something new that I haven’t had in a few years. When Morrow did get hurt, me and Ribeiro found some good chemistry and kind of left off from there,” Ott said. “I think the point production and everything else came from that.”
But with an increased emphasis on the offensive side of his game, Stars fans have to wonder will this still be the same player they’ve come to know and love over the last eight years? Well, he will be and he won’t be.
“I think my competitive levels have to stay [where they’ve been],” Ott said. “What has to change is I have to stay on the ice. I can’t be taking stupid penalties. I can’t take unnecessary ones to get taken off the ice or it does throw the chemistry of the lineup off. Not saying I was trying to do that last year but now it’s more accountability to make sure you’re on the ice. For myself to be able to produce offensive numbers, you’ve got to be worried about offensive situations.”
And yes, he still wants to retain that fly in the ointment persona that has been the bane of so many other teams during his NHL career.
“I think my mindset for that is definitely going to be hard to play against, especially if it’s going to be as one of those top-six players and still have that competitive edge to my game but focusing on the offensive end as well because of who you’re playing with,” Ott said.
However, with newcomers like Vernon Fiddler
, who has already stated his desire to be an absolute pain for the opposition, on the roster, he knows seeing his role change is something that will be for the betterment of the entire club.
“That’s exactly it, it’s a role. You’re put in a role for whatever makes the team the best it can possibly be. Some guys have to take a physical role, some guys an offensive role and some guys a checking role. That’s what makes a successful team,” Ott said. “Now having guys that are hard to play against on pretty much every line whether it’s Brenden, if it’s myself, [Burish], Fiddler, Dowell, you go down the lineup and there’s so many guys that have that bite to their game. I think all in all, it’ll make us hard to play against.”
Like the rest of his teammates, he was less than pleased at how last season ended in truly heartbreaking fashion up in Minnesota. It’s a feeling he doesn’t want to forget, especially as he uses that as motivation heading into and during this season.
“I do feed a little bit from negativity, absolutely. Our goal is to make the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup and we didn’t make the playoffs so me personally, I left pretty [teed] off,” Ott said. “Not having a chance to play in the playoffs left an extremely sour taste in my mouth. It’s been three years now and that’s what I’m focusing on now. That’s where I see this team being-a playoff-contending team to have a chance at your main goal. I was sitting on my couch watching the playoffs and not being able to participate with my teammates. I think that’s where it stinks.”
Besides taking some time off and then commencing an off-season conditioning program, one thing he did during the summer was have ankle surgery to correct a lingering issue. The procedure was a success and now, he feels better than he can ever remember feeling in recent history.
“It was a mess [last year],” Ott admitted. “I lost a lot of my mobility. I had a half-inch to three-quarter inch bone spur in the front of my ankle that was locking me up. Anything low and pushing off, I just had no mobility. It didn’t feel as comfortable. Now having that bone out and being able to be free and move it feels great, the best it’s felt in such a long time that I can’t even remember how long it’s been. To be able to feel good skating and everything else, hopefully it’ll translate to the ice.”