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Rookies Have Done Their Share for Stars This Season

by Steve Hunt / Dallas Stars
When Reilly Smith made his NHL debut in Wednesday’s 3-1 win at Edmonton, not only was it a big moment for the 20-year-old Dallas Stars winger, but the former Miami of Ohio standout became the fourth player to debut for Glen Gulutzan’s club this season, joining the likes of Jordie Benn, Matt Fraser and Ryan Garbutt.

However, this quartet does not represent the only rookies who have laced ‘em up for the Stars this season. In total, seven players who can be classified as rookies have hit the ice for Gulutzan and it’s a pretty impressive list.

Current backup goaltender Richard Bachman, who is 8-4-1 with a 2.71 goals-against-average and one shutout, is one rookie who has made a contribution. Of course, his signature moment to date came on Dec. 13, 2011 when he stopped all 34 shots he faced in a huge shutout of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, but when “Bachs” has been called upon, he has delivered solid results.

The 24-year-old netminder was recalled from the AHL’s Texas Stars in late November 2011, initially brought up to be Andrew Raycroft’s backup. However, the rookie showed he could handle the pressure and responsibility of starting with Kari Lehtonen out with a groin injury and once Lehtonen returned in December, the rookie stayed in Dallas as his backup.

“Yeah, I think coming in you’re just trying to prove yourself and do whatever you can to make everyone kind of notice you and earn a spot on the team. When I first got here, I got thrown into more of a starting role right away, something I was a little more used to. So I just tried to give the team a chance to win, play consistent enough to get some wins under my belt and get confidence from the team,” Bachman recalls.

And even though his role has changed since Lehtonen returned, he realizes that being the club’s backup netminder serves a pretty important purpose in helping to ensure the talented Finn gets a rest when necessary.

“I also know part of my role now is got to give the big man some nights off, let him get some rest. I just want them to have the confidence to put me in there so they can do that and still have a chance to win and have him not have to worry about going in there and playing or anything like that, so that’s how I’ve taken it so far,” Bachman said.

Jordie Benn has appeared in just a pair of games for the Stars but few could forget him and younger brother Jamie assisting on a goal by Loui Eriksson against Detroit on January 3. It was a nice debut for the 24-year-old defenseman.

Fraser appeared in just one game with the Stars so far this season, playing in a Jan. 24 contest with the Ducks, and the 20-year-old forward was summoned to Dallas again to provide depth but didn’t play. However, he figures to get a shot at earning more ice time at the NHL level in the near future.

At 26, Garbutt might be the old man of the group, but the story as to how he reached the Stars has to rank as one of the more interesting tales of this group of rookies. After going undrafted, he played for Corpus Christi of the Central Hockey League before earning a two-way contract with the Stars last July. He made his NHL debut on Feb. 18 against the Coyotes and scored his first NHL goal three days later t Montreal and it proved to be the game-winner as the Stars blanked the Canadiens, 4-0.

He got another thrill when he was on the ice for a March 14 trip to Winnipeg, which just happens to be his hometown. It’s been a whirlwind six weeks for him since his promotion from Cedar Park, but there isn’t anywhere he’d rather be.

“Yeah, I was really excited to be part of this organization. Spending time down in Austin I got to see this was really a first-class organization,” Garbutt said. “The guys that have come up have been really good this year. Look at Vinny and Lars, they’ve played great all year up there and down in Austin when they were there. They’ve been great helping out the boys up here. It was great to see Bachs. I think he’s got eight wins up here, pretty good season for him so far. He’s always there to jump in if Lehts is ever tired. Anytime guys from there step in and play well, it’s always good for everybody.”

Philip Larsen has played 50 games at the blue line for Dallas, contributing eight points (2-6-8) and is currently a plus-13 player. His first NHL goal came on Jan. 21 at Minnesota and his second on Monday night at Calgary. The 22-year-old Danish d-man has been a pretty consistent performer for the Stars’ rearguard so far.

Smith logged just 4:05 of ice time and finished with one shot in his NHL debut against the Oilers, when skated on Dallas’ fourth line, but there’s no doubt that he will get additional opportunities to show what he can do at the NHL level in the near future.

Fellow winger Tomas Vincour has also made the most of getting more ice time this year with eight points (4-4-8) through 41 games, solid numbers for the 21-year-old Czech.

Gulutzan coached many of these players in the AHL before also coaching them in the NHL, so as someone who has a reputation for helping to develop young talent into NHL-caliber players, he’s definitely glad to see so many rookies making an impact for the Stars.

“I think any team moving forward, you have to build with character. And if you’ve spent any time in the minors with these guys or talked to the scouts about them, I think they are all good character people. You look at guys like Bachs and Lars and Vinny up here with us this season, they’re good character people,” he said. “They’re smart players. They take the examples from the veterans and they use them. That’s where you start to breed an identity and a culture in an organization, so it’s an important process.”

Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas is one of the most experienced players on the Dallas roster and he too has been impressed with what he has seen from the seven rookies who have hit the ice for them so far this year.

“You need everybody and that’s our motto-everyone counts, everybody matters. It’s huge. You don’t win without everybody. You can’t have any passengers. You have to have everybody on board,” Robidas said. “I think everybody has stepped in, is buying into the team and when they’ve been called upon they’ve done a great job. That’s what the team is all about-guys go down and other guys step up. That’s been the case for us this year.”

Not only has this group delivered solid results, giving Stars brass considerable cause to be optimistic about the future, but this septet also has build a strong bond since they share similar experiences of individuals finding their way in the NHL and also trying to find their niche at the sport’s highest level of competition.

“I know Larsen, Vinny, we were all together last year. So we got to know each other and we kind of developed that friendship and then having Garbutt earlier in the year down in Austin, we bonded there,” Bachman said. “It’s always nice having the younger guy that’s kind of going through this for the first time together. Not that you’re afraid to talk to any of the guys here because everyone’s so open and welcoming, but you kind of have that person you can ask questions to and see what they’re thinking a little bit just either day-to-day stuff or hockey stuff. So it’s nice to have some people that we’ve been together for a little bit longer to rely on.”

Garbutt concurs: “Yeah, we all kind of spend time away from the rink with each other. It’s always nice to have buddies like that away from the rink,” he said. “But the guys on the team are all good too. It’s just been a real tight knit group in terms of the whole team here.”

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