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Skrastins Brings Calming Influence to Blue Line

by Steve Hunt / Dallas Stars

Stars head coach Marc Crawford is the first to admit that Karlis Skrastins’ game at times is far from a thing of beauty. But that doesn’t mean the Dallas head coach can imagine not having him on the ice to help solidify things at the blue line.

Karlis Skrastins Highlights
The 36-year-old Latvian defenseman is in his 13th NHL season and has played 54 games so far this year. Most of his time has been spent on the third line, where he has been paired with both Matt Niskanen and Mark Fistric.

No matter who he’s been paired with, the results have been the same.

“Skrastins is a great veteran player that is a great scrambler. He’s not the most pleasing aesthetically to look at player and I’m not talking about how he looks but just in terms of his skating style and how he performs. He’s not a guy you’d be making tapes on and showing to young prospects saying skate like this guy and hold your stick like him but he gets the job done,” Crawford said.

Attention to detail is something the Stars head coach has preached ever since he took over before last season and he sees plenty to like in that respect in his veteran defenseman.

“He’s probably one the best scramblers that I’ve ever seen. He just battles, scrambles and he’s just a grappler,” Crawford said. “All those terms probably don’t translate very well into Latvian but he’s a very effective player. Our guys love him. He blocks shots and puts his body in front of anything. He’s one of those people that just makes your team go because he finds a way to get the job done.”

That sentiment is prevalent throughout the rest of the room.

“Scratch has got that veteran presence,” winger Adam Burish said, who has played on the third line alongside Skrastins for a majority of the year. “He’s always calm. He’s always poised. He’s like another goalie back there. He’s always getting in the way of shots. He just knows how to play.”

Burish also likes the fact that his line mate keeps things simple in the back, another of Crawford’s mantras.

“He knows where to be at the right time and how to make the game simple. He doesn’t complicate things. He makes the game as simple as we can and that’s why he’s effective,” Burish said. “That’s why we never see him get beat. He just plays a textbook game. You know what you’re going to get from him. For a defenseman, that’s what you want-a predictable guy that you know what you’re going to get every day. He’s an absolute warrior and every day, he’s the same. He’s an absolute warrior and plays as hard as anyone does and through a lot of pain. He gets a lot of bumps and bruises and for a teammate, you earn a lot of respect that way.”

In Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Columbus, Skrastins was again paired with Fistric, someone he has developed a solid partnership with. But with the injury to Nicklas Grossman, who will likely miss at least the first two games of Dallas’ swing through Western Canada later this week and the pending return of Matt Niskanen, there’s no telling who he’ll be paired with for the next three games.

But one thing’s for sure, he has earned the respect of both his possible playing partners.

“He’s just kind of a wily veteran. He’s been around and understands the game so well,” Fistric said. “His reads are almost perfect. I think for me, it’s great to play with him. I can learn a lot from him. I see myself as almost the same kind of player as Karlis. As I watch him and play with him, not only am I playing with him, but I’m learning from him as well.”

Niskanen clearly agrees.

“He’s been around for a while and he’s been a good player in this league for quite a while. He’s seen a lot of things,” he said. “He’s really smart and he’s really competitive. He finds ways to be hard to play against just by taking away people’s space.”

But there is one thing that the young Dallas blue liner has really taken to heart from watching his veteran teammate operate on the pond.

“I think just how determined he is to win puck battles [is the biggest thing],” Niskanen said. “That’s something that’s kind of my challenge to myself each night, to win as many puck battles as I can. That’s what he excels at-closing on people’s time and space and taking the puck.”

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