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Fedun making most of unexpected opportunity with Stars

With one trade, the defenseman went from fighting for ice time as a veteran in the minors to helping save Dallas' season

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

Taylor Fedun's season didn't start the way he had hoped.

Fedun was finding it hard to crack the lineup on a regular basis for the Rochester Americans, the AHL affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres. It had nothing to do with Fedun's play. It was a numbers issue.

Fedun, 30, has veteran status in the AHL where teams are limited to a certain number of veterans in the lineup per game. Rochester had too many of them, and that kept Fedun out of the lineup for nine of the team's first 14 games.

"It was tough," Fedun said. "I've never really been in that position where you had too many bodies, too many veterans, and I wasn't getting in every night. We had such a good group, such a close group. But it was really tough. When you are in that position and not playing every night, you start to wonder how much longer you are going to be able to be playing this game."

Then came an opportunity.

The Dallas Stars were banged up on defense. John Klingberg had just gone out with a broken hand, joining Marc Methot (knee), Stephen Johns (post-traumatic headaches) and Connor Carrick (foot) on the list of Dallas defensemen out long term. The Stars had already raided the Texas Stars of the AHL for help, bringing in Dillon Heatherington, Joel Hanley, and Ben Gleason, so the defensive ranks in the organization were looking thin.  

So, Dallas dipped into the trade market and turned to Buffalo, which had a surplus of defensemen, acquiring Fedun on Nov. 10 for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2020. Fedun was assigned to Texas, where he played three games, recording one goal and two assists, before getting recalled to Dallas on Nov. 22.

Fedun made an immediate impact in his first game with Dallas, scoring a goal in the Stars' 6-4 win over Ottawa at American Airlines Center. And he hasn't looked back since. The Stars have gotten healthier on defense with the return of both Klingberg and Carrick, but there is Fedun still a regular in the lineup. He's played in 26 of 27 games since getting called up from the AHL, missing only the Dec. 31 game against Montreal due to illness.

Fedun saw an opportunity with the trade, but not this much of one.  

"I wasn't expecting it," Fedun said. "I knew when the trade happened there was injury trouble, and there was potentially an opportunity to get in some games, but I thought for sure once we had some healthy bodies that would probably be it.

Video: OTT@DAL: Fedun goes upstairs off Shore's perfect feed

"To get moved and have a staff that has given me an opportunity, given me a chance, it's changed my outlook. Nothing has changed for me physically in the last four or five months, but to be here and in a position where they are giving me opportunities to succeed, it goes a very long way in helping my confidence."

The Fedun trade to Dallas didn't create a lot of buzz when it happened. The condition on the draft pick compensation was this: If Fedun played 25 or more NHL games, the Stars would send the seventh-round pick to Buffalo; if he didn't hit the 25-game mark there would be no compensation. Well, the Stars have now sent the pick to Buffalo.

Meanwhile, Fedun has recorded six points (two goals, four assists) in 26 games while averaging 14:34 of ice time per game. He's played on the third defense pair, has become a regular on the penalty kill, and saw some time on the power play at one point.

"Taylor has been tremendous for us," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said. "I don't know where we would be if we didn't have his steady play over the past two and a half months."

Fedun is in his eighth season of professional hockey following a four-year career at Princeton University in New Jersey. As a youth, Fedun had a passion for hockey and school.

"I always enjoyed school growing up. I loved the challenge, loved to read," he said. "I always wanted to play hockey to the point where I could go to school. I thought I was quite realistic in my goals, not expecting to get to the NHL. I wasn't a kid that was like 'I am going to play in the NHL.' I understood how few of us actually make it to that level. I really wanted to get a college education."

At Princeton, Fedun earned a degree in mechanical engineering.

"It was very math heavy. Even the chemistry and physics aspects of it were pretty math intensive," Fedun said. "That is what I enjoyed in my high school and grade school days, the math and physics side of things. So, to get to university and really apply it because I can't tell you how many times you hear when you are studying some type of math, 'When am I ever going to use this?' But when you get to college and see how calculus and multivariable calculus are what drives the world that we live in today, it is pretty cool to see how it applies."

Video: CHI@DAL: Benn, Fedun connect to trim deficit

On the hockey side, he tallied 68 points (20 goals, 48 assists) in 127 games. He was twice named to the ECAC's All-Academic team, was an ECAC Second Team All-Star in 2010 and a First Team All-Star in 2011. And playing hockey at Princeton opened his eyes to new career possibilities.

"It wasn't until I got [to Princeton] that I realized there could be an opportunity to continue playing afterwards," Fedun said.

He wasn't drafted by an NHL team, but the Edmonton native was signed as a free agent out of college by the Oilers in March 2011.

His pro career was put in jeopardy before it even started though. In a preseason game between the Oilers and Minnesota, Fedun suffered a broken femur when he crashed into the end boards as he and Wild forward Eric Nystrom raced for a puck. Nystrom, who tried to reach around Fedun to touch the puck and avoid an icing, got his stick caught up in Fedun's skates, sending him into the boards.

Fedun was taken immediately to the hospital where doctors repaired the damage with a rod and four screws. The incident renewed the debate over touch icing, which would eventually be taken out of the NHL. As for Fedun, he started the long rehabilitation process and would return the next season, 2012-13, to play for Edmonton's AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City.

"I think the biggest part for me was the day after I had the surgery," Fedun said. "The two surgeons that performed the surgery explained what they had done, and they were trauma surgeons, so they had done this type of thing before. They assured me basically from the get-go that if I took care of my rehab and did what needed to be done, I would be able to get back one day. And I think right from the get-go, knowing all the time I was putting in was going to lead me to where I wanted to go. That took away a lot of the uncertainty. When there is uncertainty, it plants seeds of doubt in your mind. And knowing that if I did what needed to be done, I would be back one day did a lot for my mental state."

Fedun made his NHL debut during the 2013-14 season, and it was an impressive one. He scored in his first NHL game on Nov. 5, 2013 at Florida. Two days later, he scored in his second game when the Oilers played at Tampa Bay. He played two more games and then it was back to the AHL for the rest of the season. After that season, he started to move around, signing with San Jose in the summer of 2014, Vancouver in 2015, and Buffalo in 2016. He'd see spot duty with each team, seven games with the Sharks, one with the Canucks, and 34 over two seasons with the Sabres.

Now, he finds himself in Dallas where he is making the most of the latest opportunity in his career, and just a few months removed from wondering where his career was going as he struggled to find playing time with Rochester in the AHL.

"I look back at it, and I don't know if I could have ever expected anything like this," Fedun said. "And to be in this position now after my 30th birthday or when a few months ago when it seemed like I might not get another opportunity to play in the NHL. Now I feel like I really belong here, and I am doing what I need to do out there.

"I can't tell you how good of a feeling that is."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mark Stepneski has covered the Stars for since 2012. Follow him on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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