Stars tested, learn valuable lessons in Traverse City
Dallas' prospects showed there's much to like with a runner-up finish at the tournament, but untapped potential remainsby Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- The Stars are a team in transition -- in more ways than one.
The organization is pushing for a fast game that creates puck possession and scoring chances, something they should be able to do more of in the second season under coach Jim Montgomery. But to get to that point, this team has to be ready to attack and counterattack, and eventually cash in on scoring chances in transition.
[MORE COVERAGE: Mascherin happy to call Stars home after winding journey]
Those storylines played out in the four games at the 2019 NHL Prospect Tournament here at Centre ICE Arena this week, maybe most notably in the championship game, where Dallas lost 6-5 to the Detroit Red Wings.
The Stars created tons of scoring chances and had a 4-2 lead in the third period, but Detroit bounced back with some strong transition play of its own, scoring four goals in 8:48 and taking over the game. It was a fast and furious contest, one that general manager Jim Nill said reflected how far the prospects came in the tournament.
"I thought that might have been our best game of the whole tournament, maybe the one we deserved to win the most," Nill said. "But that's hockey. The guys played very well."
Dallas finished in second place and outshot the opposition in every game. The Stars had a 122-90 advantage in shots on goal in the four games, and showed impressive skill throughout the lineup.
There is much to like in a group that has scored very well at the lower level, but there also is untapped potential that still needs to be recognized.
Jason Robertson, who was picked 39th overall in 2017 and led the OHL in scoring last season with 117 points in 62 games, had just one goal and five shots on goal in four games. AHL veterans Nick Cammano and Ben Gleason had no points, although Caamano had 12 shots on goal.
Adam Mascherin scored all four of his points in one game, while Tye Felhaber finished with four assists, two in the championship game. It was an interesting test for players who had tallied 100 points in junior hockey.
"I think a lot of people look at your numbers. If you're doing well in that sense, you want to talk about it; and if you're not, you don't," Felhaber said. "It's part of the game."
Still, the Stars want to work from a defensive base and then produce numbers from that. Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal, who coached the prospects, said he believes the organization has players who can play the two-way game.
"You want to play on your toes," Laxdal said. "You can still play fast even if you don't have guys who can skate fast. But this group has guys who can skate fast, so that makes you even faster. I thought the guys really jelled as the games went on and you could really see that speed develop."
The Stars seem to have the talent to skate and score.
Joel Kiviranta, a 23-year-old free agent from Finland, had four goals and one assist in four games and led the tournament with 19 shots on goal. Ty Dellandrea, the 19-year-old who could be pushing for a spot on the opening-night roster, had two goals and three assists. Riley Tufte had a nice performance in his transition from college hockey with a goal and three assists.
"For some guys, I thought it was a real coming out party," Nill said. "I thought every game we outskated the other team, and at the same time we were pretty physical. I think if these were seven-game series, we would have worn most teams down. So we're faster, but we're also a big team, too."
And maybe that's really the message of where the Stars are heading. Montgomery has been pushing a relentless team, but also said the NHL Stars want to improve on being 28th in the league in scoring. So speed, size, skating and hitting -- all will be important.
"The biggest thing for the guys who come from Texas to Dallas is they have to be responsible defensively," Laxdal said. "They're not just going to jump into a top-six role, so if they can continue to work on that defensive game with that offensive flare, they can take advantage. Then, when they get a chance to score, they need to bury their chance. They're not going to score every chance, but they have to be ready to take on that responsibility."
This tournament was a great lesson in that philosophy.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.