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Vincour latest to make debut, earns himself more time

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

As the third Dallas Stars prospect to make his NHL debut in the past three weeks, right winger Tomas Vincour may very well have had the biggest impact.

Following his recall from AHL Texas last Sunday, the 20-year-old Vincour has been in the injury-depleted lineup for the Stars since Wednesday’s crucial Pacific Division matchup with Phoenix, a hard-fought contest Dallas lost 3-2 in overtime, for his first two big-league contests.

In his debut, skating on the third line alongside Steve Ott and Tom Wandell, the 6-foot-2, 199-pound Vincour recorded one shot on goal, five hits (which ranked second on the club to captain Brenden Morrow’s six) and two blocked shots in 10:29 of ice time. Not bad for his first taste of NHL action.

“I thought it went pretty good,” the first-year pro said of his first game. “Too bad we didn’t win, because that’s the way it’s supposed to go, but we battled hard and we played pretty good. It’s way faster, everything goes quicker, players are stronger. The first period, I was kind of looking around, I couldn’t get myself going, my legs felt like stone, but in the second period, I felt great. I had a couple of shots, and I had a good feeling about my game.”

The sentiment was shared by the one person whose opinion mattered most, coach Marc Crawford, who was clearly pleased with the performance.

“I thought he played very well,” Crawford said. “I thought he was physical, I thought that he showed some NHL intelligence, just in getting to the right spot. He had one good backcheck where he broke up a play - you like to see those things.”

Vincour, who is the first player in franchise history to wear jersey number 81, also credited much of his first-game success to his linemates.

“Ott and Wandell are great players and they helped me out a lot,” said the native of Brno, Czech Republic, who ventured over to play junior hockey in the WHL at 16. “It was a great experience for me, great first game for me, especially playing with those two guys, and then I remember every minute on the ice.”

It was much of the same in Vincour’s second game during Friday night’s comeback shootout win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. In a game the Stars trailed 3-0 less than 13 minutes into the first period, Vincour remained on the third line and logged 8:55 of ice time, firing two shots on goal and recording two more hits. 

“It’s going to help us in the long run because some of these (AHL call-ups) are getting games and down the stretch and into the playoffs, you’re going to need a lot of these guys,” fourth-line forward Brian Sutherby said. “There’s always injuries and it can only help us.”

In his first year out of junior hockey, Vincour was experiencing a typical up-and-down rookie season with the AHL Texas Stars, based just outside Austin, posting modest offensive totals of five goals and 12 points in 44 games. He was partially motivated by seeing his Texas teammates, including Aaron Gagnon and Francis Wathier, recalled to Dallas.

“I expect more from myself and everyone else there does too, but I’m here right now,” said Vincour, who also scored on 3-of-6 shootout attempts for Texas. “I was happy for the guys that got called up, and I knew the only way I was going to get called was to work hard every day and see what happens.”

Part of the learning curve for players adjusting to pro hockey is defensive zone coverage and making sure your team doesn’t get scored on, and that has been an ongoing process for Vincour this season.

“He’s learning to play the game,” Crawford said. “What he has and what we’ve got him up here for are his instincts and the fact that he can play with good players. We understand that there’s still a learning process going on with him, but he’s an extremely talented guy and we’re trying to utilize the talent that he has, and trying to continue to do the good work that our minor league coaches are doing with him. 

“What most players learn to do when they come up, is they learn to play without the puck, they learn to play positionally, they learn how to pick up their checks, and there’s so much more of a necessity to be good away from the puck in the pro game as opposed to junior or college, where individual skill ends up taking the order of the day. So we’re trying to take advantage of his skill and continue with the learning that he needs to continue with in his play without the puck.”

Despite some of the hiccups during his adjustment, Vincour had pulled himself out of a nine-game point drought and was playing well recently, registering an assist in each of his last two AHL games. Still, he was pretty surprised when he received the call summoning him to Dallas.

“I couldn’t believe that I got called up to the NHL,” recounted Vincour, who was the Stars’ fifth-round selection (129th overall) in the 2009 Entry Draft. “Then as soon as I got here, I got to figure out what’s going on and it feels like a dream come true right now. I’m so excited. I couldn’t even sleep (Tuesday, the night before his debut), I was so pumped up.” 

“He deserves his opportunity,” said Wathier, 26, who appeared in the last two games before going back down to AHL Texas. “Obviously, it’s always an adjustment for any junior guys coming into pro and us over there as veterans, we try to explain that it’s a totally different game and you got to work hard there to get back here. And he did that, he did really good. He’s been listening, he’s been working hard on his game and sometimes things didn’t go his way, but he kept plugging away and I’m pretty happy for him to be here right now.” 

Regarding this occasional struggles in the AHL this year, Crawford believes Vincour’s style of play is more suited to playing in the NHL than the minors. 

“He’s probably a third-line offensive guy there and that’s kind of what he is here,” Crawford said of Vincour. “We project him to be a guy that potentially could be a top-six forward. He has that kind of skill. If his competitiveness gets to that level and his play away from the puck, size and talent are two great assets to start with and he’s got both of those.”

“Players are better and they move the puck much more than we do in the AHL here in the NHL,” Vincour said. “That’s the way I’ve been playing my whole life - in Europe it’s somewhat more technical. There’s a lot of Europeans in the NHL and that’s why I think it’s a little more structure, guys making plays in the neutral zone, 2-on-1, that’s the kind of plays I like to do. You’re playing with better players and they think it well and count on you to know what they’re going to do with the next step.”

Of course, after an impressive first couple of games, the trick for a young player called up to the NHL from the minors for the first time is to be able to replicate that type of performance on a nightly basis. It’s a lesson that both Travis Morin and Colton Sceviour, the previous AHL call-ups who made their debuts in the past couple of weeks and have since returned to Texas, are learning as well.

“Now we’re going to have to make sure we keep getting that level of play from him,” Crawford said. “We told all those guys from the minor league team tonight that you’ve got to keep proving that you belong here and I thought he was one guy that really showed that he can play at this level. To me, that’s what everybody wants to do each and every time you come out. He ended up giving a real favorable impression, hopefully for everybody in the organization.”

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