If pre-season games are where players need to shine in order to catch the attention of club management, then new Dallas Stars winger Brad Winchester is off to a pretty good start.
The 26-year-old physical grinder, an off-season free agent signee from Edmonton, impressed with a goal, which just happened to be the game-winner, a fight and a + 1 plus/minus rating in the Stars’ pre-season opener Tuesday night at American Airlines Center, a thrilling 6-5 victory over the St. Louis Blues.
It helped distinguish the 6-foot-5, 215-pound winger from several other forwards trying to grab those last few remaining roster spots.
“It felt great,” Winchester said of his Dallas debut. “It was exciting to put on the jersey, and go out there and get the pre-season started. During training camp, you want to try to continue to make strides every day.”
“He was very good last night in the game,” noted Stars coach Dave Tippett. “He was physically involved in the game, he did everything we asked of him down low, had a couple of good chances, got the winning goal. That was a very good outing for him.”
Winchester’s goal exemplified the gritty play he can help provide for the Stars. With Dallas hanging on to a 5-4 lead late in the third period, Winchester outbattled a Blues defender behind the St. Louis net, then curled out front with it while holding off a checker, and zipped a quick wrister past goalie Hannu Toivonen.
“I was able to play a power forward game in the minors and I want to continue to bring that offense to this level and add that element as well,” said Winchester, who registered four goals and nine point in 59 games as a rookie last year for the Oilers. “There’s a lot of things that I’m continually trying to work on. I just want to do whatever the coaches are asking of me. Whatever I can do to help this team, and last night, playing with (Steve) Ott and (Krys) Barch, we try to create some energy out there and get in on the forecheck and we were able to draw some penalties.”
“Brad’s done well, he had a big goal last night, he had a fight,” Ott added. “He’s a big player, 6-5, and he’s got to play big, and that’s one thing he did last night. He brought that to the table and contributed well for us.”
While Ott heads to Tampa with the portion of the team playing the Lightning Wednesday night in pre-season matchup number two, Winchester stayed back in Dallas and will likely play again Thursday night at American Airlines Center against Colorado (7:30 pm).
It will be yet another opportunity for Winchester, who scored 26 goals and 40 points in 40 games while also adding 118 penalty minutes for AHL Hamilton in 2005-06, to show what he can do.
“He’s a big man,” Tippett said. “You’re looking for all the different intangibles on your team, and he’s a guy that brings size and some skill there and plays with that grit element. When you look at your team, you need those things, so we’ll see how that turns out for him. We’ve got a whole group in there, and everybody’s got to fight for that little extra piece of the pie and he’s in that group.”
With some guys going to Tampa and others remaining in Dallas, the team was split into two groups on Wednesday. The group leaving for Tampa practiced lightly on one rink at the Frisco Dr Pepper StarCenter while the others participated in a more spirited skate on the other rink.
With basically four exhibition games in the span of three days (including Tuesday afternoon’s 4-1 loss in the rookie game against the Blues’ rookies), just about every healthy player on the roster will end up playing twice in the three days. But after four grueling days of camp and then the games, don’t expect fatigue to set in just yet.
“I feel pretty good, I feel like I’ve prepared all summer for this, and so far, I feel fresh, I feel energized and I feel ready to go,” said Ott, who will be in Tampa for his second game in consecutive nights. “Even though it’s back-to-back games, that’s why you prepare all summer for this.”
“Of course, it’s tough, we played yesterday, but you just have to be ready all the time to just go out there and play a good game again,” said second-year winger Loui Eriksson
, who logged 15:10 of ice time against the Blues and is also heading to Tampa. “You’ve been practicing all summer for this, so you have to be ready for it.”
Tippett wasn’t concerned about fatigue, he was looking more for how various players respond to different situations in game action.
“That shouldn’t be a big factor for them,” Tippett said. “You’re looking for young guys getting an opportunity. We had probably more a veteran group in there last night because of the game in the afternoon, but there was some players that will get an opportunity to show what they can do at the NHL level. Sertich, Lindgren, Fistric, Niskanen, Neal, some guys like that, it will be a good test for them.”
Tippett added that as part of the evaluation process for those above-mentioned younger players is installing them into more important roles in the games and seeing how they handle the responsibility, citing the use of second-year winger Krys Barch as a penalty killer against St. Louis as an example.
“That’s what exhibition (games are) about, giving people key face-offs, giving them key minutes,” Tippett pointed out. “Barchie’s killing penalties there, there’s a lot of things you’re looking at. You almost like the situations when it gets tight, situations that will enhance their growth.”
With center Mike Ribeiro
out for at least two weeks with an injured ankle, Tippett experimented with second-year winger Joel Lundqvist at center in Ribeiro’s place on a line with Eriksson and captain Brenden Morrow
. The trio wasn’t as dangerous offensively against St. Louis as it had been in intra-squad scrimmages with Ribeiro, although Morrow did score an important go-ahead goal early in the third period.
Lundqvist admitted it took him a while to adjust to the new position.
“Tippett told me the day before that we had a lot of injuries, to play center, but first game and everything, the timing was off with face-offs and stuff,” Lundqvist said. “But after that in the second and third, I felt better and better.”
After excelling with his speed and banging along the boards so well late last season, switching to center was a big change for Lundqvist.
“It’s different,” Lundqvist acknowledged. “I played center, though, in Iowa and back home (in Sweden), but of course, it’s more responsibility, especially in your own zone. You have to think a little bit more than being on wing, where you just skate. When I play wing, I just try to be first in the corners and check and you don’t get that much of that game when I play center. It’s a little bit different game, but it doesn’t matter, if I just play, I’m happy. I’ll play center, wing, it doesn’t matter.”
Tippett was non-committal as to how long the arrangement might last.
“We’ll see,” he said. “(Lundqvist) was all right. They were all right. We’ll kind of tinker around a little bit, so we’ll see. Tonight we got Sertich, Lindgren and Petersen playing that are all crafty centermen out of the same mold as Ribs, so we’ll see how they play tonight. We’ve got to get a read on Ribs here in a couple of weeks. Before you start filling his space, you got to figure out where he’s at.”
As for Eriksson, he knows he needs to keep working hard no matter which center is feeding him passes.
“Of course, Ribs is a skilled guy, a guy who plays the puck very well in the offensive zone, he’s a good guy,” Eriksson said. “But we got a lot of guys who should be able to play that role, too, so it’s no different. Just go out there and try to play your game and try to do a good job.”
Ribeiro will be re-evaluated in two weeks.