The 2013-14 Dallas Stars will be sporting a new look in more ways than one this season, and that’s welcome news in Texas after the team finished dead last in the Pacific Division in April.
In addition to launching some much improved uniforms, the Stars brought GM Jim Nill and head coach Lindy Ruff down south to lead the rebuild, and so far the project is well on its way. Of course, the big development in Big D this summer was the acquisition of 21-year-old starlet Tyler Seguin from the Boston Bruins and the trade should define Nill and Ruff’s tenure.
On the Fourth of July, the Stars struck a blockbuster deal to acquire the 2011 second-overall pick and veteran forward Rich Peverley in exchange for top-line winger Loui Eriksson and prospects Joe Morrow, Matt Fraser and Reilly Smith. The Stars took a major risk in severing ties with Eriksson, and if Morrow, Fraser or Smith breaks out in Boston this deal could look like a mistake.
Seguin’s brief career has seen its fair share of ups and downs. He won the Stanley Cup in a limited role as a rookie and followed up the title by leading the Bruins in both goals and points at just 20-years-old. However, Seguin’s production dropped off drastically in 2013 amidst rumors of immaturity.
Forced to play on the right wing in Boston due to the established presence of David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron, Seguin may not have tapped his full potential just yet. He proved in 2011-12 that he has what it takes to be a star. Perhaps a fresh start and an expanded role in Dallas can help him become the franchise player Boston no longer expected him to be.
A gifted playmaker with blazing speed, Seguin’s only major flaw is a tendency to shy away from contact. He’ll have to be more aggressive in the corners to improve. He’ll also have to regain his confidence when shooting the puck. At times in his career, he has exhibited a lethal ability to fire the puck but he was severely snake-bitten in the postseason, scoring just once with 70 shots on goal.
He should benefit from the presence of Jamie Benn, who is developing into an elite power forward. Never afraid to bang bodies, Benn has steadily grown into a top-notch scorer and playmaker. He should be due for a career year, so long as Seguin returns to form in the middle of the ice.
With Jaromir Jagr and Michael Ryder out of the picture after midseason trades, the Stars have major questions surrounding their depth scoring. Ray Whitney is still around, but at 41-years-old, his production should decline. Rich Peverley and Erik Cole will be called upon to augment the offense but both players endured difficult seasons after strong 2011-12 campaigns.
If they can’t get the job done, the burden will fall on young players like first-round pick Valeri Nichushkin. The Russian teenager slipped on draft day to the ecstatic Stars, who could deploy the big right winger on their top-line with Seguin and Benn.
The hype surrounding Nichushkin could be a little overblown considering he struggled somewhat in 18 KHL games last year and he mustered just two points at the World Junior Championships. Still, his speed and power have drawn some comparisons to Alexander Ovechkin. He’s probably not ready to make a major impact at the NHL level but the Stars might try to speed up his development by throwing him straight into the fire.
Top prospects Brett Ritchie and Radek Faksa might also make the jump to the big leagues this season. Both forwards performed well in the Ontario Hockey League last season and they should help the Stars flesh out their rapidly rebuilding roster in the near future.
The Stars will also hope to promote former Northeastern Husky Jamie Oleksiak to help improve their 24th ranked defense. Alex Goligoski and Stephane Robidas weren’t awful leading the defensive corps in 2013 but they could certainly stand to improve.
Dallas’ primary defensive question will be the health of netminder Kari Lehtonen. The Finnish goalie was nagged by injuries throughout the season, though he still managed to make 36 starts. As long as he stays on the ice, he should help lower the Stars’ goals-against average this season.
The Stars caught a break in realignment, landing in the relatively shallow Central Division. That said, the playoffs still don’t seem to be on the horizon next summer. The Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues are easy favorites to finish at the top of the standings with the remaining clubs duking it out for one or two remaining playoff spots.
The Stars could be a surprise team if Seguin and Benn both average more than a point-per-game but for now it looks as if they’ll continue looking ahead. Two to three years from now, however, they could be dangerous in the West.