Dallas Stars Training Camp: Early Impressions

Note: Defending Big D was not at training camp today, so this is more of our early impressions from camp and a roundup of the news so far. We should be back tomorrow with first hand analysis, as well as a breakdown of the first preseason game on Wednesday.

Also, if you have not chimed in on our Defending Big D roll call, feel free to head on over and let us know you're around.

We're officially two days into training camp and already we're starting to get a good sense of just how different this team will be under Marc Crawford. When Dave Tippett was fired by Joe Nieuwendyk, one of the main reasons given for the change was that the atmosphere surrounding the team needed to be different, that things had become a bit stale in Frisco. The hiring of Marc Crawford promised that at the very least they would have a completely different coach behind the bench for the Stars. Yet a very big question needed answering: how would these players respond to a harsher coach with a completely different system than we've ever had in Dallas?

Early reports are that this team hasn't looked more energetic or enthusiastic in a long, long time. Last training camp the Stars entered the season with high expectations after taking Detroit to game six of the Western Conference Finals and with a certain player adding tension in the locker room, there wasn't much room for pure fun out on the ice. The say sometimes that change is the best medicine for complacency, and it appears that the front office changes have kick-started this team to regain the fire that Dallas Stars teams have been known for in the past.

It doesn't hurt that Brenden Morrow is back on the ice, returning after missing most of last season with a knee injury. Morrow is perhaps the most inspiring captain in the NHL, and his leadership is absolutely the key to any success the team has this season. I have a suspicion that Morrow might have lost some hypothetical pull in the locker room last season; it's no secret that he always detested Sean Avery and the team signing him despite this caused some serious issues within the team. This year Morrow is back and in complete control of his team, and that may be the best news of the offseason.

More impressions after the jump.

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What does Jere Lehtinen's injury mean? In the very first practice after the Stars signed the long time winger to a one-year contract, it's revealed he has a groin injury and will miss the first five days of camp. Now it could just be precautionary and the team doesn't want to push an older veteran, but this is the exact reason why the team was hesitant to sign him to a longer deal. For all of his great play over the years, his consistency and his dedication to two-way play, Lehtinen has turned into an injury-prone player. With the exception of a severely shortened season in 1999, he has rarely missed more than 10 games a season. Yet the past two years have been frustrating for Lehtinen and the Stars, playing in just 48 games each of the past two seasons. While his value on the ice is still high, his production has dipped significantly (8 goals, 24 points last season) and it's doubtful we see Lehtinen back on the top line under Marc Crawford.

So what does this mean? For one, the Stars are apt to test out Jamie Benn a bit more on the right wing. It's been hinted at that he could see some time there this preseason and if he proves to be productive on the right side, his versatility could help fill the void left by any absence by Lehtinen.

Yet there are several other forwards who could benefit before Benn, who the team wants to get experience in the AHL...

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Dallas Stars fans, meet Tom Wandell. Here is one of the forgotten forwards in the Dallas Stars system, playing last year in Sweden due to a lack of AHL affiliate for the organization. He was called up briefly, appearing in 14 games last season, but only a few times did we get to witness the potential Wandell has with the puck. This season, he may be the first forward to get a call up if he doesn't earn a spot on the team out of training camp. Talking with Brad about his impression so far of Wandell, he's surprising a lot of folks with his skill and speed and really could benefit from Crawford's uptempo system. He's also gotten off to a big start in camp, scoring today and hitting the post on another shot. Heika suggests that if he doesn't end up on the roster out of camp, then he should be the No. 1 center in Austin. I'm expecting to see a lot of Wandell in a Stars jersey this season.

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We may be surprised by Crawford's reformed offensive system. When Stars fans heard that Marc Crawford was going to be named head coach of the Stars, immediate thoughts of a wide-open offensive system with no defensive discipline that leaves the goaltender on island started dancing through out heads. We were also a bit skeptical since Crawford's last coaching foray, in Los Angeles, had not gone well and was personally witnessed by Stars fans.

Yet it appears that Crawford has learned some painful yet valuable lessons, and he's admitting as much now. He's adjusted his system to fit the players on this team, rather than trying to force the players to learn a system they're not comfortable with. It also appears that thoughts that Crawford would sacrifice defensive integrity in favor of offense may have been unfounded; by all accounts there's just as much a focus on defense as there has always been in Dallas, it's just being emphasized in a different way. The defensemen will be asked to join the rush and spark the offensive transition, but will still be taught to maintain positional awareness and win the big battles in space that will happen in a system like this one. The players have also responded to this new system and have embraced the uptempo style they'll be playing this season. Brad Richards, Mike Ribeiro, Loui Eriksson and James Neal have all shown speed and explosiveness not really seen before by fans.

With Charlie Huddy running the defense, Crawford has ensured that the young players on the blue line are going to be ready for the transition to the new system. Huddy is adept at teaching an offensive side to defense while also focusing on the defense itself. Crawford knows what the perception was coming into Dallas, and he's prepared to prove everyone he can lead a balanced team:

"We want our defense to be more active, but we don't want them to be reckless. We are going to build on the great defensive qualities that were instituted by Dave Tippett and Rick Wilson. We'll build on those strengths," Crawford said. "The biggest point is that when we become a team that comes into the defensive zone hard and that really pressures to regain the puck, then we go a long way towards recapturing what the Stars have always been about."

It's early yet, and we haven't even seen the team in action against anyone other themselves. But early reports are that this new system may be exactly what was needed and perfectly fits the players on the team. Time will tell.

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Other quick observations:

  • According to Mike Heika, Mathieu Beaudoin is a right-handed forward that might see time with the Stars this season. He's just recently signed by the Texas Stars, and has played for Glen Gulutzan before.
  • Richard Bachman is having a rough camp so far. While the other goalies are looking sharp (including Turco), Bachman is struggling and allowed three goals today. It's looking more and more like he'll start off with Idaho (ECHL) this season.
  • Speaking of goalies, Mike Valley and Andy Moog are really focused on not allowing a slow start in net this season. This is a level of practice not seen in Dallas in some time.
  • I think Stars are fans are about to be introduced to the REAL Brad Richards. I can't wait.
  • Eriksson is poised to be another top-scorer in the NHL. Like, top-ten.
  • Jamie Benn has been at his best so far in camp playing next to Modano. Same thing happened last year with James Neal. Coincidence?
  • Finally, this quote from Mark Crawford on how the team will use Turco:
  • "When I had Patrick Roy what we'd always do with Patrick was look at the schedule with him and say we want to give you some time to really work at your game during ten-game segments. I think I'll do the same thing with Marty. I think the number will be seven or eight games for him. I think it means Alex will play three in ten and Marty would play seven. Sometimes it will be eight and two, but most often it will be seven."

    "On the other side of it, we don't want to handcuff ourselves. When he's on a roll we're going to ride the living the crap out of him.
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