This summer I find myself looking forward to the future more so than any other time in my life as a Dallas Stars fan. It has nothing to do with my expectations for the upcoming season; in fact, I'm actually very excited to see what the Stars can do this year with a revamped roster and new coach.
What I am secretly extremely excited about, however, is to see just what this hockey team will be in three years. In the past, the Dallas Stars have been a quick-build, "win now" type of team. The team has used smart trades and deft free agent signings to become winners -- think of how the 1999 Stanley Cup team was built -- while also relying on the draft to supplement being able to build the team from the outside.
Things have changed, however, necessitated by a shift in how the NHL does business and a forced change in how the Dallas Stars have been forced to operate. Teams are holding on to their young, talented defensemen and only trading them away if the price is absolutely out of this world. Teams around the NHL certainly aren't allowing their top defensemen to escape via free agency.
With Joe Nieuwendyk at the helm, the Dallas Stars have begun to build their own stable of high-potential, talented prospects. With Alex Chiasson, Reilly Smith, Scott Glennie, Brett Ritchie and Tomas Vincour (among other) the Stars have a number of exciting young forwards on their way to the NHL. It's the defensemen, however, that suddenly has Stars fans excited as in just two years, Nieuwendyk has taken a position of dire need in the system and seemingly turned it into a position of strength.
At this point last year, all we had to be excited about was Philip Larsen. Just 12 months later, Larsen is still a player Stars fans can't wait to see in Dallas but he's not the lone savior for the blue line with all the pressure in the world on his shoulders. Instead, the Stars have steadily built a stable of young defensemen that could -- in just a few short years -- have the blue line in Dallas looking very different than its current iteration.
For me, it's John Klingberg that has me the most intrigued. The small defenseman from Sweden, who has put on 20 or so pounds in the last year as he bulks up, continues to impress at every level. He'll be moving on to the top hockey league in Finland this summer, where he'll have a chance to play faster hockey on a smaller rink as he prepares for the NHL. Klingberg played at multiple levels of hockey last year in Sweden and was named the team MVP after leading his junior hockey team to the league championship.
Klingberg is a smooth skating, quick defenseman with incredible instincts with the puck. He has a good shot but his ability to move the puck in transition and spark offensive scoring chances is what has the Dallas Stars excited about his future. Despite his size, he's also not a reliability on defense and is developing into a very exciting two-way defenseman. Via ESPN Dallas, Les Jackson has nothing but good things to say:
"He has some really good skill and offensive attributes," said Stars Director of Scouting and Player Development Les Jackson. "He has skill, poise, and a feel for the game offensively. He's got high-end puck presence. He's slippery, elusive. He has all those elements. ... He has instincts and skill you can't teach. It's just a matter of maturity and time. He's got a really good chance to move ahead."
Let's also not forget about Hubert Labrie, a very smooth-skating defenseman who lost his entire season last year due to a knee injury. He's the forgotten piece in this puzzle, a very strong blue liner who impressed everyone in attendance at the development camp two weeks ago. Labrie is another "offensively minded" defenseman, but he's a great two-way player as well, covering his own end just as well as he can move the puck easily up ice in transition.
There's also Patrik Nemeth, the large defenseman from Sweden who I was told last year was the "steal of the 2nd round". Jamieson Oleksiak and Troy Vance are the two big names from this year's draft, on top of newcomer Brenden Dillon, the exciting young defenseman who is perhaps closer to the NHL than anyone in the system.
So Stars fans, who are you most excited about?