Over the next month, Defending Big D will be counting down the most important "impact" players for the upcoming season for the Dallas Stars. Starting from the player we believe will have the smallest influence on this season to the player with the most, we'll countdown from #23 all the way to the top as we get ready for what we hope will be a very promising season.
It is possible that Tom Wandell may be the most frustrating player on this year's roster. Since coming to the Dallas Stars for a handful games at the end of the 2008-09 season, Wandell has flashed the potential to be a solid third line center with good two-way sensibilities and the ability to produce offensively at a respectable rate. For the first 50 games of the 2009-10 season, those flashes became more consistent and Wandell showed signs of becoming a legitimate playmaker.
His speed is his greatest asset and his non-stop motor was giving opponents fits night after night. Wandell was coming close to pushing for more minutes and a bigger role on the team, before an unfortunate collision with a door in Vancouver ended his season prematurely.
Generally, it takes about 12 months to fully recover from an ACL injury. It took Brenden Morrow a full season or so until he appeared to be himself again. Unfortunately, in the NHL, there are endless careers that were sidetracked and then ended with such an injury. Players that aren't superstars and who aren't the highest paid players on the team aren't going to get two full seasons in the NHL to try and return to the level of play that they enjoyed before the injury.
This might be Wandell's final shot at proving himself with the Dallas Stars.
After scoring 15 points in 50 games before his injury, Wandell returned last season and notched just nine points in 75 games. Even more disturbing was he had only two assists all season long, a testament to the fact that Wandell struggled for most of the season creating plays and creating space for himself. Wandell has tremendous potential. He's a solid two-way player and is certainly not a liability defensively. He's decent in the faceoff circle and has the speed to drive opposing coaches insane.
Unfortunately, during his struggle to return from his injury last season, that speed was lost and so was his aggression with the puck. What always made Wandell stand out was how he was never afraid to drive with the puck to the net, which was able to open things up for his linemates. That aggression was gone and only returned at times at the end of the season, likely when his knee was finally feeling healthy again.
All of this negativity can be erased, however, if Wandell is back to being 100% healthy and the potential we briefly witnessed in 2009 can finally be reached. Unfortunately, the Dallas Stars can't wait around for a fourth line player to hopefully get healthy again and the team did exactly what it needed to do: sign players it can count on to get the job done.
With the addition of Radek Dvorak, Jake Dowell and Vernon Fiddler, Wandell is going to have play his way onto the third line and force the coaches to give him more minutes. Right now, however, all we have to go on is potential and it's completely unknown at this point whether he'll ever return to the level of play he briefly enjoyed just a few seasons back. Wandell is a player that everyone loves and wants to succeed and it's unfortunate that an injury has derailed what appeared to be a great trajectory for a late-round draft pick.
What is great for the Dallas Stars, however, is that Tom Wandell is a guy that make a fourth line a very dangerous line. Glen Gulutzan wants to make the Stars a team that rolls four lines consistently and he wants to be able to pressure with four very effective lines on the ice. Wandell is going to be instrumental in that regard, and he'll excel in such a role -- especially if he is finally healthy once more.