From the moment that Brad Richards and the Dallas Stars decided to part ways, Steve Ott's importance to this hockey team suddenly grew. Ott has been a fan favorite for a long time now and is infamous across the NHL, yet the paradigm in which he fits on the Dallas Stars is shifting and he'll be expected to play a significant role in attempting to secure any future successes.
Ott has always been a bit of an enigma for the Dallas Stars. Drafted out of the OHL in 2000, Ott was known as a physical player with exceptional scoring ability (50 goals in 2000-01) and made his NHL debut in 2002. Since then, he has forged an identity in the NHL as one of the best agitator's in the business and has become famous for the extra research he undertakes in order to better get under the skin of his business. Some say he's one of the more hated players in the NHL, constantly disparaged across blogs and media sites alike.
That's only because they're jealous he doesn't play for their team.
Steve Ott walks a fine line when he's on the ice and there have been plenty of times when even Dallas Stars fans agree that he has gone too far. During the first five seasons of his career, all Ott was known for were his over-the-top antics on the ice and his sincere attitude off the ice. With the Stars possessing so many high-skill players on the roster during his early years in the NHL, Ott found a way to carve out a niche for himself to secure his spot on the roster. His physicality was needed as well and he soon became one of the most popular sports figures in the D/FW area.
It wasn't until the 2008-09 season, however, that Ott took a new step in his career. The Dallas Stars were recovering from the disaster that was Sean Avery, while Steve Ott was recovering from a severely broken wrist sustained in the Boston Debacle. When he returned to the ice, Brad Richards was gone indefinitely and the cast on his hand prevented Ott from engaging in many of the shenanigans that had thus far defined his career. With Richards out, Ott was asked to step up into a larger role offensively and he responded in a big way, scoring 19 goals to go along with 46 points.
It's important to note, however, that Ott scored just 3 goals and 6 assists in his first 24 games. Starting in late January, when Brad Richards was lost indefinitely, Ott scored 16 goals and had 37 points in the remaining 40 games. It was a remarkable turnaround for a player previously thought to be just a one-trick pony and proved that Ott was more than just a guy who could swear in multiple languages.
The next season (2009-10), Ott had a career high 22 goals yet his overall offensive game fell off a bit as the Stars struggled to find a rhythm under new coach Marc Crawford. It seemed at times that Ott was struggling to find a balance between stepping up offensively -- as he was now asked to do -- and still being one of the lone physical players on this team, and at times the only physical player for the Dallas Stars.
Last year, Ott started to find that balance. While the point production wasn't as high as his potential would suggest (12-20-32), Ott found a niche as a faceoff specialist and third-line shutdown center. Proving his versatility between center and wing, Ott teamed up with Adam Burish to form a formidable checking line for the Stars that was immensely successful -- until Burish was hurt. Ott seemed to be struggling with his role and with his approach at times, and posted the highest PIM numbers of his career while finishing with just 12 goals.
Brad Richards has now moved on and the Dallas Stars have a new coaching staff and brand new start, a fresh approach to the game that should allow all players to reset and find their groove once more. For Steve Ott, that groove might be much different that what we've seen the last two seasons.
Joe Nieuwendyk stated this summer before free agency that Ott will be expected to step up and help fill the void in production vacated by Brad Richards and James Neal. The Stars added Michael Ryder -- presumably to play with Mike Ribeiro -- and Ott suddenly finds himself headed into this season as a top-six forward for the Dallas Stars. You have to wonder if the Stars felt comfortable just adding Ryder, instead of a top-six center, because the Stars are focused on give Ott the opportunity to prove that that second half of the 08-09 season was not a fluke.
It's not just the point production that is going to be so important to the Stars. During those 40 games or so after Richards went down Ott took over as the vocal leader of the team, putting aside his penchant for fistacuffs in favor of embracing this new role on the team.
Once more, Ott is being given the opportunity to step up, to play with players like Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson and to help create a potent second line that not only plays exceptional hockey on both ends of the rink but defines what physical and exciting hockey can be like.
Steve Ott has forever been known as a hated agitator, a player that succeeds by provoking his opponents into penalties and disadvantages on the ice. With his role expanding this season, Ott will have the chance to show those around the NHL that he is much more than just an agitator and that the well-rounded and brilliant two-way player from 08-09 was not a fluke.
Ott is just 28 years old and if he shows the ability to take this next, significant step the Stars will have in place a key part of what is what is turning into a very bright future.