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.
Ask around the league and poll fans from the other 29 teams and you'll find that people don't really "appreciate" Steve Ott. He's not their favorite person, and that's alright with him. He planned it that way. His research into foreign language insults, his reputation for trying to draw penalties and his various other exploits are well documented. Steve Ott has been, as TSN described him this weekend, an "uber-pest" in this league.
While the raucous ovation that accompanies a post-fight Steve Ott skate to the penalty box, elbow pads askew, is fun, the time for it is coming to an end if the forward is to truly take the next step in his game that he's been flirting with for the last three seasons.
In 2008-2009, with a roster beyond all NHL recognition due to horrendous injury problems, Steve Ott was given a role with Mike Ribeiro on a makeshift top line that was quite simply alone in generating offense. He responded by contributing an astounding 37 points in the last 40 games of the season. The agitator couldn't agitate. He had a cast on his broken hand. He could only score, and that's what he did.
He poured in 22 goals the following season, for a two year total of 41, and we were left wondering last September which kind of Steve Ott we would get in 2010-2011. Only 12 goals and 32 points followed with a -9 on the season in an ill defined role that saw him play up and down the lineup with new mates every other night and commit 39 minor penalties.
Nevertheless, his game continued to develop in other areas. He was the unquestioned faceoff leader for Dallas last season. He killed penalties, generated a lot of shorthanded chances and was nearly always on the ice to close out a close game (as discussed and laid out here).
The Stars enter the season without James Neal and without Brad Richards. The defense has been improved and the goaltending situation has been addressed, but now the top six forward group is in need of rounding out and it appears as though Steve Ott's time has come.
In regards to the chance sitting in front of him, Ott told ESPN Dallas recently "I guess to have the opportunity to be a steady player in one position, I am excited for that for that and ready to grab it. I kind of excelled at it a few years ago, did well. I think it's something I've been waiting for a long time, to be given an opportunity like this."
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On such a line Ott could be the on that drives the net and creates space with physicality for the other two to do their magic, but the question is if Ott can do so in a manner that keeps him on the ice as a top six forward must.
His penalty minute total of 183 was a career high (and more than twice what anyone else on the team accumulated), but digging further into the numbers and getting rid of the eleven fighting majors we can see that his 39 minor penalties were a problem. That number was good for second in the entire NHL behind P.K. Subban.
Ott's faceoff ability and opportune goal scoring will be a great compliment to Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson only if he's able to get on the ice with them every time out. The problem, as it has been for a while, will be balancing the Steve Ott the rest of the NHL knows with the productive Steve Ott that Stars fans have seen at times and crave more of.
Krys Barch and Eric Godard can handle the fisticuffs this year and if Adam Burish can stay healthy, his presence on a third line with Vernon Fiddler will fill the checking line agitator type role Ott will hopefully leave in the dust as he continues to bloom into a two-way forward.
Stars fans hope that a new coach and a new vibe this year will help Ott settle into this new role and that stability (not playing on a new line every other night) will breed success and chemistry. At 29 years of age, his conversion to a more offensive minded forward could go a long way toward the balanced team approach to scoring the Stars are talking about entering the season. No doubt he'll want to show everyone how much more he is than an "uber-pest."