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.
When incompetent general manager Joe Nieuwendyk handed James Neal and "league average defenseman" Matt Niskanen on a platter to the genius known as Ray Shero and the Pittsburgh Penguins for a middle of the pack defenseman named Alex Goligoski it was pre-determined that the Penguins would win the next four, five, or even six Stanley Cups with Neal riding shotgun to Sidney Crosby. /sarcasm (...added just in case)
Fortunately that isn't quite how things have worked out so far despite the instant reactions to the contrary.
The Stars traded a relatively underachieving, but immensely talented, young winger to pick up a very underrated young blueliner who fills numerous organizational holes immediately. Goligoski goes into the season as the Stars number one defenseman, one of the Stars most purely skilled offensive players, and as number two in the Defending Big D Impact Player Rankings.
Alex Goligoski has everything one would want from an offensive blueliner. He's a fast smooth skater. He has an excellent shot from the point, and he is a very accurate crisp passer. He has the ability to spark a transition game with his quick passes out of the defensive zone. He made an immediate impact on the Stars as soon as he laced them up for the first time.
The biggest knock against Goligoski is his defense. He was a whipping boy at times with the Penguins, but in 23 games as a member of the Stars he never struck me as a poor defensive player. The point of hockey is to score more goals and create more scoring chances than your opponent and Goligoski did just that last season. And he did more than enough offensively to negate any defensive-short comings. He had a solid Corsi last year (while taking mostly neutral zone or offensive zone faceoffs, but enough defensive zone faceoffs to suggest his coaching staffs have at least some trust in him defensively), but like any similar stat context needs to be considered. The Penguins, overall, were a much more successful team than the Stars last season.
Thus, one would expect that, after being moved to a less successful team, his overall production would go down...right?
Over the quarter of a season (yes, a small sample) Goligoski spent as a member of the Stars he increased his goals and assists per game. He played in all situations (including second pair penalty killing duty), and the Stars coaching staff hurled minutes at him like a smart ass kid from an old cartoon throwing crazy objects in the air for a frightened juggler to try and juggle.
Goligoski made a significant contribution on special teams too. Over the final 10 games the Stars powerplay percentage was humming at 22%, and the penalty kill was up to 89%. The season averages for the units were 18.1% and 80%, respectively. The units were 15% and 89% respectively in 23 games with Goligoski, but the late season success is very encouraging.
Should Goligoski get all of the credit for those improvements? No, absolutely not. However, Goligoski's puck skills did make a big mark on the power play going down the stretch, and the penalty killing group's biggest weakness was the second defensive unit. His ability to quickly clear the zone was a valuable addition to the penalty kill also. After The Trade the penalty kill was no longer an issue for the remainder of the season, and he definitely deserves some of the credit for that.
What does Goligoski have in store for an encore performance? I have no idea. It would be exceedingly difficult to predict a specific point total for him. In his limited time with the Stars he proved to be a valuable young all-around defenseman with explosive offensive ability. I think he can be a top pairing defender, but don't get me wrong by thinking that I'm saying he's Shea Weber. I'm not. Those are unfair expectations for anyone.
If Goligoski is able to stay healthy, maintain similar ice time, and is used effectively he should be a very good building block for this club for a decade. He and Robidas appeared to be a very good fit together, and that should continue going forward. If everything breaks right you could be looking at player who is always in the mix for the All Star team, and occasionally makes it. If he's able to maintain production to that level very few people will miss James Neal.
As we get ready to reveal who the player with the biggest impact on this season will be, here's a look at the countdown so far: