We continue our Dallas Stars Impact Player series today with a look at Swedish Center Tom Wandell, currently playing across the sea in the KHL.
Tom Wandell made his debut with the Dallas Stars in the woebegone season of 2008-2009 as a 21 year old center with the world in front of him. He was heralded for his speed and hands, and seemed to have all the time in the world as he came up in a system that included Mike Modano, Mike Ribeiro and Brad Richards.
Three and a half full seasons later his considerable attributes have, for whatever reason, failed to translate to the NHL level, and he's emerged as a far more effective "bottom-six" player than was originally hoped.
A 2010 knee injury hampered his development for nearly a calendar year and he emerged last season as an off-and-on effective fourth line player while equaling a career high of 15 points. His second NHL contract expired at the conclusion of last season and many wondered if they'd seen the last of him.
He, a lifetime ago it seems, was not offered a qualifying offer when the first wave of them came down in June this off-season. The Stars proceeded to offer deals to every RFA, with Wandell the only one remaining, until just 90 minutes from the June 25th deadline when they finally extended him.
There was some cause for concern.
Tom Wandell has repeatedly been given top-six minutes under multiple coaching staffs when injuries necessitated, notably in January of this year when Benn and Ribeiro were both absent, and he failed every time to facilitate sufficient offensive pressure, regardless of line mates.
So the question became: Why keep him at all if that's what the plan was?
One school of thought says you don't let assets just walk without a return. Wandell may not have panned out as an offensive center (that's a high bar) but he's proficient as a fourth liner. He scored 15 points last season. The advanced stats say he generally pushes play forward away from his own net, and had pretty effective stretched at doing so last season with Tomas Vincour as a line mate.
In that way he's a luxury. With the prevailing thought being that Vern Fiddler will be a fourth liner if the season ever starts, Wandell is there for backup but can also play a responsible game at wing. The Stars saw how quickly the center ice position can be depleted last year, and Wandell gives them options. He or Fiddler could slide up to the third line and keep the puck away from Kari Lehtonen.
The other school of thought says a 25 year old prospect that appears to have reached a ceiling is a body standing in the way of what is supposedly the new wave of young players that's pushing it's way up furiously from Cedar Park and parts beyond. In a perfect world we'd have an entire preseason and camp's worth of evidence to either corroborate or refute that theory on this date, but alas, we don't.
In that way the signing could be a smart one, providing needed depth if training camps and preseason are limited affairs restricted to largely NHL only players.
So Wandell is in, though he's playing with Severstal Cherepovets of the KHL in Russia for the time being. For what it's worth he's played two games there, averaging just a hair under 17 minutes a game, has 6 SOG and no points.
Where does Tom Wandell fit into your view of the current roster should the season start sometime in 2012?
Best Wandell YouTube moment: He annoys (and hits) Teemu Selanne sufficiently to goad him into taking a stupid penalty. Maybe Wandell needs some more of that peskiness in his game...
(Most other Tom Wandell YouTube clips are of him on the receiving end of highlight reel hits, unfortunately)