The Dallas Stars had 6 players in Europe during the lockout: Jaromir Jagr, Jamie Benn, Stephane Robidas, Loui Eriksson, Eric Nystrom, Tom Wandell and Philip Larsen. They have had different degrees of success in their respective leagues but has their time abroad been helpful to their development and will it contribute to the Dallas Stars at the beginning of the season?
Firstly, and this applies to all these players, they have had one main advantage over those who have been working out at home: They are game fit. Not just physically but mentally. Drills and practices are far different from the pace of a proper competitive hockey game. They will have had to think on their feet, try and win games and use all of their skills in a game situation rather than a practice one. They will be ready to go almost immediately and as none of them have suffered any long term injuries, thankfully, during their time overseas they will be ready to hit the ice and play at 100%.
How have individual players performed in Europe and were there any hiccups or concerns?
Firstly the player who has spent the most time playing in Europe this season and has truly been completely dominant: Jaromir Jagr. Through 33 games with HC Kladno, a team which he owns, he scored 55 points. Its true that the team was stacked with some significant NHL talent and the Czech league is not as tough as the NHL by a longshot but its still impressive nevertheless. He gave Stars fans a slight scare after missing a couple of games due to injury but he appears to be back and his cylinders firing fully. Hopefully he brings his hot streak to the Dallas Stars when the season starts.
Jamie Benn played a grand total of 19 games for the Hamburg Freezers and scored 20 points. Though some might expect him to dominate in the German league its necessary to take into account that many NHL players also signed for German sides. By all accounts he appears to have had an excellent time and though it might not have been a boost to his hockey development it was probably a great personal experience for him. Looking through some of the pictures and tweets that emerged from Twitter he definitely appears to have had fun. Hopefully he will feel the same kind of atmosphere in the AAC that he did in the home of the Hamburg Freezers.
Stephane Robidas had a tough time in the SM-Liiga as he was expected to become a top pairing offensive defenseman, a kind of Sergei Zubov for HIFK. It appears that he wasn't well suited for this role and he only managed 5 points through his 19 games, two goals and three assists. Though Robidas can be a warrior for the Stars he's not a first pairing offensive defenseman, even in the SM-Liiga. At the very least the experience served the purpose of keeping him game fit for the season and keep him on toes. Unlike other veterans who may be rusty after so long without a game Robidas will be ready for action.
Loui Eriksson only spent a short time in Europe playing 7 games for Davos, who also acquired NHL talent Rick Nash and Joe Thornton, and scored 6 points, three goals and three assists. He also played for them during the Spengler Cup, a tournament with teams from Davos, Canada and a variety of other nations and clubs. He got two goals and an assist through the five games that Davos played in the tournament. Though its not a huge number of games it again serves the purpose of keeping him match fit for when the season starts.
Eric Nystrom was a relatively late signing in Europe joining the Stavanger Oilers in Norway on the 6th December. He played 6 games with them and scored 14 points during that period (4 goals and 10 assists). Obviously the Norwegian league is not the most talented league in the world but its good to see that he produced a lot of points while there. He should be coming into the Stars training camp at full fitness and will be ready to play when the season starts.
Tom Wandell has had a quiet time in the KHL with Cherepovets Severstal with 9 points, two goals and seven assists, through 26 games. He wasn't really a major force in the KHL and played a simular role as he does in Dallas. Though the KHL is not as tough as the NHL it is still the toughest league in the world following the NHL. It will have helped him keep in shape and be ready for immediate action when the NHL season restarts. Tom Wandell is in a slightly perilous position with the rise of young talent meaning that he could potentially become expendable. By staying in shape and in game condition he will strengthen his claim to hold a position in Dallas' bottom six.
While all of the previous players experiences have essentially boiled down to the fact that it was good that they would be at match fitness there is one player who I think will have had a good boost to his development while playing abroad: Philip Larsen. Philip Larsen signed with Lukko of the SM-Liiga and joined their top pairing defensive unit. He was one of three Danish players to sign there for the duration of the lockout, Mikkel Boedker and Frans Nielsen also signed, and they were collectively known as the 'Danish Dynamite'. Philip Larsen last season averaged 18 minutes per game for the Dallas Stars, in the SM-Liiga he averaged over 26 minutes per game. For a player who is as young as he is and still in development this extra time and against tough opponents, including many other locked out NHL players, would have helped him a lot. Through his 27 games with Lukko he had 15 points, 5 goals and 10 assists, while also maintaining a good +11 rating. Its possible that his extra ice time and responsibility with Lukko will help him step up his game when it comes to the new season.
Though it hurt seeing so many players leave to play in Europe now that the lockout is over it can be seen as a good thing that they did so. They will be coming back to North America after playing in many real game situations and will be fully ready for the season when they hit the ice at training camp. There will be no huge adjustment needed when they jump immediately into the season and they will be in top form. Hopefully this form will help propel the Stars out of the gates and help lead Dallas to their first playoff berth since 2008.