What line combinations are the Stars throwing out early in camp, and how much do they resemble what we will see this weekend?
Training camp is upon us and it's time to look at some line combinations. The influx of forwards from the past off season gives the Stars options up front. The top six appear to be set, but the bottom six spots are up for grabs.
The line combinations on day one of camp look similar to what we can expect when the puck drops this weekend. The notable difference being that Jamie Benn isn't in camp. On day one the Stars went with a top line of Loui Eriksson, Derek Roy, and Jaromir Jagr. When the season begins expect to see Benn centering the top unit with Roy on the second line.
Benn and Eriksson were dynamite together early in the season last year. The addition of Jagr gives the top line an extra level of creativity and savvy that should make this a deadly unit. All three players have a history of producing at top levels and should be fixtures on the power play unit.
The second line on day one featured Ray Whitney, Tom Wandell, and Michael Ryder. On opening night that should be where we see Roy playing. The second line should present match up problems for whomever the Stars play on a given night. Defenses will be focused on the Benn line, and that should open up scoring opportunities for this very well rounded group.
The biggest weakness that trio has is their defensive game. No one is going to confuse them for a checking line, but they shouldn't be a liability either. They have a history (particularly Whitney and Roy) of playing against good competition, and they've played well because of their ability to move the puck up the ice out of danger. That same playmaking ability should benefit Ryder greatly as he looks to build on the success he had last year as he heads towards unrestricted free agency.
The bottom six gets a little trickier. The Stars are letting it be known that there is competition for ice time in the bottom six. Tomas Vincour, Alex Chiasson, Matt Fraser, Scott Glennie, and Colton Sceviour aren't even in camp, yet Antoine Roussel is in camp. The Stars have ten players in camp for the final eight forward spots.
Of those ten, two are Radek Faksa and Brett Ritchie. Neither player is likely to make the club. Assuming that both are sent back to juniors we're left with eight players for eight spots, pending further recalls. One day one of camp the third line featured Brenden Morrow, Vernon Fiddler, and Eric Nystrom. The fourth line consisted of Ryan Garbutt, Cody Eakin, and Reilly Smith. If the season began tomorrow the two extra skaters would be Tom Wandell and Roussel.
An interesting possible combination for the third line could ultimately be Morrow with Eakin and Smith. If Morrow is healthy, this line could offer the Stars quite a bit. They would have the ability to play a little defense, score, crash the net, and bring some energy. It hasn't been on display yet, but one has to wonder if this trio will get a shot at some point.
The defense pairings are shaping up as well. Alex Goligoski and Stephane Robidas skated together. When the season opens the Stars would likely use this duo for a large percentage of offensive zone draws to allow them to create as much offense as possible.
The second pair was a little bit of a surprise. Glen Gulutzan put Aaron Rome and Trevor Daley together. It isn't ideal, but they both have some two way ability, and ideally, the Stars wouldn't want to use either as the primary checking option. Of the three pairs, I think this is the one I am most interested to see.
The final two pairs had Mark Fistric skating with Philip Larsen and Jordie Benn with Brenden Dillon. Three of these four are going to be on the roster most likely. Given how the Stars used Fistric after they dealt Nicklas Grossmann, it makes sense to consider the third pair the checking pair. I would expect them to see a lot of dirty minutes this season, at least at first. The fact that the Stars are, initially, willing to put Larsen with Fistric in that role says a lot about how they feel he has developed over the past year.
Jordie Benn and Dillion seem to be on the outside looking in as far as playing time goes. If the third pair is going to be used in a checking capacity Dillon's profile fits eventually, but do the Stars want to put him in that role as a rookie? Is he, at the moment, better suited for that role than Fistric? If not, scratching him on a nightly basis in the NHL makes little sense. He may be NHL ready, but the current composition of the NHL roster might not be ready for him.
These lines and pairings are likely to be in flux to some degree as camp continues to progress. Currently, this is the overview of what we're looking at:
Eriksson * Benn * Jagr
Whitney * Roy * Ryder
Morrow * Fiddler * Nystrom
Garbutt * Eakin * Smith
Goligoski * Robidas
Rome * Daley
Fistric * Larsen
The top six might not change much prior to the end of camp, but there is no telling what that bottom six is going to look like in this short week of training camp. That isn't much time for the waters to get less murky, but fortunately the Stars aren't the only club dealing with a mad scramble to identify the final pieces to their roster.
"They have some meaning, but if you are writing down lines today write them in pencil," coach Glen Gulutzan said on Sunday. "At the end of the day we have competition, we have fresh legs. We're about Saturday night, we're about getting off to a good start."