Kevin Jairaj-US PRESSWIRE
The Stars will have seven players in their first or second full NHL seasons Saturday night against the Phoenix Coyotes
The Dallas Stars have finished the last practice of an abbreviated training camp and will now settle immediately into a busy NHL schedule that sees them play 7 games in the next 11 days.
There were anxious moments in Frisco today when Brenden Morrow collided with Philip Larsen and had to be rushed off the ice. He told media afterward that "It's just a scrape on my face," and he will start Saturday's home opener against the Phoenix Coyotes.
So a seven day training camp comes to a close, and the Stars, lambasted by many for signing "old guys" in July, will start the season tomorrow with seven active players in just their second full year (Larsen, Garbutt, Eakin) of NHL action or less (Dillon, J Benn, Nilstorp, Smith) and two more as healthy scratches.
Forward lines seem to have solidified thusly:
There appears no sign that Jamie Benn will be signed before this weekend's games, and as such it will be yet another opportunity for Tom Wandell to show something, though he was unable to do much and create chances in Mike Ribeiro's absence last season. That second line is the wild card in all of this moving forward for me right now - Can Wandell, Whitney and Ryder create chances or will the Stars attack be one-dimensional until Benn returns?
With no pre-season, observers of this team have few clues about what will work in a real game situation. The first line is comprised of proven commodities, individually, and should be formidable at some point. Everything else is a toss-up.
Cody Eakin and Reilly Smith, playing on what is being called the "fourth" line, could be the combination we know the most about at this point given what they've done at the AHL level, in camp and in the scrimmage. Whether or not that sustained chemistry and success is transferable to the NHL level, and whether they'll get the chance to show that it is in any kind of meaningful minute distribution, is yet another unknown.
Colton Sceviour and Antoine Roussel are available for Sunday's game, and one will be sent home when Jamie Benn is brought on board. Which one is anyone's guess for now. Sceviour is waiver eligible and already passed through them to get here, meaning he can be sent back and forth for 10 games or 30 days.
Mike Heika reports today that he expects defensive pairings to look like this:
Alex Goligoski-Stephane Robidas
Jordie Benn-Trevor Daley
Brenden Dillon-Philip Larsen
Aaron Rome is questionable with a groin injury but could play sometime this weekend.
There will likely be a rookie on the ice defensively for greater than 50% of these games moving forward, and Philip Larsen is starting just his second full year in the league but will be depended upon to anchor a pairing, so to speak, as the more veteran player. Further injury problems could force a third rookie into the lineup in Jamie Oleksiak, who was sent back to Texas along with Richard Bachman.
Watching Gulutzan deploy these pairings at home when he has last change will tell us much about what he thinks he has here.
Lost in the Jagr/Benn/Rookie D-man shuffle has been goaltending, but it was revealed as camp wound up that Jim Lite's assertion from last week was correct: That Richard Bachman would indeed start the season in Texas to get some game action, and that Christopher Nilstorp would backup Kari Lehtonen.
With 7 games in 11 days he'll not only backup Kari Lehtonen, but likely make his NHL debut Sunday in Minnesota on the road in what will be a second straight home game for the Wild and their new additions, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
The back-to-back issues from last season will be in Nilstorp's hands to a certain extent. Will his success in the AHL translate and help the Stars leave Andrew Raycroft's struggles of a year ago behind them?
Camp is over.
We're a little more than 28 hours away. It's finally time.