It was a bit like Christmas for the Texas Stars this trade deadline day. Texas kept piling on new players, some through trades and others through signings. In all, Texas has officially added four new players since Sunday: Kevin Connauton, Brock Montgomery, Brett Ritchie, and Cameron Gaunce. That doesn't include players like Mike COmmodore, who has been with the team for a while and is still getting in game shape, or Curtis McKenzie, a Stars draft pick who hasn't officially signed with the team but is in practice.
Texas is in first place. This isn't a team like last year, seeking a youth infusion to give the end of the season meaning. Last season, Jack Campbell, Alex Chiasson, Taylor Vause and Austin Smith injected life and vitality into a sagging season, helping the Stars to finish on an up note and give the franchise hope for the future.
The Texas Stars literally have two full teams worth of defensemen on their roster right now, twelve in all.*
"It's great to have depth at defenseman," said Coach Desjardins yesterday after practice. "It's a hard position to fill, and it's a luxury to have it. It's great for us right now. We still have a lot left to happen."
Of course, at that point there were only eleven defensemen. Jordie Benn made twelve. Texas can still make moves with their players on AHL contracts. Those would include Gord Baldwin, Mike Commodore and William Wrenn. Baldwin is eligible to go to Idaho to assist them in their playoff run. Commodore and Wrenn are still on professional tryouts. Even if all of those players are off the roster, it's still nine.
There are some decision to be made for Coach Desjardins. For now, he's looking to replace some top talent at the AHL level in Alex Chiasson and Matt Fraser. It looks like Brett Ritchie will slot in to replace Chiasson on a line with Justin Dowling and Mike Hedden. Travis Morin and Colton Sceviour will still need a winger to complete their top six. If the Stars are getting really crazy, they could slide Scott Glennie up to that spot. If not, it could be a reliable vet like Toby Petersen or Francis Wathier.
A packed Cedar Park Center played host to a battle between two of the top teams in the AHL on Saturday night with the hometown Texas Stars coming out victorious on the back of a career-high 42-save effort by rookie goaltender Jack Campbell.
"This was a must win game, and I knew I needed to step it up and get back to how I played in January and February," said Campbell.
Texas allowed the first goal of the game to Grand Rapids but shut the door on all further attempts. Justin Dowling evened the score and Travis Morin put the Stars ahead for good in the dying seconds of the first. Matt Fraser added his 33rd of the year on the power play in the final frame to put the game out of reach for the Griffins.
"It was a playoff atmosphere a bit," said Coach Desjardins. "We were lucky Jack played well. He won the game for us tonight."
According to my math, Texas has pretty much sewn up a spot in the playoffs. While it isn't official, Texas would need a massive collapse not to make it at this point. With the remaining games, Texas looks to hold onto the #1 seed and see who falls into the #8 spot if they stay there.
First round series in the AHL moved to best-of-5 last season, which means the Stars want home ice, a good matchup and chemistry going into the series. If they were to be caught by surprise by a lower seeded team, it would happen in the first round where the five games could be deadly.
The Week Ahead
Texas plays its last three-in-three of the season this weekend. The Stars will get two home games to start on Friday and Saturday against the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oilers) and the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens). The weekend finishes in San Antonio for an afternoon game against the Rampage (Florida Panthers)
Texas has no one on injury for the first time in months. Patrick Nemeth may not play in all games this weekend but was a full participant in practice this week. Cristopher Nilstorp looks to get at least one start this weekend as well after getting run against Abbotsford a few weeks ago.
"We'll wait and see on the injury right now. The plan is that he'll get in but it will take a bit more before we know."
* - Those defenseman, in case you were wondering, are: Jamie Oleksiak, Carl Sneep, William Wrenn, Joe Morrow, Maxime Fortunus, Tyler Sloan, Mike Commodore, Patrick Nemeth, Gord Baldwin, Kevin Connauton, Cameron Gaunce and Jordie Benn.