The Dallas Stars have not been a particular bad team the past five years, but they've certainly not been a particular good one, either. There have been many different reasons for this consistent mediocrity, from coaching to management to financial restrictions -- but you could almost directly tie the struggles of this team since 2008 directly to the problem of replacing two franchise icons at the two of the three most important positions in hockey.
Hockey exploded in North Texas back in the 1990's in large part to some brilliant marketing by the Stars but also because the team just so happened to be pretty good -- an entertaining and successful team that won the Stanley Cup just six years after moving to Dallas. Another major factor for the local success was the presence of a charismatic, handsome and incredibly talented center that helped not only put the Stars on the map in Texas but all around the world.
Mike Modano was the Dallas Stars top center for close to two decades, only moving down the roster a bit in his later years as time worked it's toll. Modano was a transcendent player, a generational talent found at the very top of the draft who played an instrumental part in growing USA Hockey and who remains a mythical figure in the Dallas sports landscape. The Stars tried to find his eventual replacement, but ownership issues had Brad Richards moving on after too brief a stay in Dallas.
Asking young Tyler Seguin to step up into those skates is perhaps asking a bit too much. Seguin is an incredibly talented young player oozing potential, but the expectations are already going to be through the roof for the 21-year old center without putting the Mike Modano legacy squarely on his shoulders and asking him to hold the weight of the franchise as this organizational reset gets started this next season.
For his part, Seguin has stated several times over the past week that he is looking forward to that pressure -- that he's embracing this calling to be the new savior of the franchise and to step into the role that was vacated by Modano a few years ago.
"Yeah, that's what I want to be," said Seguin, on if he sees himself as the potential face of the franchise. "That's the shoes I want to step into. Obviously that's far- fetched from where I'm standing right now, being 21. But growing up, my favorite player was always Steve Yzerman. I looked up to him and his type of game and Modano's pretty much the same style. I think he was a great player with great speed."
The Modano comparisons began almost the minute Seguin was traded to Dallas, and you can understand why. He's a good looking, young center who is known for his speed and dynamic offensive capabilities who was drafted No. 2 overall in 2010. He has all the makings to be the type of player this team was missing since Modano left the team.
Jamie Benn has long been touted as the next "face of the franchise" and likely the next team captain, with the Joe Nieuwendyk regime moving him into that top center position and asking the talented power forward to try and become a player he really wasn't meant to be. Benn was a good center and played that role admirably; in 2011-2012 he was one of the very best even strength forwards in all of hockey.
But Benn is not a center, and Jim Nill knew this -- his job is to find the best way to maximize the talent on his roster and Benn is best suited for the wing. While he's made great strides the past year or so, Benn is also not the most charismatic hockey player when the cameras and recording devices come on. Benn does his talking on the ice, and fans have been wanted to see him unleashed on the wing once more the past two years.
The addition of Seguin helps better balance the roster and it takes pressure away from Jamie Benn of being the lone "face" that the Dallas Stars have to market. Sure, it was Mike Modano that was on most of the posters back in the day but he wasn't alone -- if the Stars are going to rebuild this team on and off the ice, they'll need more than just one dynamic talent to work with.
What about Seguin, the player? We've heard a lot about what he brings to this franchise from a marketing standpoint and what his presence alone will do for the roster overall -- but exactly what sort of talent have the Dallas Stars acquired? Is this just a young player full of potential and No. 2 overall pedigree, or have the Stars acquired a proven offensive talent who still has immense room to grow moving forward?
When I started my scouting journey of this young center, I first turned to the experts. Cornelius Hardenbergh of Stanley Cup of Chowder has been covering Seguin since his rookie year in 2010-2011 and shared these thoughts with me:
Tyler Seguin is going to be very popular in Texas. For one, he's a dynamic player that's a joy to watch. He has been ever since he started his NHL career in Prague. Check out his first NHL goal - it's a beaut. He has only scored more since then. He's also cruising into the start of the prime of his career, so he should only improve. Under a less-defensive system (aka most systems not run by Claude Julien) he's going to shine.
Every time he gets the puck and that signature skating stride gets going, you stop blinking. You stop breathing. And I hope you have some breath left because there's a decent chance you'll be on your feet, screaming, in a moment.
Off ice, he apparently likes to party. It never bothered me much, though - I never ran into him in the evening and he seems to be the same skilled player. The media hate it, of course, but the media in Boston hate every young talented athlete.
He played wing in Boston because Bergeron and Krejci are better centers than he is. Ideally, he's on one of your top 2 lines. Seguin is a number of things but Chris Kelly is not one of them. However, playing next to Patrice Bergeron has brought up his defensive game a bit. He's better there than he used to be.
Weaknesses on the wing? Certain elements of the Gahden balcony will say he doesn't hit enough, but we all know that that's hooey. He scores like crazy.
The first thing to note is that Seguin has yet to play center in the NHL, and will be moving into the No. 1 center role in Dallas right away. Seguin has played most of his time this past season playing right wing on the second line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron; his 16 goals would have led the Stars in scoring and his 32 points would have been second only to Benn. In 2011-2012, his second season in the NHL, Seguin led the Bruins in scoring with 29 goals and 67 points.
He's been prolific from the wing, but Seguin says he prefers to play at his natural position and is looking forward to getting back to playing center.
"I'm very excited to be moving to center," Seguin said last week. It is my more natural position. I am happy to say that I've played wing as well and can be put in each area. I'm looking forward to playing center."
I spent the past week or so going back and scouting Seguin's first three seasons in the NHL; I wasn't able to watch as much as I hoped and perhaps needed, but it was certainly enough to get a good snapshot of just what sort of player the Dallas Stars now have on the roster.
For starters, Seguin is now the absolute most-talented offensive player on the Dallas Stars.
What you'll notice first about Seguin is his speed. He has an incredible burst and acceleration that allows him to get moving up the ice faster than anyone else, and you'll see him routinely out-skate the opposition to loose pucks or on the backcheck. With the puck on his stick he's able to maintain incredible control while jetting up the ice; powerful, short strides that have led to many breakaways in his first three years in the NHL.
Seguin has exceptionally quick hands and he uses them to great effect in many different ways. He's not the ultimate dangler with the puck you'll see from players like Pavel Datsyuk, but he will showcase some top-notch possession skills both along the boards and in open ice. His decisiveness and ability to quickly change the point of attack -- from forehand to backhand and back again -- has left many defensemen and goaltenders befuddled as the puck hits the back of the net.
This is where the actual comparisons to Modano seem the most valid. Sure, Seguin is speedy but it's not the effortless gliding that Modano made so famous in a Stars jersey. Instead, Seguin has an arsenal of offensive attacks -- an accurate and sizzling wrist shot, a deadly backhand and an incredibly quick snapshot that he loves to let loose from the goalie's right side. Modano didn't score just because he could deke out the goalie, he scored from nearly everywhere on the ice with a deceptive shot that Seguin certainly mirrors.
It could be said that Seguin's experience the past three years at wing, especially in Boston's system, will only enhance his skill set as he moving back to center. Coming into the NHL Seguin was noted for his ability to play two-way hockey at a level not usually found at the very top of the draft in dynamic offensive players, and he's certainly been adequate in that regard.
Playing in such a defensively-minded system like Boston's, however, Seguin never really seemed to fully mesh with the playing styles of those around him. Seguin wants to get the puck and go up the ice and he anticipates offensive chances as good as anyone in the NHL, but it's also clear he's struggled at times with the defensive responsibilities of playing on the second and third line for a team like Boston. But he's improved and this past season was his best all-around; despite the lack of scoring in the postseason, Seguin proved capable of being a viable checking-line forward playing with Chris Kelly and Daniel Paille. Those experiences will pay off in spades as he moves back to center.
He's not perfect, however, and the transition to the Western Conference will be interesting.
"Definitely strength," said Seguin, when asked about where he needs to improve. "I think that's huge at the center position. Competing and battling was the big thing for me over the last two years but I've improved drastically in that compared to my first year. I think that comes with playing the centerman position and I'm looking forward to the experience. I think it's going to be incredible. I think it's just about filling out my body, putting on more muscle and getting stronger so I can be the best I can be."
The good news is that Seguin won't be asked to play the hard-hitting and physical style asked of him on the second and third line in Boston and -- like Benn -- can play more to his strengths at his natural position. There's also some intrigue as to how exactly Benn and Seguin might work together, as both play a more goal-scoring style than pure playmaking; it should be noted, however, that Seguin is still a very talented passer.
More than anything, Seguin knows how to score. He knows where he's supposed to be to accomplish that feat and his anticipation and hockey sense is extraordinarily high. Jamie Benn is along this same level and many times it felt that Benn had to do too much work to create offense for those around him -- with Seguin, those blind passes into the open areas will likely finally end up on the tape of a teammate.
Check out any Tyler Seguin highlight reel and you'll see a player who knows how to get into the scoring areas and who gets there quicker than everyone else. He'll do plenty to create his own offense and for those around him, but he'll also benefit greatly from the playmaking of others -- he's a finisher, pure and simple.
There's a reason the Dallas Stars had to pay a hefty price for Seguin, but it was certainly worthwhile. The comparisons to Mike Modano may be setting expectations perhaps a bit too high, but there's no doubting this is a player that comes to the Stars with the most pure offensive skill as any young player this teaam has had in nearly two decades.