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Talking Dallas Stars hockey with Mark Stepneski

Mark Stepneski from Andrew's Dallas Stars Page has graciously answered a few of Defending Big D's questions about the Dallas Stars and gives his opinion on a variety of Stars topics. Mark has an excellent website that has a ton of information about the Dallas Stars, as well as pages about player's salaries and updates on the Stars' prospects. If you are a Dallas Stars fan I highly encourage you to check it out.

Defending Big D: It's been well documented that the Dallas Stars' turnaround coincided with the suspension of Sean Avery. Other than the end of the Avery saga, in your opinion what has been the key ingredient in the Stars' improvement over the last two months?

Mark Stepneski: I think you have to look at why they struggled early. They lost a lot of key players from last season - Mattias Norstrom, Stu Barnes, Niklas Hagman and Antti Miettinen - and then had Jere Lehtinen and Sergei Zubov on the shelf with injuries. That's one third of the team's forward skaters from last season gone and being replaced by different players and youth. That much change is tough to overcome and led to some poor play. Throw in Marty Turco and some other top players struggling, and it was a mess. But as time went on the play became better, Turco stabilized and the Stars got back to playing their brand of hockey. Overall, their team defense is a lot better, their goaltending is better and everything else builds off that.

DBD: There are some in the media that have labeled the Fabian Brunnstrom signing as a bust. Do you see him as an improving playmaker or a defensive liability for a suddenly contending team?

MS: He's not a bust. He's got ten goals in 31 games, which is pretty good. He had some significant issues with his defensive play early in the season and that cost him some playing time. The Stars said at the beginning of the season it would take time for him to get acclimated to life in a new country, playing hockey in a new league and on a different sized ice surface. They preached patience and Brunnstrom has shown progress. Just before he went out with the high ankle sprain he was playing his best overall hockey of the season. The assignment to Manitoba was for conditioning purposes and not a demotion as it was portrayed by some. The bottom line on Brunnstrom is that he has had his ups and downs, but the Stars like him and seem to be happy with the progress he is making. He's not a bust.

Much more after the jump.

DBD: What moves, if any, do the Dallas Stars make at the trade deadline? Is there any chance at all of the Stars signing/trading for Jay Bouwmeester?

MS: I am not expecting anything major at the trade deadline. I see more of something along the tweak mode. A veteran defenseman, backup goalie or a some veteran depth at forward, possibly a good faceoff guy. As for Bouwmeester, I don't see the Stars trading for him before the March 4 deadline. He's an unrestricted free agent and the Stars would be trading players, prospects or picks for a player they would then have to sign in the summer as a free agent. It would seem to make more sense to pursue Bouwmeester then if they are interested in him.

DBD: This offseason Sergei Zubov, Jere Lehtinen and Darryl Sydor are going to be unrestricted free agents. Which of these veterans should the Stars re-sign or will they look elsewhere in free agency and/or young prospects to fill these holes?

MS: I'll say what I always say when someone asks this question: Don't know because I don't know how the season is going to play out, where the team will stand and what direction they might need to go. Who knows where Zubov will be as far as his injury goes. Lehtinen's had some injury issues this season and last, so I'd like to see how he holds up over the rest of this season. If the Stars do decide to keep Zubov and/or Lehtinen I would think both players would have to sign for a lot less money. Depending on what happens with the Stars' defense next season, Sydor might not be a bad player to have around, especially if that defense group is still young. But again, it's too early to say what's going to happen.

DBD: What type of impact will prospects such as Jamie Benn, Ivan Vishnevskiy, and Colton Sceviour make for the Stars next season? Any other prospects we should be excited about in the near future?

MS: I think they'll all get a good look in training camp, but I would suspect Benn and Sceviour start next season in the AHL. That's the way the Stars usually do it with their top prospects. James Neal was helped immensely with his season in the minors and I suspect the same would be the case for Benn and Sceviour. Making the jump straight from juniors to the NHL can be tough. That said, I am really high on Benn. I think he is going to be a very good player. I really like Sceviour and have since the first time I saw him at a Stars development camp. As for Vishnevskiy, I am still not sure if he starts in the NHL next season. He'll probably see some time. He's got a lot of talent, but I wonder about his defensive game. I haven't seen him play much in the AHL so it's hard for me to say if he'll be NHL ready next year. Another thing to consider with Vishnevskiy is whether he gets tired of waiting for a shot at the NHL and decides to return home to Russia to play.

Some of the other prospects to watch, in my opinion are goalie Richard Bachman, who is playing at Colorado College. He was great as a freshman last season, and has had some ups and downs this season, but he is a very promising prospect in goal. Forwards Sergei Korostin and Ondrej Roman, who are playing juniors in Canada and played in the World Juniors last month for Russia and Czech Republic, respectively, are two players to keep an eye on in the near future. Forward Matt Tassone, a 2008 draft pick who plays in the Western Hockey League with Benn and Sceviour, is having a very good season. He's been a pleasant surprise. Defenseman Philip Larsen, who is playing in the Swedish Elite League, and forward Scott Winkler, who is playing in the United States Hockey League, are also 2008 draft picks and are players to watch in the future. Those two players are very skilled. Center Austin Smith, the Dallas kids the Stars drafted in 2007, is having a very good freshman season at Colgate.

DBD: Finally, if the Stars make the playoffs should Dave Tippett win coach of the year?

MS: No, I don't think he gets coach of the year if the makes the playoffs. They were expected to be a top team coming into the season and were out of the playoffs at the midway point. So while he gets high marks for getting them through a rough start I don't think it gets him a Jack Adams.. Claude Julien in Boston is my choice right now. Todd McLellan in San Jose and and Mike Babcock in Detroit are 2nd and 3rd choices because those were top teams that had high expectations and have met them so far. I'd give some consideration to Brent Sutter, New Jersey, and Bruce Boudreau, Washington too.