With so many injuries to key veterans and leaders and and a season that was supposed to be so promising but fell way short, there hasn't been a whole lot of positives to take away from this past season. Yet one result of having so many games lost due to injury has been the amount of young talent in the Stars system that has received significant playing time this season.
Les Jackson and Brett Hull are working to change the approach of the franchise just a bit, by focusing on building the NHL team through the draft and developing young players in the AHL. It's not as simple as just going out and signing several big free agents any longer, and most teams are successful now based on the young talent infused in the system.
Ever since the co-general managers took over early last season, the Stars have made it a priority of playing their young up and coming players and dealing with the learning curve need to adjust to the NHL. Loui Eriksson is a perfect example of this; after spending most of the 2006-2007 season in the AHL, Les Jackson called for him to get more playing time at the NHL level. After getting 14 goals in 69 games last season, Eriksson has exploded with 36 goals and 63 points in 81 games this year and is on the cusp of becoming a bonafide star.
So which Stars young player showed the most this season and who will have the biggest impact in the coming years? Follow the jump to find out.
Here is a list of whom has received significant playing time for the Stars this year, and how many games they appeared in.
- Fabian Brunnstrom (54)
- Chris Conner (37)
- Mark Fistric (35)
- Landon Wilson (27)
- Tom Wandell (13)
- Ray Sawada (5)
- Garrett Stafford (3)
- Dan Jancevski (3)
- Matt Climie (3)
- Ivan Vishnevskiy (2)
Ivan Vishnevskiy. The Dallas Stars number one draft pick in 2006 has waited his entire career for the chance to show his stuff at the NHL level. He was briefly recalled midway through the season but was never activated for a game. With several Stars defensemen injured and out for the rest of the season, Vishnevskiy was finally given a shot. He hasn't wasted the opportunity and left a lasting impression in just a short time in the NHL.
Vishnevskiy was drafted because of an incredible offensive skill set, not unlike that of the legendary Sergei Zubov. He has great vision and puck-handling skills and more importantly has a rocket shot from the point. Something the Stars have been missing with Zubov missing most of the past two seasons is a quarterback from the defensive position. The Stars have several big, defensive blue liners and Stephane Robidas wore down towards the end of the season with the extra minutes he was asked to log.
Vishnevskiy was somewhat tentative in his first NHL game against Minnesota, and said afterwards that he was holding back a lot of his desire to play the puck. With the coaches giving the young players the majority of playing time against Colorado, Vishnevskiy was finally able to show off what he can do if given the chance. Leading the team (by far) in total shots and second with five official shots on net, he had the kind of booming shot needed by a point man to find its way through traffic and get on net. More importantly he was eager and willing to put the rubber on goal.
He also flashed great vision and instinct and showed a chemistry with teammates he's only been on the ice with for two games. Channeling Zubov on several plays, Vishnevskiy had made three plays that really stood out to me on the night:
Working the right point on the power play, he had already showed his willingness to pound the net with shots. Working his way around a defenseman, Vishnevskiy wound up for another boomer and instead laid a perfect slap-pass on the stick of Loui Eriksson off to the right of the goal. The deflection was deftly blocked by the goalie, but it was the type of no-look, perfect pass play that has been missing from the point for several years. That it came from a rookie in just his second game is even more impressive.
With the Dallas Stars fighting to tie the game at one in the third period, Vishnevskiy was once again working the point on the power play. Skating with the puck at the top of the slot, he faked a shot and then proceeded to skate with the puck towards the net. He deked around one defender, then pulled another great move with a head fake and rocking back on his heels. Getting around two defenders, he drew the attention of the other two penalty killers and rocked a shot on net. The attempt was blocked, but the attention he warranted had left Loui Eriksson and Fabian Brunnstrom all alone in front, who promptly burying the puck behind a sprawling Budaj to tie the game.
It's this type of potential and playmaking ability the Stars are looking for in a defenseman. If Vishnevskiy can fill this role for the Stars next season, then the team will feel better about the position headed into the draft and free agency.
Fabian Brunsstrom. I included Brunnstrom in this list because of nobody knew for sure how he would adjust to the NHL. After a very poor start, where he was publicly called out for being a defensive liability and not producing enough to offset it, Brunnstrom has played the best hockey of his young career the past month. He is much more confident and fleet on his skates, showing the talent that made him such a hot commodity last offseason. After getting goals in three of his last four games, Brunsstrom now leads the team in shot percentage.
Tom Wandell. Wandell is another player who has shown flashes of offensive brilliance and is one of the players the Stars will need in the future to provide speed up and down the ice. After spending the season playing in Europe, Wandell has taken some time to readjust to the NHL game has started to shine with the extra ice time he's been given the past five games. Wandell is adept at making plays happen with his speed and has deft puck-handling skills and he showed potential when given time on the power play against the Avalanche.
Matt Climie. Climie has had an interesting road to the NHL, after signing with the Stars as a free agent last summer and spending the year in the ECHL. Making the jump to the NHL from Idaho is not an easy task, and Climie has handled it as well as can be expected. He's shown flashes of raw talent and potential, yet still lacks the full set of skills necessary to be an NHL caliber goaltender. A full season next year in the AHL should do him good, as well as what should be a great battle for the number one goaltender spot for Texas between him and Richard Bachman. With the future of Marty Turco with the team in doubt after next season, Climie has the chance to implant himself as at least a viable backup option.
There's no guarantee that these young players will be the answer the Stars need to fill some various holes headed into next season. But the fact that these talented few have made an impact already this season bodes were for the future of a Dallas Stars team that is looking to move forward with younger and talented players and can't afford to buy wins through free agency.