With few roster spots open, discussion looked pretty moot just a couple of weeks ago when we spoke of competition and prospects looking to make their mark. But as they always do in the NHL, injuries created opportunities for young men to show what they could do. It is as they say, a young mans game.
Jamie Benn was the talk of the camp coming in, and after his performance at the Traverse City Tournament, I personally thought that the hype was a little much. Boy was I wrong. Meanwhile Scott Glennie got hurt and couldn't participate, and eyes that weren't turned Benn's way were watching Ivan Vishnevskiy. Unfortunately the young Russians name didn't make the list today, so allow me to comment on him here: He is going to get here. He is almost ready. I thought he looked ready in the scrimmages in Frisco, playing with Stephane Robidas, but he failed to show that composure in his preseason contests. In one game he tallied a -4. Ouch. Some time as the top dog in Cedar Park will do him good, and we'll be seeing him. Not to worry.
I was blessed with the opportunity to watch these guys at many practices, scrimmages and games in the last two weeks, and here are my quick hits on those that remain after the roster was cut down yesterday:
13 - Krys Barch - A wholly unremarkable camp and pre-season. I think we've seen who Krys Barch is and I think that's who he'll continue to be. Someone who won't necessarily kill you on a 4th line and will go pick a fight if it needs picking.
14 - Jamie Benn - The talk of the camp. We've seen him excel with Modano in the scrimamges, and due to lack of Modano in the games, excel with Ribeiro and Morrow. After a quiet Traverse City tournament he showed up big time in the pre-season and you'll undoubtedly see him in a Stars uniform sometime soon we think.
96 - Fabian Brunnstrom - People are talking about him for different reasons. He seems to have played himself out of top 6 status. He looked to me in the games I saw and the practices I watched to be lacking in confidence. He still shies from the hard places on the ice a little. He improved this last week in the pre-season and could have scored a couple of goals if not for the brilliance of Clemmensen the other night, but it seems too little too late.
After the jump, my preseason observations on Eriksson, Modano, Ott, Turco, Neal...everyone!
21 - Loui Eriksson - If Thursday night was any indication, last year was definitely not a fluke. The young man has confidence and skill coming out the wazoo. The only thing you should worry about here is how expensive that will make him next summer.
52 - Luke Gazdic - Out-Barched Krys Barch in pre-season from where I was sitting in the upper bowl. Nice fights on Thursday (and Tuesday as well, if I recall) but his presence on the NHL roster is a bit of a mystery.
26 - Jere Lehtinen - The number you have dialed is busy. Please try again later.
9 - Mike Modano - Looking every bit as good as he did last year, anyway. The up-tempo stuff suited him just fine in the scrimmages, but we didn't get to see him in many games because of his hip. I think it's going to be a fine year for the elder Stars statesman. He certainly looked happy to me at camp.
10 - Brenden Morrow - He's back, and I'm happy. A little leg soreness this week, but chalk that up to the increased work load and intense practices. The knee seems fine, and his timing is almost where it needs to be. He's been focused and intense in scrimmages. That guy doesn't like to lose.
18 - James Neal - Looks poised to pick up right where he left off last year without skipping a beat. The Eriksson, Neal, and Richards trio has been a lovely sight to behold in the preseason games I've attended. Let's hope it translates to the real thing.
29 - Steve Ott - Here's an interesting guy. I feel like he's a little bipolar this camp, trying to figure out which Ott he wants to be from night to night. I've seen him handle the puck well and play like he did last February and March, and I've seen him revert to the old Otter that just wants to piss you off. I think a lot of it has to do with his line mates. He didn't look like he was trying to score goals the other night when paired with Wandell and Brunnstrom. Expect more from him if he plays on Modano's line with Lehtinen.
25 - Warren Peters - Injured and rather vanilla. Just a guy.
17 - Toby Petersen - Had a lingering issue with his foot still after all that time, but has since come back and been "fine" for a fourth line center. Not much to say about that.
63 - Mike Ribeiro - Has openly rooted for a right handed shot on his line, but it appears he likely won't get one. I have a hard time gauging Ribeiro from camp and preseason, as he sometimes seems uninterested, and other times wants a goal so bad he doesn't leave the ice until he's got a good shot at one. I expect another 80 points from him.
91 - Brad Richards - No one looks happier at the prospect of "up-tempo" than this man. He's looked as good as he ever has in a Stars uniform in the last two weeks and that line of his should be set to do some damage. I'd like to see him shoot the puck more. He passes up one great look per game to dump it off to a team mate. He's the Jason Kidd of the Dallas Stars.
20 - Brian Sutherby - Plays wherever they ask him to, doesn't ask questions. I like his worth ethic and his hustle. It's a shame that he'll likely see reduced minutes on the 4th line. He was the spark in a few games last year when Dallas was still in the race. He's capable when the injuries come.
6 - Trevor Daley - It was said as camp started that the new coaching staff might benefit Trevor the most. I have yet to see that. Stay tuned.
28 - Mark Fistric - Noticeable the most this preseason when clearing the bodies from the crease. His puck handling has looked perhaps less shaky thus far, but my confidence in the part of his game is still not very high. He knows what his uses are so expect to see him get physical.
2 - Nicklas Grossman - A quiet camp, but then, it's the defensemen you DON'T notice that are the steady ones. Big thumbs up for big Grossman.
27 - Andrew Hutchinson - Looks like he's the odd man out. Put on waivers, could play in Austin to start the season. In a system where the D is handling the puck a little more, he has looked out of place.
5 - Matt Niskanen - They've used him on the power play some, having him sneak down the left side and take one timers from the circle, Brett Hull style. He should connect on a few of those this year if given the opportunity, but he's still apt to be caught cheating up ice and the occasional head-on-a-swivel-mad-scramble. He didn't look good with Sydor last year, maybe with Fistric or Grossman he can find a home.
3 - Stephane Robidas - He's Robi. He's awesome. He has not exactly dialed down the physicality for preseason either, which occasionally makes me nervous, but he's fine. The bummer is that he's still your #1 defenseman. Tom Hick's fault, not his.
37 - Karlis Skrastins - A pleasant surprise. I have been delighted with his speed and mobility after he was introduced to us as a steady veteran "Norstrum" like presence. He has defended well in space, but is not immune to the turnover when handling the puck through neutral ice. I can't wait to see who he'll play with. (Daley?)
44 - Jeff Woywitka - Likely the #7 defenseman to start the season. He tries hard, but gets turned around every now and then. I don't have much to say about him really, to be honest.
31 - Alex Auld - Was freaking great on Thursday (unfortunately the Stars defense gave him plenty of reason to be so) and should be someone to whom Crawford can turn with little hesitation. Unlike the backup last year. This is one off-season need that was taken care of nicely after the Gustavsson stuff. Plus his new helmet is Stars-a-rific....and stuff.
35 - Marty Turco - Has been working hard. The haters should know he's been putting in the time, and he's got an axe to grind this year, and a contract to earn. He's been intense in practice, but he's still gotta put up or shutup come October. I think he bounces back nicely, as much as the defense will let him.