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Trevor Daley Quietly Coming Into His Own

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DALLAS - OCTOBER 14:  Trevor Daley #6 of the Dallas Stars takes the puck in the first quarter against the Detroit Red Wings on October 14 2010 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas Texas.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
DALLAS - OCTOBER 14: Trevor Daley #6 of the Dallas Stars takes the puck in the first quarter against the Detroit Red Wings on October 14 2010 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas Texas. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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As a Dallas Stars fan, one of my favorite on-ice images from the past decade is the sight of Trevor Daley revving up his engine for a rush into the offensive zone.

Sure, it’s no Mike Modano with a jersey flapping in his own breeze. But Daley’s uber-enthusiatic forays into the offensive zone never fail to bring a smile to my face.

While Daley hasn’t been making those journeys near as often as he did in December, he's still taken tremendous strides forward and is arguably the most consistent of the Stars two-way defensemen this season. His combination of speed, puck savvy, play-reading ability and unwavering enthusiasm to put his body in front of a shot has made him a huge part of the defense on both ends of the rink.

Now, there are still some deficiencies in his game. He has a tendency to be streaky offensively, and he doesn’t put up a huge number of power-play points like one might hope. And he sometimes gets a little over-enthusiastic in puck pursuit, which can lead to some defensive breakdowns.

But even so, he’s making himself an integral part of the team’s defense after years of being pegged as failing to live up to his potential.

After the jump, a look back at Daley’s development curve and why this year has been such a breakthrough for him.

Daley, who turned 28 in October, has been a part of the Stars NHL blueline since the season before the lockout and a part of the organization since he was taken in the second round of the 2002 NHL draft.

But I’d like to take you back further than that, before he had the falling out with John Vanbiesbrouck, then the general manager of the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds, after Vanbiesbrouck used a racial slur.

Imagine a 16-year-old Trevor Daley, if you will, one still 5-11 but 30 pounds lighter at 170 pounds and newly drafted into the OHL. Here is Hockey’s Future’s archived scouting report from that time.

Daley has burst onto the OHL scene in a big way. An offensive defenseman is defensively consciencious but not terribly physical. As good a skater as any in the league and has at only 16 the confidence and drive of an OHL veteran. Outstanding; skating (best asset), puck movement and hockey sense. Very good passer but lacks a big slapshot at this stage, but has time to develop a better one. Good positional defenseman, plays the puck rather than the man it's going to. Loves to join the rush, as either a trailing forward or as the puck carrier. Also seems to want to lead his team in all categories (points, ice time, occassionally penalty minutes and more importantly effort) night in night out.

While he was a consistent 50-point defenseman in junior, there were some questions about his defensive play that caused him to slip to the middle of the second round in the NHL draft, where he was picked by the Stars in what can easily be called one of their less successful classes in recent history. He was one of two players from the 12-man class to make the NHL, the other the quickly dispatched backup goalie Tobias Stephan.

He returned to the OHL for the 2002-03 season and spit time between the AHL’s Utah Grizzlies and the NHL club the next season, including one NHL playoff game. During the lockout, he was one of several Stars prospects loaned to the Hamilton Bulldogs (along with Steve Ott and his record 279 penalty minutes).

Here’s a blast from the past, one person’s top 20 prospects at the start of that 2004 season. And as far as Daley goes, this scouting report was written after that lockout season.

Has superb skating ability and can really fly. The skating makes him a superbly mobile defenseman. Considered highly skilled and an excellent offensive defenseman. Great at handling the puck and excellent at playing the point on the power play. Very tough to knock off the puck. Overall, a very talented defenseman, but still working on his defensive game at the pro level.

For the first few years of his NHL career, that was pretty much what one got with Daley. He showed flashes of offensive brilliance, mostly spurred by his footspeed and elusiveness, though the struggled at times in his own end.

In his first full NHL season, Daley had 14 points, and he followed that up with 12 points in seven fewer games as a sophomore, playing on the third pairing behind the likes of Sergei Zubov, Philippe Boucher, Stephane Robidas and Jon Klemm.

During his third season in 2007-08, he started to move up to the second pairing as Zubov, Boucher and many of the other top Stars defensemen went down with long-term injuries. It was at this point he became what he started this season as – a 7-10 goal, 25-point defenseman who wouldn’t hurt you defensively. Stars fans always wanted more, particularly because early scouting reports promised a dynamic offensive defensemen, but he settled into a very comfortable role as a No. 3 or 4 guy who could get you some points but had issues behind his own blue line.

This year, two things have changed.

First, the move to Glen Gulutzan’s system did what everyone thought would happen under Marc Crawford – it freed up Daley to take more advantage of his skating legs and also helped him hone his instincts in his own end.

Gulutzan appears to run a defense more designed around positioning (as opposed to Crawford’s puck pursuit). He wants one defenseman guarding the front of the net at all times while the other is free to pressure the man in the corners. That leaves a lot simpler decision tree for most defensemen. If no one is in front of the net, he goes there. If someone is in front of the net, he pressures the puck down low or guards against the low open man not covered by his partner.

This has helped several of the other players as well, but it’s really shored up Daley’s presence in his own end. Under Crawford’s system, he’d get running around and caught up in overpursuit too often, ending up being the second defenseman covering a forward and leaving someone else open. Under this new system, he seems to be much more comfortable at using his instincts to cut off the pass. Yes, there is still some overpursuit, but nowhere near what happened the past few seasons.

That has led to the other notable improvement – he’s really starting to utilize his frame to throw hits. He has been credited with 31 hits this season, and his career high in the category was 50 as a rookie. No, it’s not a huge increase, especially in a building as hit-happy as the American Airlines Center, but it’s still a notable upswing, particularly when you consider he’s starting to be one of the guys Gulutzan turns to in key moments in his own end.

That's all shown in the great work Josh has done with scoring chances. Daley ranks third among the regular defensemen in zone-start adjusted scoring chance +/- while playing against strong competition. Some of that comes from the offense he generates, but he's also become much better at preventing dangerous chances against.

On the offensive end, Daley was on pace for a career high in goals and points before going cold with the rest of the team’s offense in January. He doesn’t have a point in the last eight games, though he has continued to shoot the puck and registered a team-high seven blocked shots in the win over the Anaheim Ducks before the All-Star Break.

Even with the recent lull, he’s still on pace for seven goals and 27 points, one goal shy of his career high and matching last season’s career high in points. If he can return to the way he was producing in December, where he had two goals and 10 points, then it will give a needed boost to the Stars as they enter this critical stretch of the season.