With the Texas Stars slated to take the ice for their first regular season game on October 13th, it's time to take a first look at the expected roster and some way-too-early line combinations for the Dallas Stars minor club.
If you'll remember, when we last left the Texas Stars they were finishing second to last in the league and had fired the entire coaching staff. With a huge influx of prospects joining the club in Austin, this is the first year that the Stars can really claim to be a "development affiliate" in my mind. Let's just jump into things and start with the goalies.
Please note that I am operating under the rather large assumption that the NHL season will start on-time. At the bottom, I'll discuss which players will likely spend time in Austin if the CBA is not resolved.
With Richard Bachman getting a one-way deal from Dallas, it looks like Texas will feature Jack Campbell and Christopher Nihlstorp in net this season. I think this is a 1 and 1A situation more than a starter/backup situation. The team will have to balance the clear need to develop Campbell, given his draft position and overall expectations, and the need to play Nihlstorp, who left a solid position in the SEL to come play with a minor league team in North America.
You'll notice that Tyler Beskorowany is not mentioned in the mix for Texas. Because he is still on his ELC, Dallas can assign him to the ECHL without asking his permission. I feel that is exactly what they will do. He will likely spend much of the season in Idaho, barring injury, where he will split time with Michigan Tech product and AHL signee Josh Robinson.
After the jump, we'll take a look at defense, forwards, and who is likely to be assigned to Texas if the CBA goes unresolved...
The defense is Austin already has many of the Cedar Park faithful anxious for October. Line combinations of Patrick Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak dance in their heads. Brenden Dillon is one player that Texas fans are unlikely to see this season if he continues his strong play throughout camp. Here are some start of the season line combinations.
Oleksiak - Maxime Fortunus
Nemeth - Jordie Benn
Tyler Sloan - Hubert Labrie
(as of yet unsigned AHL/ECHL D man)
Left off this list is Jace Coyle, who probably should have spent last season in Idaho but spent much of the season in Austin due to injury issues in the lineup. Coyle should head to Idaho or, less likely, Allen, where he will get more meaningful minutes than in Austin. His career would be better served by spending time on the ice in the ECHL than in the press box in the AHL.
Scott White likes to build a solid team off of defense and goaltending. Surely he has a few prospects for an AHL-ECHL two-way coming to traning camp in late September. Matt Case, who did well in callup duty last year, is someone I would like to see again at camp. Last year's standout, Andrew Randazzo was at team introduction night but decided to go to school instead just before the season started. Randazzo shows that White is not afraid to offer contracts to training camp standouts, as also shown by the previous signings of Greg Rallo and Travis Morin out of camp.
Finally, I do think that Texas fans will see Nemeth and Oleksiak together at some point this season. However, I think to start you pair each with a veteran defenseman you can count on. Benn and Fortunus fit the bill perfectly.
Things get a little tricky here as there are more balls in the air. Let's take a stab at it anyways.
Matt Fraser - Travis Morin - Alex Chiasson
Despite last year's early defensive deficiencies, given their chemistry, does it make sense to break up Morin and Fraser? The pair had success all throughout the season and even more early when they had big-bodied winger Raymond Sawada to clear out space for the skill crew. Chiasson could fill a big-body role but also has hands just as good as Fraser or Morin. The line would be lethal in the offensive end but could get broken up due to defensive issues.
Austin Smith - Toby Petersen - Reilly Smith
Putting the two kids, who looked to be forming a bit of chemistry at Development Camp, on either side of the 800-game veteran Petersen makes sense. Petersen would make sure the line was defensively responsible while also dishing out assists to the two goal-scoring wingers. Petersen had 51 points in his last full AHL season (63 games in 07-08).
Francis Wathier - Colton Sceviour - Scott Glennie
The most successful line from 2011-12 is reunited. They were the most defensively responsible line on the team and they scored at will at times. If Glennie and Sceviour continue to mature their offensive sides, this is a deadly combination.
Luke Gazdic - Mathieu Tousignant - Mike Hedden
I'll admit that the sandpaper might need to be spread across the lineup a little more than this, but I think this lineup could be a solid one. Really, this particular line hinges on the skill advancement of Mathieu Tousignant. Hampered by injuries in his first and third years with Texas so far, can he be an effective pivot for this or any line? If he can return to his season two form (10-13-23 in 78 GP), then this line works. If not, then this may be the last year for Tousignant.
Despite his placement on this last line, I think Texas is looking for more out of Luke Gazdic. He started to show flashes of it last season: the ability to score and be an effective part of the PK. It is sure that he will probably get a few fighting majors this season, but it won't be anything near as many as last year. Antoine Roussel, who I have here in the 13th forward position, could be the enforcer this year.
Finally, it is known that Hedden can play up and down the lineup. Hopefully he won't have to this season, but what he brings to the fourth line is that ability to elevate his game when it is called for.
If the CBA isn't resolved...
... then it gets really confusing. The AHL doesn't even have it as bad as the ECHL, CHL, FHL or SPHL.
Players who would be assigned to Texas: Cody Eakin, Tomas Vincour, Brenden Dillon
Players who would be assigned to Idaho: Antoine Roussel, Mathieu Tousignant, Hubert Labrie
Now, in a Texas Stars fans' dream world, Jamie Benn would decide that he'd like to spend an entire season playing with his brother Jordie and decide to come join the Texas Stars....
Finally, for those keeping track, here are the players who suited up for Texas last year but are not returning. New locations included if known.
NHL UFAs - Eric Godard, Brad Lukowich, Andrew Raycroft (Milan, Italy), Sawada (St. John's, AHL), Dan Spang (HPK, Finland)
NHL RFAs - Jake Hauswirth (Arizona, CHL), Michael Neal, Mikael Stefanovich
AHL UFAs - Michael Forney, Nick Layton, Stephen Schultz (Trenton, ECHL), Shawn Weller
AHL PTOs - Tyler Arnason; Mike Berube (Allen, CHL); Cameron Brodie; Scott Campbell (Las Vegas, ECHL); Matt Case (Idaho, ECHL); Brendan Connolly, Ian Lowe, Jimmy Spratt
AHL ATOs - Taylor Vause (Texas training camp invite)