The Dallas Stars made the first big move of the 2013 season when Mark Fistric was traded to the Edmonton Oilers in return for a 2013 third-round draft pick. The trade now gives the Stars three third round draft picks in the upcoming draft thanks to the trade of Nicklas Grossmann last season.
The trade also means that the trio of Fistric, Grossmann and Matt Niskanen have all parted ways with the team that drafted them, when at one point all three were seen as the future of the Dallas Stars defense.
The trade can only be seen as good value for the Stars, who moved Grossman for a second and third a year ago. Fistric has shown to be a physical presence who is far from lost in his own end of the ice yet struggled when the puck was on his stick, relegating him to third-pairing duty and likely not much else. With the Stars looking to give a number of defensive prospects a chance this season and next -- and with Fistric set to be a free agent this summer -- the trade was the next logical step for the Stars.
This is also a good move for Fistric, who will be counted on to anchor the third pairing with the Oilers. Edmonton is in desperate help on the blue line thanks to injuries to Theo Peckham and Andy Sutton and while Fistric was far from the most well-rounded defensemen in the NHL, he certainly has value as a steady presence in his own end who can lay a vicious yet legal hit more often than not.
Now it is up to Jordie Benn and Brenden Dillon to prove to the Stars that the trade was worthwhile, as both will be given the chance to earn a spot on the third pairing and now it is clear that both Benn and Dillon will start the season in the NHL. Who starts the season in the press box and who will be on the ice will be determined in camp this week and we'll likely see a healthy rotation of Benn, Dillon and Aaron Rome as the Stars seek to find the best combinations on the blue line.
Benn and Dillon are both intriguing prospects that have followed similar career paths to the NHL as "late-bloomers" that have had to fight their way to the Stars training camp this week.
Undrafted out of the BCHL, Benn moved to Dallas in 2009 to be closer to his brother and to play for the Allen Americans of the CHL. A good showing there earned him a spot with the Texas Stars the next season, where he showed tremendous growth on the ice in 2011-12 and became the most consistent defenseman for the Stars in Austin, while putting up nine goals and 23 assists in 62 games.
Dillon, at 22 years old, developed late while playing with the Seattle Thunderbirds and after signing a contract with the Dallas Stars has quickly become one of the top prospects in the system. Dillon had six goals and 23 assists in 76 games last season with Texas and has grown physically and mentally on the ice over the past 18 months.
Benn, with seven goals and 17 points in 34 games this season, is likely a bit more offensively gifted than Dillon although both bring a well-rounded game to Dallas. Both players are capable of standing tall in the crease and laying a hard hit along the boards and both are more than competent when moving the puck up the ice.
While the Stars will miss the tough and physical game that Fistric brings each time he's on the ice, Dillon and Benn each provide a bit of a better option for the Stars both this season and in the future. There's no doubt that this move was less about Fistric and more about giving the young defensmen in the organization a chance to prove themselves in the NHL, a fact that general manager Joe Nieuwendyk acknowledged following the trade:
"As you know, these are never easy decisions, but I feel comfortable where are kids are at and it's not just the two (Jordie Benn and Brenden Dillon) we have here in camp. I think there's (Jamie) Oleksiak and (Patrik) Nemeth, too," Nieuwendyk said, per Mark Stepneski. "That factors into it. These two (Benn and Dillon) in particular have been playing 22-24 minutes a night, are in game shape and ready to go. You always try to analyze when the best time is to transition your kids in, and I think this is a real good time because the league has been shut down and these kids have been playing. That factored into it. And the fact that we have Aaron Rome now, who plays a similar brash style."
While Oleksiak and Nemeth will only see time in the NHL this season if injuries dictate the necessity to call them up, Oleksiak is almost certain to be on the NHL roster next season. The essential promotion of both Benn and Dillon to full-time NHL status means that Oleksiak and Nemeth will get more top minutes in Austin, valuable experience as the two defensmen continue their first professional season.
There is a question of toughness with the defense now, although Rome certainly plays a similar style as Fistric. Neither Benn nor Dillon will be afraid to lay the body or drop the gloves, yet neither have proven to be as effective as physical presence that Fistric had been the past few seasons -- especially at the NHL level. Fistric was one of the more prolific and biggest hitters in the NHL last season and played decently when given penalty kill responsibilities after the Grossmann trade. Can Benn or Dillon fill that void as well? Or Rome? We will find out very soon, that's for certain.
Mark Fistric was a friend of the blog and an exceptionally generous and all-around great guy off the ice. He was fan favorite due to his big hits and gentle nature with the fans, but it's clear he was perhaps too one-dimensional for a team already lacking depth on defense. This move was about the future and while it's exciting to see new blood in Dallas, the Stars are headed into a tough season some questions as to how either will play as an everyday NHL player. That being said, many fans have been wanting the Stars to take chances with young players in the past -- now we'll get to see what these two can do.