The Dallas Stars held practice on Thursday in Frisco, in the first full and official practice since the team's final preseason game on Tuesday.
Most importantly, most of the players that had been dealing with injuries were all on the ice and a full-participant in practice, including goaltender Kari Lehtonen. Jordie Benn, who had left Monday's game with a lower-body injury, was also a full-go in practice and will be good to go for the season opener next week.
Lehtonen was knocked from Monday's game after Nick Bjugstad collided with the Stars goaltender, and went through standard NHL concussion protocols following the game. He was back on the ice on Thursday, with Stars coach Lindy Ruff stating he's fine and ready to go for next week as well.
"Kari is good, good to go," said Ruff. "He was out on the ice yesterday. Again today. He shortened it up a bit, he was only supposed to be out an hour or so."
The bigger news, however, is the injury to Sergei Gonchar. The veteran defensemen took a puck off the ankle late in Tuesday's game and could not put any weight on his foot getting back to the bench. He was in obvious and considerable pain and eventually went to the Stars locker room. He was the only player not that the Six Flags event on Wednesday, and Lindy Ruff stated that Gonchar will now be out for a "period of time."
"He's going to be out a period of time," said Ruff. "He took a shot, so it's going to be a while for him. It's lower body. I'll have more information for you in the next few days."
However long that is.
With Cody Eakin signed and back with the team, the forward line combinations have taken shape. From Mike Heika:
Benn - Seguin - Nichushkin
Cole - Spezza - Hemsky
Roussel - Eakin - Garbutt
Horcoff - Fiddler - Eaves/Sceviour
This is close to what most expected after the moves from last summer and there are some that feel others may belong there, Erik Cole earned his spot in the top six -- for now. He had a great preseason and training after a rough ending last season and his style definitely seems to fit well with the two playmaking forwards.
Eakin is back on the ice as well, and having missed the entire training camp and preseason he has some catching up to do. Ruff noted that Eakin was a bit winded after his conditioning skate on Wednesday, and that they're going to be working on getting him game ready before next week's season opener.
For defense, with the absences of Gonchar and Brenden Dillon, the pairings look rather green.
Daley - Goligoski
Nemeth - Benn
Oleksiak - Connauton
Half of that defense has less than 100 games of NHL experience -- combined. The other is an undrafted free agent who worked his way up from the CHL to the the Dallas Stars. There are many who wanted to see the "kids" play, and this is what that looks like -- even if it's not perhaps the young players some wanted. It's going to be trial by fire for the Stars here at the start of the season if Dillon or Gonchar can't return...for better or for worse.
Gonchar has been under fire by Stars fans after a very disappointing season last year, but the veteran and future Hall of Famer was looking much more like his old self during the preseason games and in training camp. While much of the criticism was deserved, there was hope that Gonchar would be able to find some balance to his game this season and help the Stars in their transition to a younger defense overall.
There is no set timetable for his return.
Note: Center Travis Morin cleared waivers on Thursday and can now be assigned to the AHL, or stick with the NHL club for 30 days. Based on the updates from practice, it seems the plan is to send him back to Cedar Park for now. The reigning AHL MVP looked sharp in the preseason and the thought is he would be at the top of the list of any callups that are needed.
Finally, here's Cody Eakin speaking with the media for the first time since signing his new contract.