To get Dallas Stars fans ready for the 2014-15 season, the Defending Big D staff will be taking an individual look at each probable player on the opening day roster in reverse order of their likely "impact" on the team's success this season. The way we chose to interpret that was this is a ranking in order of the individual's importance to the Stars this season and this season alone. Thus, players who have high potential but are not being counted on to reach it this season are further down the list. We also limited it to the players who are most likely to be on the opening night roster at this point, which means a few Texas Stars candidates won't show up.
We start the series off with one of the team's newest members, forward Patrick Eaves.
In the shuffle and confetti showers of the Dallas Stars trading for Jason Spezza and signing Ales Hemsky, there was another forward signing on July 1 that has kind of slipped under the radar thus far; the signing of depth forward Patrick Eaves.
Eaves, 30, got off to a great start to his NHL career, scoring 20 goals in 58 games as a rookie with the Ottawa Senators. He settled into a depth player role, though, and bounced around a bit before spending most of the past five seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. A laundry list of injuries slowed his production even more, though, and he was allowed to head to free agency by the Nashville Predators at the end of last season.
Stars general manager Jim Nill has a good handle on Eaves from his time with the Wings, and on paper at least he seems like a good fit.
Before the injury problems, he was a player teams could count on for 10-15 goals and 20-30 points a season. He is also a player who brings a great deal of speed to the lineup, something the Stars have really started to build their game around since Nill and Ruff came on board. And he has some history playing special teams minutes as well as nearly 70 games of playoff experience.
So how does Eaves fit on this Stars roster? At the moment, it seems like that will mostly be the product of the players in front of him on the depth chart.
He doesn't slot into a top six or even likely power play role, and with a prohibitive line of Cody Eakin, Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Roussel likely already in ink (barring injury) to start as the third unit, he'll have to contend with trusted veterans like Vernon Fiddler, Shawn Horcoff, and possibly Erik Cole and promising scorers like Colton Sceviour to earn ice time.
And that's before you throw the possibly addition of Rich Peverley back into the mix or a young prospect making a push like Brett Ritchie or Curtis McKenzie. It's a great problem for the team, assuming they can get the potentially tight salary cap numbers to squeeze in right, but it might make things difficult for a depth guy like Eaves.
Then, of course, there's the injury history. Eaves missed more than 13 months with lingering concussion symptoms after taking a puck to the jaw in late 2011, 11 games in the the early part of last season with a sprained MCL, and the last 12 regular season games of last season with the always-popular lower body injury. That's quite a set injuries for the past three years. He also has a history of shoulder injuries, though those are much further in the past.
Given all that, particularly the forward depth the Stars have accumulated over the last calendar year, Eaves will have to work to carve out a niche for himself.
His speed and experience will be his biggest asset, especially if he is back to full health, but there will be no shortage of challengers for ice time. Perhaps his biggest opportunity will come when injuries inevitably strike, as his versatility and experience means he can slot in most places in the lineup. Heck, in a pinch, he played on a line with Jason Spezza a bit when first breaking into the league.
But that depth is also why he's at the low end of these rankings. While he can provide necessary depth, he is one of many potential candidates to fill the bottom six roles.