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.
If you've been doodling line combinations on napkins this summer like the rest of us, you've probably fiddled around with several combinations of players.
You know you aren't going to break up Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on the top line. Who goes next to them then on the right wing? Most probably keep Valeri Nichushkin there or slide the playmaking Ales Hemsky in that slot.
Then there's the second line. Jason Spezza, the shiny new center, goes in the middle. Do you keep him and Hemsky together to see if their short-lived 20-ish games of chemistry continues into the new season in a new conference? Or do you move Nichushkin down to play next to Spezza? With either one, you've got a hole on the wing for the second line.
Some have put Erik Cole in that slot, others Colton Sceviour. Some have suggested Brett Richie could come out of camp and win that top six role as a rookie. Others think the big body of rookie Curtis McKenzie could be a dark horse candidate there.
The third line seems pretty set, with the trio of Ryan Garbutt, Cody Eakin (once he gets that new contract) and Antoine Roussel as a unit most don't want to see broken up.
That gives you Vernon Fiddler and Shawn Horcoff down on the fourth line, with one of Cole, Sceviour or Patrick Eaves expected to slot in there.
The recurring theme in all the line combination prognostications we've seen is that nobody quite knows where Cole is going to fit this year. Is he a top six forward still? Or is he a fourth line guy? Should he expect to be healthy scratched this season, like he was during the playoffs last year?
He's an enigma, wrapped in a mystery.
At 35, Cole is most likely past his prime scoring short of a banner season. He was able to produce with a decent 16 goals on the year. However, he never seemed to be able to produce consistently in a top six role and consequently was shuffled up and down the lineup.
One has to wonder if he has enough gas left in the tank to keep up with the speedy style the Stars are implementing on one of those top lines for an entire season and produce the points this team will need to make a deeper run in the playoffs.
If the answer to that is no, then maybe you can get some depth scoring from him while giving him fewer minutes in the bottom six. This seems like it could be the direction the coaching staff will take, if his dwindling time on ice at the end of the season and the playoffs is a trend.
Another big question mark is whether Cole will continue to be used on the second power play unit like last season -- a unit that at times was almost brutally ineffective.
Until his role is defined during training camp, the line combinations for this season will always feel like educated guesses at best. What we do know is that Cole's ability to be moved throughout the lineup as well as on the man advantage gives the Stars flexibility when injuries inevitably occur or to change up a line that maybe isn't clicking on a given night.