Dallas Stars training camp is now over for 2014 and the team moves forward into a hectic preseason schedule that kicks off with four games in the next six days. The schedule will provide a great chance for the coaches and management to take what was seen at camp and then start to really dial in on the team we'll be seeing on the ice come that first week of October; we're expecting a wide variety of lineups and combinations across the next few weeks of the preseason.
Part of that is because so many players looked very strong and sharp throughout camp -- never before was it more apparent just how deep the Stars have become the past few years. Even without Cody Eakin and Brenden Dillon, the Stars have managed to add and develop some significant depth at the forward position with Radek Faksa, Curtis McKenzie, Scott Glennie, Brett Ritchie and Matej Stransky all looking to be ready for NHL action -- and maybe one spot available out of camp.
This is on top of the depth the Stars have added or built at the NHL level already. The defense is still going to be shaky at times but the good news is that the Stars are not barren in the cupboard in that department and long-term could really have something good on their hands on the blue-line -- it's the short term that is concerning.
What's going to be most interesting is how the Stars handle the defense this season, especially coming out of camp if Brenden Dillon isn't signed yet. Jyrki Jokipakka, John Klingberg and Patrik Nemeth are all very clearly NHL-ready; with Cameron Gaunce and Kevin Connauton also having strong showings in camp, the Stars have five defensemen for what is essentially the No. 7 spot.
The Stars coaches pushed the pace throughout camp and the team has fully embraced the identity they forged last season; it was clear that this is a team built around speed and offensive aggression and every player is looking to push the play up the ice as quickly as possible. The Stars defense showed off that aggression several times throughout camp; it wasn't uncommon to see defensemen making plays down low in the slot after slipping in from the point - Jordie Benn, Trevor Daley and Patrik Nemeth were the most consistent and successful.
Julius Honka Impresses
The Stars really liked Honka when he was drafted (obviously) but I don't think anyone with the organization expected him to look so strong so early in his career. While there were certainly some iffy moments, the 18-year old defenseman never looked out of place in the NHL camp and everytime he touched the puck the fans would start to buzz in anticipation.
"I thought he has done a nice job. He's probably exceeded my expectations," coach Lindy Ruff said. "He's really skated well. Physically, he's handled the stronger players. He's had a good three days."
The big test will come this week when he gets into his first true NHL action against an actual NHL forecheck, but there's certainly something to really like about the young Finn.
Jason Dickinson gets reality check in first camp
The Stars have high hopes for this skilled center and threw him into the deep end in his first NHL training camp, playing with Jamie Benn on the "top line" for his group and being given significant playing time with NHL players. While not exceptionally flashy, Dickinson was able to hold his own after admitting to being a bit nervous lining up for the opening faceoff in that first scrimmage across from Jason Spezza.
More importantly, camp was a chance for Dickinson to get a taste of what he needs to do to be ready for a team like the Stars -- who certainly play at a much different pace than most hockey teams.
"They like to play at a really high pace," said the young center. "They're up in the play all the time, the defense is jumping up all the time. It's tough to maintain for a full season, I can imagine. For me, it's something I have to work on and be better conditioned. Obviously getting my strength into the same area as these men that are much bigger than I am..."
"I thought I had a good idea at development camp, boy was I wrong. These guys are just that much better, that much stronger and it gives me a real big eye-opener."
Dickinson didn't play in Sunday's scrimmage and could be on the ice Monday.
Colton Sceviour not taking NHL spot for granted.
We had a chance to talk with Sceviour on Saturday; while still recovering from his shoulder surgery, the young forward looked good during camp and is expected to possibly play up the lineup at times this season. He's still not taking anything for granted, however.
"You never know what the coaches are thinking when it comes to line combinations," said Sceviour. "You're always fighting to move up to the highest spot on the totem pole; I'm just trying to do the same thing. Part of the tough thing with these camps is you're still trying to get your feet underneath you a bit, but once we get into the exhibition games we'll start seeing how guys are slotting in together and who has chemistry with who -- those games will be good and it will be exciting to get going here.
"The approach is pretty similar," said Sceviour, when asked if he's looking at this camp any different with an NHL spot seemingly locked up. "You're still trying to fight for a spot, you're still trying to improve your position with the team and your role and the responsibility that is given to you. This year I definitely have a lot more confidence, with a handful of games played and then playoffs even -- you have more confidence to do more things that you may have had a year ago.
"I think the approach is the same, but the confidence is definitely higher this year."
Some other quick observations:
- Gemel Smith had an up-and-down camp. I know lots of fans are eager to see him succeed and he's certainly a spitfire on the ice, but he had several "welcome to the NHL" moments. He has potential, but will also have to fight through depth at the AHL level this season. His development over the next year will be something to pay attention to, his style of play fits the Stars perfectly.
- Stransky was one of the better young forwards at camp and after his big showing at Traverse City, has unexpectedly put his name into consideration for NHL time this season. We'll see how the preseason goes, however.
- Vernon Fiddler looked really good throughout camp; he's highly-respected in the locker room and around the organization and he's great with the fans. His return for this season was definitely a very good thing for a team with high expectations for the season.
- I thought Shawn Horcoff also looked good but one veteran that was rather inauspicious throughout camp was Sergei Gonchar. He took a puck to the head on Sunday and likely won't play for at least the first few games, but I wonder if there is some real concern about his ability to rebound from last season. The Stars have faith in the future Hall of Famer, but you wonder just how much tolerance they'll have with so many young players ready to move up.