In a somewhat surprising move, the Dallas Stars have claimed defenseman David Schlemko after he was placed on waivers by the Arizona Coyotes on Friday.
Schlemko is a 6-1, 190 lb puck-moving defenseman who has had some struggles this season for the Coyotes (like most of them) and has already passed through waivers once, with Arizona failing to trade the left-shot defenseman. He's not very physical, and was getting into trouble earlier this season for bad decisions with the puck.
He's played better of late, however, and Schlemko isn't being asked to come into Dallas and immediately play a big role on the team. Instead, this is a move about the young defensemen on the Stars who need playing time -- not time in the press box -- and Schlemko will be the player that provides that opportunity.
"You can never have enough defensemen," said general manager Jim Nill on the waiver claim. "We lost Gonchar. We lost Kevin Connauton, Patrik Nemeth's injured. We've lost three defensemen during the course of the season and we needed to add some depth. David's a good player. He's played over 200 games in the league. He moves the puck well and just adds some depth in case of injuries. We're making a run here. The guys have been playing well. We just want to make sure that we got enough assets to keep this run going in case of injuries."
With Connauton gone and Nemeth injured, the Stars don't really have another player in the AHL available to provide legitimate depth should another injury occur. Cameron Gaunce is basically the only option the Stars have in Cedar Park now, and he hasn't exactly forced his way to the NHL this season.
Jyrki Jokipakka and Jamie Oleksiak have basically been trading off healthy scratches since Kevin Connauton was waived, and it's clear that both need to be actually playing, whether that's in the AHL or in the NHL. The Stars briefly sent down Oleksiak last weekend for a few games in Cedar Park, where the scouting reports were less-than-favorable, and it will be interesting to see which player is assigned to the AHL first.
"What I want to do is I want to keep the young guys playing, so we're going to look at the situation," said Nill, on having eight NHL defensemen. "I want the young guys playing all the time, so we might create a situation where the guys go down (to the AHL) for a week or two weeks and play four or five games and then come back up and maybe the next guy goes. Now that can all change quick as you know with injuries and that, but that's kind of the game plan right now. I want the young guys to keep playing. They'll still be up here, but I want them kind of when they're not playing get in the lineup down there and play."
The best guess here is that Schlemko will come to Dallas and be a healthy scratch most nights, but will get a chance to play now and then and perhaps force the Stars to play him more if deserving. In fact, that's almost exactly what Nill told the media on Saturday as well. It certainly seems the Stars will have a rotation going with Jokipakka and Oleksiak trading time in the AHL and NHL instead of sitting in the press box half the time.
"His play will dictate that," Nill said, on how much Shlemko plays. "I'll leave that up to Lindy and the coaches and David. He comes in here, he moves the puck well, I think he plays our system well and his play will dictate that and I'll let the coaches decided that."
In the meantime -- I've seen some immediate speculation this is all leading to a trade or another big move. While that's certainly possible I doubt anything is happening until closer to the trade deadline. Schlemko is a UFA this summer and doesn't exactly fit into the long-term plans of the Stars, and this seems to be a move for Nill to ensure he has enough depth on the blueline for what he's hoping is a run at the postseason.
Jokipakka is a healthy scratch tonight against the Wild, so the guess is he gets the first rotation in Cedar Park.
The Stars will roll with the same lineup as the New Year's Eve game against the Coyotes, with Brett Ritchie getting another game on the fourth line while Colton Sceviour remains on the top line.
The Wild are coming off a 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night and after some plane trouble, did not arrive into Dallas until 2 a.m. and did not have a morning skate on Saturday.The Wild and Stars are now jockeying for position in the standings and fighting for a Wild Card spot and tonight's game will be a big swing for whoever comes out on top.
What's interesting is that the win by Minnesota might have led to Stars claiming Schlemko, rather than the Wild. Michael Russo writes this morning that he was so certain the Wild had put a claim in on Schlemko, he had pre-written this article in anticipation of the move.
Kari Lehtonen once again in net tonight for Dallas.
*Schlemko will wear No. 28 for the Stars.