While a full half of the Dallas Stars top six forwards will still be on the shelf tonight against the San Jose Sharks, the continued absence of Ales Hemsky has opened the door for a good story to have his NHL debut.
Brendan Ranford, who was signed to a professional tryout contract with the Texas Stars less than two years ago, will make his NHL debut tonight at the American Airlines Center in place of the injured Hemsky.
"I've got a pretty good idea (of his game) from training camp and seeing him preseason," Stars coach Lindy Ruff told the media after the skate. "He's good with a puck, a smart player. I think that he'll handle the game fine."
Ranford, originally a seventh-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers who was not signed to an entry-level contract, had 33 points in 65 games with the Texas Stars last year before posting a very impressive 8 goals and 8 assists in 21 playoff games as Texas won the Calder Cup. He currently sits second on Texas with 13 goals and 23 assists in 50 games this season.
The nephew of former NHL goalie Bill Ranford, Brendan Ranford's biggest strike against him is size. He is listed at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds but has a nice combination of speed and grit that should fit well as a playmaking wing in the Stars speed-based system.
As far as Hemsky goes, Ruff was typical in not revealing anything about an expected timeline for the winger who is battling a lower-body injury.
"He's close, so we'll see," Ruff said. "He's just trying to get a little extra work in. He hasn't had a lot, so that's a good sign."
Hemsky did take the line rushes this morning before staying out late, so it's probably fair to think he's close. Here's what the lines looked like:
Benn-Spezza-Cole Roussel-Eakin-Garbutt McKenzie-Fiddler-Ritchie Sceviour-Horcoff-Hemsky— Mike Heika (@MikeHeika) February 19, 2015
Ranford will likely play on the on the left side on the fourth line, with Sceviour back to his normal place on the right next to Shawn Horcoff.
The defense looked the same as last game according to Heika, and there is the interesting sub-plot of Jason Demers and Brenden Dillon facing their former teams for the first time since the trade earlier this season.
The trade is an interesting one to look back on. Demers has fit in well on the Stars defense, especially as a right shot with so many left-shot defensemen around him, while Dillon has shown very good flashes along with periods of less-solid play. He has eight points and a minus-13 rating in 37 games with the Sharks.
Dillon struggled in his first few games after the trade but settled into a fine rhythm with Brent Burns as his partner. However, when head coach Todd McLellan mixed up the defense pairs, Dillon started to struggle alongside Justin Braun. Since Braun went down with injury, Dillon has actually started to play a bit better again on a pair with AHL call up Matt Tennyson. Dillon provides some size on the left side but at times has been guilty of sloppy play with the puck and his point shots are far too often blocked by the first shot blocker.
As always, it's good to remember that Dillon is the younger of the two players but Demers has one more year remaining on his contract while Dillon will be an RFA this summer.
Both talked to the media after the skate about the surrealism of facing the only other team they knew as a professional:
Kari Lehtonen was the first goalie off the ice, so it looks like he will be in goal tonight for Dallas.