Back at the beginning of the season, one of the questions for the Dallas Stars was which of their rookie defensemen would step up into regular service on the blueline. Patrik Nemeth had a very strong camp and was in the discussion, especially after his stint at the NHL level at the end of the prior season and playoffs.
Nemeth's size and defensive play set him apart from other prospects, and with Brenden Dillon sitting out at the beginning waiting on a new contract, Nemeth was able to force his way onto the team from camp.
He played just four games and 0:23 of a fifth before he went down with a very scary injury. His wrist was lacerated by a skate and the expectation was that he was done for the season.
Recovery has gone quicker than that, however, as he returned to the Texas Stars this past weekend to get back into game shape. He's expected to play at least five games down there before potentially being recalled to Dallas.
Watched #TxStars game from yesterday. Nemeth looked close to being Nemeth. Still some adjustments to make, but looks on track.— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) February 22, 2015
With Nemeth's seemingly imminent return, the Dallas Stars blueline will look quite different here shortly. His skill set is definitely one the struggling Stars could use as they try to keep more goals out than they're scoring themselves. At 6' 3" and 235 pounds he'd be the biggest blueliner the Dallas Stars have on the backend.
The Stars are currently carrying seven already on defense -- regular starters Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley, Jordie Benn, Jason Demers combine with rookies John Klingberg and Jyrki Jokipakka for the typical six they roll with on ice with David Schlemko as a healthy scratch a lot of nights.
What does that mean for Nemeth? There's a few ways the Stars could choose to handle his return.
Option A (next year option): Nemeth needs more time to get game-ready, and the Stars could leave him at the AHL level for the remainder of the season. He'd get game experience and be ready for a big camp next season when there might be more space on the blueline, depending on the moves the Stars make in the offseason.
Option B (Stars are sellers option): Someone gets traded near the deadline and Nemeth returns to take a normal spot in the rotation. One thing the Stars don't like doing is keeping rookies in the press box without playing time, so a space would need to be created for Nemeth's return to the big club this season.
Option C (probably most-likely): Nemeth returns and rookie Jokipakka is sent back to the Texas Stars. Klingberg has cemented himself as a nightly starter at the NHL level, so the Stars won't be sending him back. Jokipakka has struggled defensively here recently, and could benefit from big minutes to continue his development.
Option D (probably least-likely): The Stars roll a defensive group that is comprised of three rookies -- Klingberg, Jokipakka, Nemeth -- and one of Schlemko or Jordie Benn is waived and the other becomes the healthy scratch. The reason I think this is the least likely of the scenarios is that teams need defensive depth as injuries occur, and they also don't want to lose a guy for free if there's any way to flip them for another asset (whether it's a prospect or draft pick).
What do you want to see happen with the Dallas Stars defense when Nemeth returns?