On March 10th, the Stars took a 2-1 victory in Philadelphia. It was notable for many reasons, one of which was both Brett Ritchie and Vernon Fiddler's scoring in the same game. Kari Lehtonen also had a good sixty minutes, stopping everything but a screened Luke Schenn shot early on.
However, the big thing you may remember is that the Stars were forced to start all of Oleksiak, Nemeth, Jokipakka and Klingberg in that game. That's not exactly a wealth of NHL experience, and while Oleksiak wasn't technically a rookie last year, he might as well have been considering the shuttling back and forth he's had to do the last couple of years.
This was the exception, at least in regards to all four of these players skating on the same night, but all four faces certainly saw their share of games in the NHL level. By game 82, calling players like Nemeth and Klingberg "rookies" started to feel weird, as their faces had become both familiar and somewhat reliable (in our hearts, at least). As for the whole crop? Well, the year was a good (if abbreviated) one for most of them--it's hard to feel great about Oleksiak's time in the AHL, but as Derek mentioned yesterday, he really has been playing well down there--and even Nemeth pushed hard to come back and get over a score of games in before the final bell sounded. Development is the name of the game for these young hockey players, and when you're talking about defenseman, playing hockey in the professional leagues is the best possible way to spur on such development.
Mark Stepneski took a big and beautiful look at the rather green blue line of the Stars in 2014-15 and his take is worth reading (as it always is, don't you know). Here's one selection that I found particularly interesting:
Rookie defensemen John Klingberg (65 games), Jyrki Jokipakka (51 games) and Patrik Nemeth (22 games) combined for 138 games this season. No team in the NHL had rookie defensemen log more games than the Stars. Minnesota was second with 98 combined games from Christian Folin and Matt Dumba. The 138 combined games by rookie defensemen was the most for the Stars since Matt Niskanen, Nicklas Grossmann and Mark Fistric combined for 177 in 2007-08.
You also can throw in the 36 games played this season by 22-year-old Jamie Oleksiak, who didn’t qualify for rookie status. Whether they were rookies or not, the Stars saw young defensemen log a lot of ice time this season. And they played well, especially late in the season.
"The changes we made in defense, the young defenseman and how well they played when [Trevor] Daley was out," Ruff said. Sometimes we had three young guys in there, probably one of the least experienced defense and how well we were able to go through a stretch of games and stay competitive and move up the ladder. For me, [the play of] Klingberg, Jokipakka, Oleksiak, I think that’s the thing for me that we’ve moved forward the most in."
The Stars defense underwent big changes over the course of the season. Dallas opened 2014-15 with Daley, Nemeth, Oleksiak, Alex Goligoski, Jordie Benn, Kevin Connauton and Brenden Dillon on the active roster and Sergei Gonchar on injured reserve. But it didn’t take long for things to start changing.
Five games into the season, Nemeth was lost for several months when he was cut on the arm by a skate. A month later, the Stars recalled Klingberg to give them a much needed right-handed shot. Two days after that, Gonchar was traded to Montreal. A week after that, Connauton was gone via waivers to Columbus and the Stars recalled Jokipakka from the AHL. And three days later, the Stars acquired Jason Demers, another right-shot, from San Jose in exchange for Dillon.
Ah, Niskanen, Grossmannn and Fistric. I get nostalgic remembering 2008, don't you? Especially that sixth game against San Jose. Who can forget how Niskanen...oh, right, he wasn't in that game. Well, Grossmannn did have that time at the beginning of 2OT when he watched in horror as Robidas wiped out right in front of the net, coughing up his pass to a Shark before Turco saved his side of beef. And I think Mark Fistric might have gotten one shift after regulation, maybe.
Okay, so maybe that group of rookies wasn't quite as leaned-on as this year's was. In fact, you could well argue that the Stars actually leaned on their rookies more this year than 2008, especially because they didn't have a veteran #1 like Zubov or a solid defender like Norstrom (
post-deadline) to rely upon.
How you feel about the Stars' defense doesn't really matter all that much, though. The roles they were asked to play last year will (aside from Klingberg) quite likely be different from what they are entrusted to handle in October. Pairings should be different, and some of the faces will likely be replaced. But even if the Stars all get Sleeping Beautied from July 1st to October and start the season with the exact same names on the roster, there's no denying that the investments of last year's ice time will help next year's team. They grow up so fast.
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Are you shocked that Jim Nill has brought in more Swedes to the organization? You shouldn't be, writes Tabatha Patterson. [Stars]
Speaking of Mark Fistric, here's a random mention about the Vancouver Giants' drafting of Fistric many, many years ago. [Giants]
Anaheim is quickly turning another Central Division team into its bitter enemy. The Jets blew yet another third period lead, eventually falling to the ducks 5-4 in overtime. The Ducks have a San Jose Sharks lead in the series now. [NHL]
Never bet against Devan Dubnyk. Never bet against Devan Dubnyk. 3-0 shutout last night against the Blues, and the Wild now hold a 2-1 lead in the series. Dubnyk was good, but the Wild were just pouring it on in the St. Louis zone. Wow. [NHL]
I saw some dummy named Brando Morley tweet this, so I figured I would share it with you since I'm sure none of you follow him. Turns out some people in St. Louis kind of aren't fans of Steve Ott. Like, they wrote thousands of words and embedded dozens of videos to prove their point. Yeah, they're not fans. [St Louis Game Time]
If you're looking for an alternate viewpoint, here is a nice piece about what Ott brings to the Blues' lineup from a Minnesota perspective. How quantifiable do you think most of the enumerated virtues are in this piece? Oh, you guessed it: minimally! [Star Tribune]
The Sharks and Todd McLellan finally un-consummated their relationship after months of not-foreplay and have agreed that parting will be sweet, at least. Here's my idea: Detroit just hires McLellan back to co-coach with Babcock. Steal all the best coaches for themselves, right? This is a great idea, self. [Detroit Free Press]
Who might replace McLellan in San Jose? If Milbury can't go to Boston, then San Jose is absolutely my second choice. This article does not talk about Mike Milbury, but it does talk about Marc Crawford! [Mercury News]
Christian Ehrhoff's recovery has stalled, and there's doubt now about whether he'll even be able to suit up for Pittsburgh again this year. [TribLive]
...because Pittsburgh is now down 2-1 to New York after dropping the contest last night by a score of, well, 2-1. [NHL]
Even Canadian gorillas are getting into hockey these days, ha ha. Look, it's a crazy gorilla (not a monkey) trying to wear people clothes! A hockey sweater, in fact! Ha ha! Hey, do you think the phrase "goes bananas" is used in this piece at all? Well, you're right: it sure is! [CBC]
Finally, Sean McIndoe is here to help you cope with the draft lottery results. Well, he's at least here to talk about them and make you laugh wryly. What more could you want, realistically? [Down Goes Brown]