To get Dallas Stars fans ready for the 2015-16 season, the Defending Big D staff will be taking an individual look at each probable player on the opening day roster in reverse order of their likely "impact" on the team's success this season. The way we chose to interpret that was this is a ranking of the individual's likely importance to the Stars success this season and this season alone. Thus, players who have high potential but are not being counted on to reach it this season are further down the list. We also limited it to players who are most likely to be on the opening night roster at this point, which means a few Texas Stars candidates won't show up.
It's that time of year again.
Players are starting to trickle back into town and join their teammates for weightlifting sessions set to terrible music. Unofficial practices are winding up. Charity events with several players are on the docket.
Yes, there are only 23 days until Dallas Stars training camp kicks off in Cedar Park, which means its time for our annual countdown of the players who will have the most impact on the team this season.
We start with a bit of a cheat pick that combines the defenseman most currently have last on their depth charts with the defenseman penciled in for Cedar Park most feel could make the jump very soon - Jamie Oleksiak and Stephen Johns.
Oleksiak, the Stars first round pick in 2011, is a prototypical slow-growth player, a blueline behemoth at 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, who has had a fairly bumpy development curve. Players of his size typically take a long time to grow into their talent, but patience with Oleksiak's improvement seems to be wearing thin.
He played a mediocre 36 games in the NHL last season with eight points, a strong number, but disastrous possession numbers. His Texas Stars totals also pointed to a surprising offensive ability with 12 points in 35 games, but first-hand reports from Cedar Park again painted a more inconsistent picture in his own end.
If we're being honest, an offensive touch really isn't what the Stars need from Oleksiak in the first place, so the struggles with possession and transition defense become even more magnified. All of that provides evidence for why the Stars went with a one-year "prove it" contract rather than locking him up for a longer term when he was an RFA this summer. And with at least seven players in front of him right now, Oleksiak is at risk of being a waiver wire casualty if the Stars want a more traditional roster.
While Oleksiak's stock is relatively low, Stephen Johns is the shiny new toy that Stars fans can't wait to unwrap on training camp morning. Acquired along with Patrick Sharp from the Chicago Blackhawks, Johns is highly touted as a defensive defenseman, though one that has some nice offensive touch. At 6-4, 234, Johns also brings size to the blueline, and his right shot is always a welcome addition.
Here's the funny part - Johns was actually drafted a year before Oleksiak in 2010 and is a year older at 23, and yet he's seen as at the cusp of his NHL career while Oleksiak is viewed as much further along, closing in on being a possible first-round bust. A big part of that has to do with Johns' relative lack of professional experience - he played four years in the NCAA while Oleksiak left after one to head to junior hockey - but another is the relative newness of Johns to the organization. How fair that is to either of them is a definite matter of debate.
Waiver status means, barring a brilliant training camp, Johns is almost certain to start the season in the AHL. He has yet to make his NHL debut and is on an entry-level contract for another season, so with eight waiver-eligible players in front of him, he has quite the uphill battle to even make the opening-night roster. However, when injuries inevitably strike, he seems a likely candidate to be thrown into the fire, and with his talent that might be enough to stick around for the long haul.
That brings us back to the Oleksiak dilemma. The Stars have two waiver-exempt forwards who could clear roster space to carry eight defensemen at the start of the season, and if no one has a great or terrible training camp, that seems like a logical option. The team isn't in a cap crunch, after all, and Cedar Park is close enough that any injury roster holes are usually simple to fill.
Still, there will be a point in the near future, whether its during this training camp or sometime in the first part of the season, when the Stars are going to have to figure out the excess of young defensemen. With Patrik Nemeth healthy, Jyrki Jokipakka making a push and Johns and Esa Lindell waiting in the wings, there are too many bodies and not enough ice time. Injuries will obviously play a role, but if the roster stays relatively healthy, something will eventually have to give.
All that said, heading into training camp, Oleksiak and/or Johns projects to be the eighth defenseman on a roster that typically carries seven. For that reason alone, they bring up the tail end of this season's impact player rankings.