Ales Hemsky was brought into the Dallas Stars organization last offseason to solidify secondary scoring. Together, Hemsky and Jason Spezza were going to make the second line for Dallas one of the most potent in the league.
While the Stars' saw flashes of the Hemsky brilliance he was brought in to display, it was never consistent. Hemsky filled every role for the Stars last year at one point or another. He rode shotgun with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, he sat on Spezza's flank, he played a few shifts with Antoine Roussel, he set up on the half wall of the Stars' first and second power play units, and he was healthy scratched. He wore every hat except the one he was supposed to wear 82 times last year: consistent secondary scoring.
Hemsky's final numbers for last season were very pedestrian. He played in 76 games, scored 11 goals, had 21 assists, and played 13:38 per game. On December 27th, 2014, Hemsky had scored 2 goals and had 8 assists. At this point in the season, fans had grown disgruntled with the team in general and Hemsky took more than his fair share of the criticism.
In the last 44 games of the season, Hemsky started to find a comfort level with his linemates and the Stars team. Over that final stretch, he scored 9 goals and added 13 assists. His improvement was more than the stats tell us, he just looked more dangerous.
Fans grew increasingly frustrated with Hemsky's lack of influence on the game, but there is an important side of that story often glossed over. Some athletes, as people, require patience while they settle into new surroundings. Having played nine professional seasons in Edmonton, it was home. Suddenly he has been traded to Ottawa and months later, he is off to Dallas.
That kind of personal whirlwind can overwhelm athletes. Dallas had the same issue with Erik Cole when he first arrived in the deal with the Montreal Canadiens. Some players take longer to acclimate to a new system, new teammates, a new city. And by the end of last season, Hemsky's confidence was growing by the minute, even as he was playing on a bum hip.
A second line of Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky and either Valeri Nichushkin or Patrick Sharp is, on paper, enough to draw the attention of defenses around the league. Spezza proved last year that he still has some magic (even though he struggled, like Hemsky, early in the season). This year, Hemsky has had a calendar year under his belt in Dallas and hopefully a healthy body to work with.
What bumps him up a bit on this list is the style of play Dallas is going to rely on. The Stars are, no doubt, a team built around offensive skill, and Hemsky potentially brings an element of slickness and puckhandling skill that can't be replicated by anyone currently outside the top six. If his play rises to the level that Jim Nill expected when he was signed as free agent, Hemsky gives the Stars arguably the most dangerous top two lines in the NHL, something important to a team that does try and outscore their opponents.
If he doesn't work out, he leaves a hole in the top six, especially with Brett Ritchie now on the shelf until at least December. Patrick Eaves did a marvelous job filling in a top-line role at times last year, but he is coming off a career year at age 31 and has a pockmarked injury history - he's as much of a question as Hemsky to round out the Stars best facet.
At his best, Hemsky is a playmaker. He is a high-risk, dangling, explosively rewarding player. He makes things happen and he can bend defenses uncomfortably with the right amount of space. If his linemates are very talented forwards that command respect, his line is going to create some problems for teams as they develop chemistry.
While the experiment was brief last season, I think it deserves another look, at least in training camp: Ales Hemsky would be a nice fit for Benn and Seguin. Power Forward/physical presence (Benn), sniper (Seguin), and clever distributor (Hemsky). In a vacuum, these three should fit together like three things that really fit together nicely. The question is, will Hemsky be able to handle the kinds of defenses 14 and 91 see every night?
Hemsky needs space to operate, which has been a criticism of his at times in his run with the Stars. "He's soft on the puck", etc. I understand that point of view, and he was very soft on the puck at times last year, but so was Jason Spezza. The difference was, Hemsky didn't have the highlight reel upside. This season, he will have more space and more confidence, two things he did not have last year.
He may never be a 50-point-season guy again, but that's okay if he can bring his unique skillset to the offense. Hemsky is the grease man. His creativity with the pill makes him and his half-slapper very dangerous. Some part of my hope for him might be guided by his play three years ago, but the team saw flashes of greatness from him last year. The question is, will he have more flashes more often this year?
I think we are going to see a big year from Hemsky. How do you see his impact on the Stars this season?