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13th Forward? How Adam Cracknell Has Become So Much More for the Dallas Stars

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The Dallas Stars probably weren’t hoping they would have to “Release the Cracknell” on opening night when they signed him, but they are glad they did.

NHL: Anaheim Ducks at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t thought to be much of a deal at all when Jim Nill brought in Adam Cracknell on a one-year deal on July 3rd. The Stars had an abundance of NHL forwards and a promising group of them down in Cedar Park as well. Cracknell looked to be a likely healthy scratch option or a veteran presence in the AHL.

By now, you know the extent of the forward injuries in Dallas. If you don’t, simply Google “Dallas Stars Injuries” and hope your device can handle the amount of results.

So the season begins with Dallas missing a handful of forwards and all of a sudden we see Adam Cracknell not only getting into the lineup but absorbing a fair amount of ice-time as well.

Although he hasn’t been slotted into the top-six and likely will never expand to that role, he has played critical minutes in the bottom-six and has made the most of the time that he has been given.

Courtesy of corsica.hockey, Cracknell sits first among Stars’ players in 5v5 Corsi-For (Shot-Attempts-For) %. With Cracknell on the ice, the Stars are generating almost 10 more shot attempts per 60 minutes than when he is off of the ice. How is he having that large of an impact? It starts in the neutral zone.

When you think of bottom-six forwards your mind generally drifts toward the dump-and-chase style of hockey. With Cracknell, that hasn’t been the case at all. For a guy without an overly quick skating ability, Cracknell is able to consistently carry the puck into the offensive zone, leading to more shot attempts and better offensive scoring chances.

Cracknell has been one of the best Stars’ forwards at carrying the puck in all season long and is one of the big reasons why Dallas is generating so many more shot attempts with him on the ice than they are without him.

While guys like Antoine Roussel and Devin Shore have used their speed to aid them in getting the puck into the zone, Cracknell has done it with his big frame and some surprising elusiveness. He’s consistently been able to shift around at the blue-line and find the weakness in the defense.

Cracknell has also been a guy who has shown a willingness to go into the corners if his team is not able to carry the puck over the line. In the last 15 contests, Cracknell has cleanly recovered nine dump-ins in the offensive zone. That would put him sixth among forwards on the Stars. Again, a pretty impressive place to be for a guy who isn’t blessed with tremendous foot-speed.

While those abilities have allowed Cracknell and the Stars to create plenty of scoring chances, they have also helped Cracknell put a respectable amount of points up along the way.

His 1.02 primary points/60 at 5v5 play puts him ninth on the team, a solid rate for a guy who was supposed to be the 13th forward. His 42 5v5 shot attempts are bested by just five other forwards and John Klingberg. Cracknell has shown he deserves the shot he is getting, even when/if the Stars manage to get healthier up front.

If you take last year’s Dallas team, Cracknell wouldn’t look like he belonged. A bigger, slower forward trying to fit in on a speedy transition team? Yeah right.

Except Cracknell has proven that a strong transition game doesn’t always have to be about speed. It certainly helps but there are other ways to transition the play effectively. He has done it simply by moving the puck well and not turning it over (just 4 5v5 giveaways this season), whether that is through passing to a teammate or holding onto it himself.

Having a bottom-six that can hold its own and help push the play into the offensive zone is crucial to winning in the NHL. So while the Cracknell signing didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, it has quickly turned into a solid and important deal for Dallas.