With the brunt of the NHL free agency period now over and complete, it seems likely that the Dallas Stars have their total group of players set for the 2016-17 season.
(There has already been an abundance of trade speculation lately, so let's just go ahead and set all those possibilities aside for different conversations. Cool? Cool.)
The Stars were fairly quiet in free agency. They signed big fish Dam Hamhuis, but then spent the remainder of their attention on re-signing Patrick Eaves and Jordie Benn, while also adding veteran depth that is probably headed to the AHL (Adam Cracknell, Andrew Bodnarchuk, Dustin Stevenson).
Why such little activity? The primary reason is that the Stars have a deep, talented prospect pool, with many of those players currently knocking on the door of NHL duty. Sign too many players and you just run the risk of hindering the development of prospects that are ready to make that jump.
Let's now take a look at those young players that are knocking on the door, and why they might or might not crack the Dallas roster next season.
(It's important to note, of course, that things can change throughout the season, and that players that don't make the team out of training camp could still make appearances later on).
Curtis McKenzie - Left Wing
Why he might make it: At 25 years of age and with three seasons of AHL experience now under his belt, the time is now for McKenzie to make the jump to regular NHL duty to see how he handles it. He plays the gritty, physical style of hockey that often works in a Bottom 6 role and he can absorb some of the penalty kill minutes that were lost by the departures of Vern Fiddler, Colton Sceviour and Travis Moen in free agency. He's also through his main development years, so sitting him in the press box as the 13th forward wouldn't be as harmful to him as it would be to younger players.
Why he might not: McKenzie has been a reliable and fairly successful soldier for the organization over the past few years, but he has a lot competition nipping at his heels. Mattias Janmark and Radek Faksa jumped past him on the depth chart last season. Could others do the same?
Brett Ritchie - Right Wing
Why he might make it: Ritchie has been one of the top prospects in the organization since the day he was drafted and had a very strong 31-game stint with Dallas in 2014-15. He only played in 10 last year (eight regular season, two playoffs), but likely would have played a lot more were it not for injuries. He's an impactful player that can slot up and down the lineup. He would also have to pass through waivers to go back to the AHL, something that's not likely to happen.
Why he might not: He's battled injury troubles on more than a few occasions over his career. There will be plenty of competition for spots, so if he gets unlucky and hurt again in training camp he could lose his spot and another player could run with it.
Stephen Johns - Defenseman
Why he might make it: Johns joined Dallas late last season from the minors and forced his way into being a fixture on the blueline. He looked every bit like an NHL defenseman, including in the playoffs. He's ready.
Why he might not: Uhhh...a meteor strikes the earth and wipes out all of human civilization?
Esa Lindell - Defenseman
Why he might make it: Because Jim Nill has been repeatedly saying that it's going to happen? Lindell was a standout in the AHL last year and had two very strong showings for Finland in back-to-back World Championships against some of the best competition in the world.
Why he might not: The Stars have a logjam at defense lined up yet again for next season. If Lindell struggles in training camp the team can send him down to the AHL, waiver-free, and still have seven defenders on the roster. It would take a truly disastrous camp for that to happen, however, given how much the organization likes him.
Devin Shore - Center
Why he might make it: Shore exploded out of the gate in his first season of professional hockey, scoring over a point-per-game in the AHL and earning a brief call-up to Dallas. He's a mature, skilled, two-way forward and is a coach's best friend because of his versatility and reliability.
Why he might not: He suffered a season-ending shoulder injury early in the year that required surgery. He'll probably be rusty in his first few months of game action coming back. Jim Nill probably wants him 100% healthy and comfortable before putting him in the NHL again.
Jason Dickinson - Center
Why he might make it: Dickinson had a fantastic debut in the professional leagues, steadily climbing himself further and further up the depth chart for the Texas Stars. He also scored a goal in his one and only NHL game. Like Shore, he is a two-way forward that is incredibly reliable and versatile.
Why he might not: At just 21 years of age, he needs plenty of ice time for his development. He could probably cut it in a Bottom 6 role in Dallas if he needed to, but for the sake of his future it's probably best to let him get Top 6 minutes and plenty of special teams time with Texas for at least one more season.
Julius Honka - Defenseman
Why he might make it: He uses his impressive skating, puck control and heads-up offensive vision to blow the doors off in training camp and force management's hand to find him a roster spot.
Why he might not: Anything less than the aforementioned sentence. Honka is still just 20 years old and could benefit from adding a bit more muscle to his frame before testing the rigors of the NHL. He'll get his chance eventually, but it's quite rare for defensemen to succeed at hockey's highest level at his age.
Mattias Backman - Defenseman
Why he might make it: Backman was quietly one of the most consistent defensemen for the Texas Stars last season. His ability to skate and move the puck should suit him just fine in the faster, modern version of the NHL. He's 23, he gained plenty of professional experience playing in Sweden starting when he was a teenager, and would have to pass through waivers to be sent to the AHL.
Why he might not: The defensive logjam, with eight blueliners seemingly ahead of him on the depth chart (nine if you include Honka). He'll need to clearly outplay the likes of Lindell, Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth and Jordie Benn in training camp.