The Dallas Stars can’t buy luck when it comes to injuries to the forward corps. Between training camp injuries, World Cup of Hockey injuries, and preseason injuries, what was once a really deep pool of scoring is starting to look like a puddle constructed out of Stars fans’ tears.
News today is that Mattias Janmark, an integral part of the top six for the Stars, will miss 5-6 months with a knee injury. That puts his return at roughly the end of March or early April, or basically the end of the regular season.
With Cody Eakin expected to miss the first month of the season and Tyler Seguin not skating yet, the Stars center depth is looking a whole lot shallower than it did this summer. Whereas before you penciled in centers on wings behind the Seguin-Spezza-Faksa-Eakin set, now you find yourself scratching your head at what the forward lines are even going to look like now.
Assuming Seguin is ready at the start of the season, the top of the center depth chart should be intact with Seguin centering a line of Jamie Benn and a to-be-determined winger. I say “to-be-determined winger” because the trio of Patrick Sharp - Jason Spezza - Jiri Hudler showed some real chemistry so far in training camp and early preseason, and the coaching staff may want to leave that as an intact line instead of slotting Sharp or Hudler up next to the dynamic duo on the top line.
The bottom six starts to get a little less clear, though. This probably cements Radek Faksa as the third line center, with Antoine Roussel and Ales Hemsky his likely wingers considering the chemistry that trio had at the end of last season (and the assumption that you don’t want to disrupt too many of the lines....unless Lindy Ruff feels like ruffling in which case this is all pointless spitballing to see what sticks, but I digress).
That leaves Patrick Eaves, Curtis McKenzie, and Brett Ritchie to fill in holes and figure out a fourth line from. Eaves would be a good net-front guy to slot next to Benn and Seguin, as would Ritchie. However, Eaves has played some center and took faceoffs in the first preseason game, and could find himself the de facto fourth line center now that the center depth has gone poof.
Or, the 4C position could be up for grabs by a prospect or AHL veteran player. Could we see Adam Cracknell on the roster in that role with McKenzie and Ritchie or Eaves as wingers? Has Gemel Smith done enough to prove he’s ready for a cup of tea at the NHL level and fill that role until Eakin gets healthy? Is this Travis Morin’s shot to solidify a roster spot with the big club after so many seasons in the AHL?
The rest of the preseason will be used to evaluate and figure out what the team will look like on opening night. One thing is certain, though: this is not how anyone predicted the season was going to start.