After Thursday’s ignoble defeat at the hands of some portion of the Colorado Avalanche, the Dallas Stars and Company took to the ice Friday for a practice as the team awaits word of the next round of cuts from training camp.
In the midst of this anticipation, Ken Hitchock had a couple of surprising quotes about some players through two preseason games:
Hitch says Roope Hintz has played way into consideration for making team. Also Oleksiak has impressed, could earn spot on right side— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) September 22, 2017
full quote from Hitch on Oleksiak pic.twitter.com/3nKA4CW4vp— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) September 22, 2017
My immediate reaction to this is that Hitch is a veteran coach who doesn’t just say things without a reason. So, before we get into the implications of these quotes, here are a couple of guesses as to why Hitch might have said this:
On the Hintz quote:
1. Hintz has legitimately been one of the best young forwards at camp, and it’s hard to say he doesn’t have the highest stock of any forward prospect in the Stars’ system right now. So, perhaps this is simply Hitch recognizing the kid’s hard work and making sure people know that there is a door to the AAC open for players who really step up and force the Stars’ hand.
2. Denis Guriyanov (this is my compromise on the I/Y spellings) had a good final game in Traverse City, but he hasn’t quite spread an electric crackle throughout camp so far. Perhaps the Hintz quote is Hitch putting a burr under Guriyanov’s saddle, as it were.
3. Maybe Hitchcock just wanted to pre-empt any interview requests over the weekend after some players are cut and Hintz stays with the team. Coaches need some time to themselves, too.
4. Right now, I don’t see how Hintz makes the team in a top-12 forward role without some rather disappointing news for Curtis McKenzie, Adam Cracknell or Brian Flynn (who I’d guess have an inside track at making the team), let alone R.J. Umberger (who probably doesn’t). And if Hintz were to make the team for reasons unrelated to injury, you’d want him playing instead of sitting on the bench for two or three games at a time.
5. Here is one forward scenario, in the unlikely event that Hintz does force his way into the NHL this season:
Scratched (pick two, waive one): McKenzie, Flynn, Cracknell
On the Oleksiak quote:
1. Maybe Hitchcock is just sick and tired of seeing the same Honka-Klingberg-Johns assumptions down the ride side, and he wants to assert that, yes, coaches are actually still making up their minds, and these practices and preseason games are not wholly meaningless expenditures of time and energy for all involved. Perfectly understandable.
2. No matter what, the Stars will have to make a tough decision on one of these defenders in the next two weeks. Waiving Nemeth, even if he makes it through waivers, is not a “good” result for Patrik. Trading Oleksiak would be a painful end to his years in Dallas. Pateryn is good depth that would help the NHL roster and hamper defensive development in Cedar Park, so waivers aren’t attractive for him either. Stephen Johns’s roller coaster ride over the last year has been rough on him and Jim Nill, who so assiduously demanded that he be included in the Patrick Sharp trade two summers ago. The Stars want to keep every option open before admitting defeat in any of those areas, and this quote certainly does that.
3. It’s a bit cynical, but this could be some classic tire-pumping before Oleksiak is traded. I don’t think Hitch would say anything he doesn’t believe, but he might (might) have chosen to particularly emphasize Oleksiak’s growth right now for more than just complimentary reasons. Of course, I’ve been predicting an imminent Oleksiak trade since 2015, so maybe don’t listen to me. Oleksiak is one of the best hockey players in the world, technically.
4. Julius Honka earned a ton of praise from Hitch early in camp, but he and Stephen Johns are the only two defense who played on the right side in both preseason games so far. It’s possible this is Hitch letting Honka know that nothing is handed to you, and that one good game does not a roster spot earn.
5. My money is that Hitch is looking to get more out of Johns. The quotes about “competitive as heck” and “cool under fire” particularly seem like they could (could) be aimed at getting Johns to up his game. Coaches like to see players try hard.
6. We’ve still got plenty of time, and things can change, so maybe we don’t need to order our engraved opening night lineups just yet. Speaking of which...
Hitch Sees Faksa, Spezza as Centers
Hitch also talked about the four centers bing Seguin, Spezza, Faksa, and Hanzal. So he's trying Dickinson and Shore as wingers.— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) September 22, 2017
So, uh, yeah. This certainly seems to indicate that Hitch was either just messing with us or that he has changed his mind about Faksa and Hanzal playing together. Of course, if we take this latest comment at face value, it means Radek Faksa is probably the 4th-line center, and I’m not sure that makes many fans much happier.
Incidentally, Dickinson and Shore at wing for the time being is just fine with me, though it gets more difficult if Hintz makes the team, which is a sentence I would not have guessed I would type five months ago.
Moral of the Story (part 1)
Remember how we sometimes wished Lindy Ruff would say a bit more about his lineup choices? Maybe be careful what you wish for. Hitch is not afraid to be vocal about his likes and dislikes, as you may recall from his last run here. That means that I find myself, on a beautiful Friday afternoon, sitting inside and writing about stuff like this with most of the preseason yet to shake out.
Moral of the Story (part 2)
Hitch may just enjoy messing with all of us because he can. Have a nice Friday.