If you’re a player fighting for a roster spot with the Dallas Stars and find yourself drawing into the lineup tonight, you might be getting your last chance to force your way onto the 23-man NHL roster in head coach Ken Hitchcock’s mind.
“The duplicating guys in the next two games will be the guys that we're looking at. So if you see a guy playing in both games, it's because we want to see if he's going to cut the grade of the 23.”
The management in Dallas has quite a few decisions to make, possibly made harder with the abscence of Martin Hanzal so far (ankle injury) combined with outstanding play from guys that weren’t really on many people’s radars this summer (a la Roope Hintz).
With Hitchcock preferring good lineups in front of Stars fans paying to watch the team in preseason, it’s no surprise that the presumed top line of deadly offensive talent the Stars will ice on opening night will draw in again after not playing since the first preseason game. Here’s the expected lines for tonight:
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Devin Shore - Roope Hintz - Brett Ritchie
Remi Elie - Adam Cracknell - Denis Gurianov
Curtis McKenzie - Gemel Smith - RJ Umberger
Umberger is on a professional tryout, so this might be one of the last exhibitions he has to earn a contract — whether with Dallas or with another NHL team. Past the first line, Hitchcock is giving a lot of looks at those players battling out for forward positions on the team. That’s why guys like Antoine Roussel, Radek Faksa, and Jason Spezza will get the night off tonight.
It seems as though the defensive pairings are full of guys being evaluated by the head coaching staff for roster decisions:
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Jamie Oleksiak - Stephen Johns
Patrik Nemeth - Julius Honka
This will be Nemeth’s first preseason action. Oleksiak, who has garnered some praise from head coach Ken Hitchcock throughout training camp and the first three preseason games, will draw in again. Johns and Nemeth will have the chance to shine and change some opinions potentially on where they belong.
Same for Honka, who many had penciled into the top six since the start of the summer. After all, he’s looked NHL-ready in the small sips of coffee he’s gotten at this level. He’s looked good in the preseason action he’s been given. The question is whether he’s done enough to force the team to make decisions to fit him onto a roster with eight other defensemen under one-way contracts as the only two-way contract available to be sent to the minors without being subjected to waivers.
Ben Bishop is expected to play the whole game in net. Bishop played two periods in the first preseason game of the season, and looked a little bit rusty in the early goings. However, he seemed to look better as the game wore on, so it’ll be interesting to see how he looks tonight with the preseason opener approaching next Friday.