The first day of the Jim Montgomery era is in the books as the Dallas Stars wrapped training camp up in Boise this afternoon.
The team was split into three groups, with two of the groups evenly split between NHLers and the rest of the prospects and a third group that was mainly AHL-level guys and recent draft picks.
There were some line combinations and defensive pairings put together on day one that could be indicators of what fans will see come opening night. Montgomery said that they would look at what has worked in the past and keep obvious chemistry together, but he’s also going to try some things to see what works. The Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov trio was kept together, and Mattias Janmark found himself next to Jason Spezza for much of the drills today. John Klingberg was with his usual partner in Esa Lindell, but Marc Methot and Julius Honka were paired today - a pairing we haven’t seen much of but in limited sample sizes last season looked to be a pair that could click.
However, it’s not much to read into until the guys get out on the ice and play against another team.
Everyone is going to ask how certain players looked. To be honest, today was drills. Could you draw comparisons between one player and another? Yes, of course. Every day NHLers like Seguin and Benn look miles ahead of a Ty Dellandrea when you put them on the ice together. But that’s not a fair basis of comparisons for many of the guys in camp.
The every day NHLers looked just like that. No one guy looked to be particularly laboring in the drills. Some players picked up the neutral zone forecheck and forechecking that Montgomery wants to put into place easier than others. Miro Heiskanen was one of the ones that the head coach said picked it up very quickly. Others asked good questions, such as Jermaine Loewen, who asked for more review to ensure he understands it — something the coach appreciated as it shows he wants to learn.
One thing I noticed that stands apart from the training camps of head coaches past was how vocal Montgomery was on the ice.vocal Montgomery was on the i He was quick with praise and would not hesitate to have a one-on-one conversation with a player to correct as needed. Jason Dickinson described him as “not black and white” - if a player did not take a route the head coach wanted him to, but was able to recover, he would point out the route he wanted them to see but was fine with the right kind of recovery from that mistake.
That is an example of what people mean when a coach is described as a “player’s coach”. It’s not a ‘rule with an iron fist’ but more an understanding of nuance within the game that Montgomery is bringing to the team, and the players today seemed to really respond to his style.
The biggest emphasis today was on work.
Often, Montgomery could be heard saying that they were going to work to get the puck and going to work when they have the puck. He expects them to play a lot of time in their own zone, and Radulov said that Montgomery wants the team to be aggressive when they don’t have the puck in order to get it back. Offensively, Montgomery preached support. As long as the player has support they have the green light to go.
It seems to me that the Stars of 2018-2019 will look somewhere between the high-flying (but defensively leaky) Stars that won the Western Conference a few seasons ago and the defense-first oriented Stars of last year based on what was seen at practice today. Whether that means success is something we’ll get to start figuring out when Dallas hits the ice for their first preseason game next Tuesday.