The Texas Stars are fifth in the AHL’s Central Division at the start of the new year. The Stars have games in hand on each of the four teams ahead of them, and are within reach of all.
This is for a variety of reasons. One of which is Landon Bow finally living up to his potential, as he is currently 20th in the AHL with a .907 save percentage and sixth amongst netminders with more than 20 games played. It’s also the numerous forwards the Texas Stars have had on hand this season, from Erik Condra to Denis Gurianov, Joel L’Esperance to Adam Mascherin.
Through the past nine games, the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, however, no player on the Stars roster has been more impressive than Ben Gleason. Gleason, an undrafted prospect who turned heads at the Traverse City hockey tournament, has eight points in his last nine games (six of them primary). No other Texas Star has more than six.
Gleason is first amongst rookie defensemen in scoring with 23 points so far this season and is 10th amongst all defensemen. Coincidentally, L’Esperance, who leads the Stars with five goals through this stretch, is third amongst all rookies in points and first in goals (he’s tied for second in the entire AHL).
Texas is 5-2-2 through their past nine games, which has helped keep them afloat in a contentious division (arguably the most competitive in the AHL) that has five teams within four points of each other. If the Stars win both of their next two games, they will be tied for first.
This isn’t a change from the norm, as Texas has been great all season, but it does highlight what brought them here. Bow has a .920 save percentage over his past eight games, despite getting pulled after allowing five goals on 15 shots against the Chicago Wolves.
Erik Condra and Roope Hintz have been recalled to Dallas after exceptional performances in December. There is an argument, which grows every day, that L’Esperance should see time in the NHL this season.
The special teams units are doing better, with the power play running at a 23.08 percent success rate over the past nine games and the penalty kill having an 83.87 percent kill rate. Both have been excellent.
But perhaps no unit has been as impressive as the young defense for this team, a group that has fielded more members than the cast of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers so far this season. In the past nine games alone, nine defensemen have played at least one game for the Stars.
The core of which, at least over this stretch, has been Gleason, Dillon Heatherington, and Shane Hanna, a defenseman who was not on Texas’s opening night roster, and has had trips down to the ECHL this season. Those are the only three defensemen who have played in each of the past nine games.
Getting Joel Hanley, Gavin Bayreuther, and, eventually, Taylor Fedun back will help the Stars, especially in the playoff push, but Gleason is somebody the Stars find themselves relying more and more upon, and someone whose game grows exponentially.
If he continues the way he’s going, who knows? He might end higher than just 10th amongst AHL defensemen in points. Isn’t that an appealing idea?