One of the top story lines coming into training camp was who would be the last piece of the top-six puzzle for opening night. Last year, the Star’s second line was one of the biggest areas of needed improvement. With a reinvigorated Roope Hintz and the newcomer Joe Pavelski, that left open just one more roster spot in the top six. The offseason had talks of Jason Dickinson, Corey Perry, Denis Gurianov or maybe even Jason Robertson to fill the void.
Well, if head coach Jim Montgomery’s latest lines in practice are any indication of how he feels the roster is filling out, it seems as if Gurianov has fallen behind in the race for a top-six roster spot. Since the very start of training camp Montgomery has had Gurianov on the second line wing playing alongside Pavelski and Hintz. He’s been given three preseason games and weeks of training camp practice in top-six roles and power play time. It has been his position to lose. And yet, Dickinson is now slotted to play in tonight’s top six with Gurianov slated to play with Dellandrea and Kiviranta.
Here were the forward lines as of Monday morning:
Roope Hintz - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov/Joel L’Esperance
Jamie Benn - Joe Pavelski - Jason Dickinson
Mattias Janmark - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Andrew Cogliano - Rhett Gardner - Nick Caamano/Jason Robertson
Denis Gurianov - Ty Dellandrea - Joel Kiviranta
It’s to no surprise that with only nine days remaining until opening night, now is the time to get serious about lines and to start building chemistry. The Central Division is going to be tight. The Stars really can’t afford to go into their first 10 games with a handful of question marks on players and where they should slot in. Ideally, they’d want to hit the ground running on October 3. And that looks to be what Montgomery is looking for with Dickinson now getting ready to play in the top six against the St. Louis Blues tonight.
I understand that preseason doesn’t mean much. However, for younger players battling for roster spots, they certainly want to impress to show they can compete against NHL talent. So far through three games, Gurianov has not shown that. He has zero goals, zero assists and three shots on net in three games. In five minutes of power play time he had one shot attempt and it did not get on net. He has 45 percent of the scoring chance opportunities when on the ice and 34 percent of the shot attempts. Again, preseason is just preseason. But for a player whose options are playing alongside some of the top players in the league or starting the season in the AHL again...his appearances in these preseason games have to show more.
The same goes for Robertson. There was a lot of chatter of him potentially being able to come in and wow the masses with his training camp and preseason play, but so far, he hasn’t been able to impress the staff. He didn’t take over the Traverse City tournament a few weeks ago and he hasn’t performed well enough in his preseason games to justify Montgomery giving him looks in the top six. There are still a handful of practices and three preseason games for either of the players to step up and give Montgomery something to think about. And by that, I mean Gurianov or Roberson will need to dominate in two of the three games. But for now, it’s looking as if staff will be focusing on having Dickinson somewhere in the top six.
Which is a bit upsetting, I’m sure, to a lot of Stars fans who want to see Gurianov do well. We’ve gone through Julius Honka. We’ve gone through Valeri Nichushkin. I personally don’t want to have to see the #FreeGuri signs and hashtags all over Twitter. It would be nice if, in these last three preseason games, he can find another gear and show the coaching staff, as well as the fans, that he’s here to play in Victory Green and to play an important role in helping Dallas win games. But time is ticking, and with only nine days remaining, he has to prove that he is a true top-six NHL player.