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Four Things I’m Excited for in 2021

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The Dallas Stars are scheduled to take the ice on Friday night for their season opener against the Nashville Predators. With 2020 behind us, it is only fair to fire ourselves up for 2021. We deserve it.

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Under normal circumstances it would be quite odd for the Dallas Stars to be opening a season in late January. It is even stranger that the Stars and the National Hockey League are about to cram the 2020-2021 season exclusively in the year 2021.

Is what you would say if the NHL hadn’t prepared us all for this moment with multiple lockouts.

I’m kidding. (Sort of.) Thankfully the word lockout isn’t in the NHL vocabulary for the foreseeable future.

However, the feeling is remarkably similar. A hockey season that was very much in doubt as a global pandemic rages across the globe. It was quite the miracle that the league pulled off its championship tournament in the summer/fall. This even feels different than that if I’m being completely honest with everyone.

The questions still abound on the health of players, staff, game postponements, and the schedules, divisions, and player development. If the NHL pulls this season off, it will arguably be more impressive than the playoffs in 2020.

The only question for the Dallas Stars is if their season will be more impressive than the 2019-2020 season. For the defending Western Conference champions the task will be a tall one to be sure, but nothing worth attaining in life is ever at arms length anyway.

The question posed to the franchise makes this 2021 season one to be very excited for. After all, the future is made to be more exciting than the past and the future of the Stars franchise will be on full display as the puck drops on Friday night. This fact leads me directly into the four things I am excited to see when the puck drops on the 2021 season.

The Seguin and Bishop Injuries: Who Steps Up?

The injuries to Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop are two major question marks hanging over this team as the season opener rapidly approaches. Say what you want about Tyler Seguin, but that guy when healthy is still a reliably consistent thirty goal scorer. I know his stock is at the lowest point of his career to date, that doesn’t mean he suddenly diminished at the peak of his prime. Seguin doesn’t play a bruising style of game, he floats and shoots the puck like snipers usually do. Seguin is also a volume shooter and is a reliable power play producer when he’s fed the puck. Seguin fought off some injuries last season and in the playoffs, which for a player who has to move about the zone to score goals, it’s safe to say his numbers were hampered by his ailments.

If the Stars are to find offense in key spots, look no further than Roope Hintz, Denis Gurianov, and supplemental pieces like Jason Robertson. The club is going to have to expect production from Hintz and Gurianov that exceeds last seasons if they are to keep pace. The goal of the game is to score goals and those two players more than any other are going to be counted on to carry the load. Jason Robertson is going to be interesting, as he will be relied upon to be a full time NHLer and to be productive in the bottom six or occasional top six role. If Robertson wants to stick he needs to be a player who can show he has a nose for the net.

If the Stars have any desire to make the playoffs, Hintz and Gurianov are going to have to take the keys to the franchise and drive for awhile.

For Ben Bishop, that injury is likely to be felt even more than Seguin’s. Sure, did Anton Khudobin have a storybook playoff run?

Yes.

Am I convinced that he can do that again as a starter for the balance of the season?

No.

Anton Khudobin was brought here for a reason. To be Ben Bishop’s backup and to carry the load when he eventually goes down with a two week injury. In that role, Dobby has been a godsend for the Stars. He’s been worth every penny the franchise could have invested in him. When the book is written on Jim Nill’s tenure in Dallas, the Khudobin signing will be near the top.

Bishop’s injury this time around is not a two week injury, it’s an injury that will ask Dobby to put the Stars in a spot to make the playoffs by March. If the veteran goaltender can carry the team to a playoff spot by Bishop’s return, I will have been proven wrong. It doesn’t change the fact that the phrase, “Lightning in a bottle,” will not leave my mind in the days leading up to the seasons start. If the Stars are going to mount a defense of their Conference crown it will be on the shoulders of the man who helped them earn that crown a few months ago.

Year Three Miro

How do you know when you are witnessing greatness?

I mean real greatness. The type that leaves you knowing in your bones that in twenty or thirty years, that you are going to hear that players name and say, “I saw him play live.”

For me that moment came in 2006 when I saw Steve Yzerman live at the American Airlines Center. It was Detroit and Dallas in an afternoon tilt, national television, the two best teams in the league. Yzerman was in his last season, wasn’t the same player who was winning Stanley Cups, but it didn’t matter. That was Steve Yzerman, that guy was the THE captain in hockey, he won cups, he scored big goals, I played with his curve on my stick. The aura leaves you thinking an old legend still has enough to turn it back for one night, even if he was pointless in ten minutes of ice time.

This is the feeling I have when I watch Miro Heiskanen play. The only thing better than seeing Yzerman once, is seeing Heiskanen play every single night. Much has been written about Miro, I don’t need to recap his elite skating ability, his mensa level hockey IQ, his knack to take over games. All I have to say is please watch Miro Heiskanen in year three so you can remember what he was like in year twenty.

Time flies, this kid is going to win a Norris Trophy (or two or three), hopefully bring a championship to Dallas, and it’ll be a shame if we all don’t take a second to take a mental picture. He’s special and he plays here in Dallas.

We are all too lucky to be able to say that.

Jake Oettinger

Jake Oettinger was drafted to be the future in the crease of the Dallas Stars franchise. It’s almost as if the franchise has had a five year plan to turn the keys over to him once Bishop’s contract expires in 2022.

If Oettinger is handed the starting job when Bishop departs, he will be the first home grown, full time starter for the franchise since Marty Turco in 2002. That’s not a great track record of success for this franchise and Oettinger is the guy who is expected to change that fact.

Forget what you read about Oettinger in the national media over the off season. This kid is rated and expected to be a good starter in this league. If he ends up like Jack Campbell for the Stars, it is tough to see this franchise figuring it out elsewhere. This is why 2021 will be a huge season for the young goaltender.

He will be the backup goaltender this season, which means he will actually play a full NHL game for the first time in a matter of weeks. Jake Oettinger needs to play well, show he’s developed, and prove to the Stars he was worth that first round pick. If his career at Boston College and time with the Texas Stars is any indication, he’s talented enough to do it once he figures it out.

Problem is... the NHL feasts on young goaltenders who are trying to figure it out. I’m excited to see a talented player see his chance. For the sake of the future of this franchise we all need to be hoping he makes the most of it.

2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Three Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Blackout Jerseys/Reverse Retro

The Stars rolled out two new uniforms over the off season. This will be the first season the Stars carry a third jersey since the 2010-11 season.

Although can we really call anything the Stars rolled out from 2008-2011 a real alternate?

Cool. Glad we agree.

Now these new sweaters are definitely a third jersey and... something else?

To start, those blackout jerseys the Stars will be sporting ten times this season are sick. They are going to look so good on the ice and on television. They are also going to sell like wildfire, which is really the point to begin with.

I love what the team did with the black on neon green. It’s like the team knew that the entire city looks up at the Bank of America tower when it’s lit up in any other color than neon and quietly says to themselves, “yeah... but that doesn’t look right.”

Thankfully, the Stars are doing the peoples work and formally declaring neon green the official color of the City of Dallas.

The final Stars uniform will be known as their ‘99 reverse retro set. This was an NHL uniform project, much like what the NBA is doing with their uniforms.

To start, Dallas Stars fans have been clamoring for the return of the Star poncho design from the second the team ditched them in 2008 when Reebok redesigned the league. The Stars to their credit were sort of listening to the fans at least.

However, the end result left much to be desired.

Let me be clear, these aren’t terrible jerseys by themselves. The numbers and lettering is a straight throwback to the home jerseys worn from 1994-1999, and it really is gorgeous. The only real issue is the lack of a green bottom under the Star pattern and the white pants.

I’m feeling real stadium series Toronto Maple Leaf vibes with these uniforms and I’m not sure I love that. However, I will be curious to see how these look in person or on television because, until it’s actually on an NHL player it just doesn’t look completely right.

I know what the Stars were going for in this uniform, from the silver logo (Stanley Cup season), to thinking outside the box. I’m just not certain the Stars needed to match their blackout with a whiteout.

So that’s it folks.

2021 is just around the corner from a hockey standpoint and there is a great deal to look forward to. Friday night will see a type of banner raising this team hasn’t seen since their days at Reunion Arena. That is something to be excited about and hopefully 2021 will provide that same amount of excitement as we all go along.