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The rise of Wyatt Johnston has changed the way Dallas Stars could approach the trade deadline

The impact of a 19-year-old on this Dallas Stars team grows by the day. Now, he might also become the sought after answer for the team‘s search of another top six forward. If he already isn‘t. Spoiler alert: He is.

Edmonton Oilers v Dallas Stars Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images

Ever since the season started, the discussion has always been about the Dallas Stars getting some help for their forward group, especially in the top six area. While I think they should focus on getting help on their defense as well, it‘s probably easier to envision general manager Jim Nill trading for a forward instead, just because of the current salary cap situation as well as the fact they have already traded for Nils Lunkdvist few months ago. Also, maybe you noticed but you need to dress twice as many forwards as defensemen, meaning they are easier to obtain.

So with that, let‘s just focus on the forward group today, especially on the journey of finding the right solution for the right wing position on the second line centered by Tyler Seguin, which hasn’t been a successful one yet, to be fair. And the jury is out there if it ever will be. Bear with me.

At the start of the season, the Stars coaching staff tried Ty Dellandrea there as a complementary piece to a Mason Marchment - Tyler Seguin pairing. The results were actually surprisingly good, as that line was clicking from the get-go but it did create an uneven scoring distribution between the top six and the bottom six.

Maybe you‘ve already forgot, but Jamie Benn especially was the struggling player to start the year and only around the fifth game did his fortunes start to turn. I’d credit that to gluing Ty Dellandrea on his line with Wyatt Johnston and creating an instant chemistry between the three of them. This was actually the point where the Stars started to juggle multiple right-wingers on that Seguin line without an overwhelming success.

Denis Gurianov? Nah. Hockey-wise, he’s not really been him throughout the whole season so far. I don’t want to speculate what’s behind his sudden personal leave of absence, so I’ll just wish him and his family well and hope for a good comeback from his side, whenever that might be. Take your time, Denis.

Matěj Blümel? It was maybe too early for him to get that look in the grand scheme of things. Yeah, he definitely deserved it thanks to his rocket start in the AHL and, hey, crazier things have happened. But his impact was really minimal and it’s better for him to hone his craft a bit more in the AHL.

The Stars even tried Radek Faksa in that top six role which should tell you how desperate they were. That’s why I have mulled over possible trade targets like Brock Boeser or even Patrick Kane.

But ever since that period of time, I’ve been feeling a slight change of heart and I don‘t think I‘m alone here. It’s all thanks to one young man.

Wyatt Johnston has been very good in his rookie season and, what is probably the most important thing, he continues to improve over time as well. He started the season officially as a third line center and most of us have been living on a prayer at that time if he has the cojones and all to hang in there for the full season. After all, he’s still a teenager.

Data visualization from Andy-Rono.com

So far, he’s been able to hold his own and much, much more. He already scored ten NHL goals in his young career which consists of playing a mere 36 games and even played himself out of the World Juniors simply by being too good for the Stars to loan him to the stacked Canadian team.

Now, here’s when I will cut right to the chase: Thanks to Wyatt Johnston, Dallas doesn’t need to look for the top six forward solution at the trade deadline.

At least not by default. Sure, go ahead and spend big on Bo Horvat, create a positive domino effect on your depth chart and claim this to be your go-for-it year. On the other hand, the price of doing that might be just out of reach for the Stars, not to mention the implications of necessary cap maneuvering as well.

Data visualization by HockeyViz.com

When you read in between the lines of the actual line usage chart above, you might see Wyatt Johnston slowly taking over Tyler Seguin as that second line anchor, if it didn‘t happen already. Most recently, Seguin has been paired with Joel Kiviranta and Ty Dellandrea. Wyatt Johnston was attached to Mason Marchment and the team captain — the second coming of Jamie Benn, aka the Bennaisance. Tell me which duo sound more appropriate to be deemed as “top six” — at least at the moment. The answer is clear. Which leads me to believe, that...

Wyatt Johnston is the top six solution the Dallas Stars were so eager to find.

Don‘t get me wrong. Tyler Seguin is still a great player. His recovery road from his serious injury was (and still probably is) very long and a tough one to just chew over. Thanks to the rise of Roope Hintz, he was penciled as that perennial second line center by default and probably no fault of his own. The fact that he was somewhat bumped down from that position this early and by a teenager no less speaks more about Johnston’s abilities than Seguin’s deficiencies. But it also involves a little bit of both, to be fair.

Johnston has been more effective in entering the zone so far - an area in which Seguin also shined during his prime. The defensive comparison between the two goes in favor of Tyler Seguin, though. He still holds his own defensively, which is a good sign down the road for Dallas — especially come playoff time.

Which is why the Dallas Stars top six forward group could now officially involve (apart from the great top line of Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski) the likes of Mason Marchment, the newest addition in Wyatt Johnston and, maybe even more surprisingly, when you go back to the start of the season - Jamie Benn.

Data visualization by Andy-Rono.com

Tyler Seguin has the potential to be elevated into the top six once again. When you look at his player card (not to mention his salary, but let‘s not go there right now), you could argue that he could still be an option there — and he is. But thanks to the ascent of one Wyatt Johnston, the Stars have now created in the positive domino effect in-house rather than going shopping outside.

That positive domino effect leaves us with Tyler Seguin and Ty Dellandrea occupying the space on the third line, which isn’t a bad third line foundation at all. Actually, quite the opposite. Right now that left wing spot belongs to Joel Kiviranta. While he’s not really a bad option, I think he’s better suited for fourth line duties with Radek Faksa and Luke Glendening, or even more preferably with someone younger and cheaper from the Texas Stars pipeline.

The options are certainly there, but let’s keep this debate for another day. I’ll just give you the warm regards from Riley Damiani, Marián Studenič, the duo of Fredriks — Olofsson and Karlström — or even somewhat forgotten Rhett Gardner. Not only do I believe they could handle the fort, they would also come at a much cheaper price than that Faksa - Glendening duo.

Getting third line wing help at the trade deadline to move Kiviranta where he truly belongs is a much easier thing to accomplish than getting an established top six player. While it’s funny to tickle our brains a little with the image of Patrick Kane in Victory Green, that kind of blockbuster trade just ain’t happening. Especially when you have future top six option in Logan Stankoven and Mavrik Bourque waiting their turn and getting better on a weekly basis. That episode of a positive in-house domino effect will air sometime during the 2023-24 season.

Call me crazy, or boring even, but I’d honestly much rather help out Toronto to get rid of that Alex Kerfoot cap hit, which actually expires at the end of this season, than sell the house and mortgage the future for a high-caliber rental piece. What about a straight-up swap of Denis Gurianov for Alex Kerfoot? I’ve asked my friend, Sammy Tirpak - a scout and a Leafs fan - and he said they’d take that deal in a heartbeat. Especially if you sweeten the deal with some B-level prospect or late round draft pick.

If there is a team that could revive Gurianov’s potential and provide him with a little bit of scenery change, it could actually be the Leafs. Remember, they once squeezed water out of the stone Alex Galchenyuk certainly was at that time. Both players have similar cap hits and Toronto would be getting a younger player who they can control further as he’s only a restricted free agent in contrast to Kerfoot, who will be an unrestricted one.

The ever-so-rational Toronto fans are for some reason fed up with him and from what I‘ve gathered, it‘s mostly tied to an inability to convert his chances and have a positive offensive impact.

However, Kerfoot is exactly the type of player I envision helping Tyler Seguin to become a more effective player come playoffs time. He has great legs and could create some space and also scoring chances for his teammates. His only downside is that he’s rather tragic at converting them. Think of this trade proposal as a revival of that Shore-for-Cogliano deal. Just possibly even better.

Data visualization from Andy-Rono.com

A healthy forward group with this trade would look something like this:

Robertson - Hintz - Pavelski
Benn - Johnston - Marchment
Kerfoot - Seguin - Dellandrea
Kiviranta - Faksa - Glendening

Now I’m officially intrigued.

All in all, the price for an addition like Kerfoot (or a different play-driving middle six forward) would be much lower than for the Patrick Kanes, Timo Meiers or Bo Horvats of the world. Yeah, the impact isn’t that great but it’s been proven over time that it’s actually those minor deals at the trade deadline which put you over the top. While trying an in-house option like Studenič or Damiani is a possibility as well, I believe this scenario might benefit you in a playoff run more. Kerfoot is actually a solid play-off performer, too. And hell, if Kyle Dubas is asking for too much (believe it or not, they have big playoff aspirations too), maybe you can search for the bottom six answer in house. Fredrik Olofsson looked actually very decent in his first NHL game in Nashville and Marián Studenič looked equally good last season.

We live in a world where the selling GMs are now the kings and as a buyer, you really need to be aware of getting fleeced by paying too much for a rental. This season isn’t the last opportunity for the Stars to create a post-season hurrah, on the contrary. Thanks to the 2017 draft class they’ve metamorphosed from one core to another without missing a beat. And we are slowly starting to see the effects of 2021 draft class, too.

Why would you spend most of what you’ve built and amassed at the draft table just to catch a lightning in a bottle once (if ever) when you can strive for a continuous greatness for multiple years to come? The time for Stankovens, Bourques, Harleys, Bichsels or even Arcuris or Grushnikovs (listen to me, I sound like an old GM already) is definitely coming. What you need is just a little bit of patience.

Especially when you already have a young stud and a proof of concept like Wyatt Johnston at your disposal.