Texas Stars: A Slow But Promising Start

The Texas Stars have replaced much of their long-term leadership group. The new season brings in talented prospects and room for growth.

After two weekends, the Texas Stars have worked their way to a 1-2-1 record to begin the season. Call-ups to Dallas created some havoc on the opening weekend, where the Stars lost a 2-0 opening night decision to the Tucson Roadrunners followed by a 5-3 loss to the Manitoba Moose.

Last weekend found the Stars splitting a pair of shootouts with the Iowa Wild. Friday night was a 5-4 loss, in spite of a hat trick by Denis Gurianov in his first AHL action of the year. Saturday night was a 2-1 victory in a special teams battle that showed Landon Bow standing on his head to get the game into overtime.

Other than Gurianov, Jason Robertson is the other prospect who has consistently attacked the net. Robertson may be known as a shooter, however his two goals for the season have both been scorer’s goals. His first, against Manitoba, was a slam dunk from the middle of the crease following a bounce off of the post. His second, in Saturday’s game against the Wild, was a deflection off of a defender’s stick from behind the net. Robertson is playing with confidence and is much more noticeable on the ice than he was going back to the Traverse City tournament.

Riley Tufte has yet to hit the scoresheet, however, he has shown good hands and the ability to create dangerous chances for himself and his teammates. Here, Tufte uses his large frame and a good stick to create a slap shot for Gavin Bayreuther in the closing seconds against the Wild on Saturday.

Tufte has been getting minutes on both the penalty kill and on the second power play unit, even having some success in the face-off circle. Along the way, he’s hit two posts while playing a more skilled game than his numbers coming out of Minnesota-Duluth would have suggested.

After being sent down by Dallas, Gurianov wasted no time in putting up goals, with a hat trick in his first game back. He was also two-for-two in shootouts against the Wild. Gurianov has looked comfortable with the puck, with no fear of shooting. On his third goal of the night on Friday, he uses Jason Robertson as a decoy, and then knocks in his own rebound.

It was nice to see the offensive outbreak from Gurianov. However, on the defensive side of the ice, a bad touch led directly to the first Wild goal, and his coverage and backside awareness on the penalty kill led directly to Iowa’s second goal.

Of course, Gurianov doesn’t play on the penalty kill in the NHL, but the lack of general game awareness is concerning.

Defensively, Texas is more experienced. The only rookie working their way into the lineup is Joseph Cecconi. Opening with the Tucson game, Cecconi was a bit rough, but he has improved each game. Cecconi is playing top-pair minutes with Dillon Heatherington on his left. There aren’t many highlights, which for a defender is not all bad.

On the other side of the scale, there in Ben Gleason. Gleason plays the game with extreme confidence, as demonstrated at the NHL level in his brief stint with Dallas last year. He is quick on his feet, much like John Klingberg; however he doesn’t have the broad repertoire that Klingberg calls upon.

Gleason’s patented move is a controlled spin. Here, he demonstrates the move and then sets up Gurianov on the doorstep early in the game on Friday night against the Wild.

Gleason’s coverage isn’t great, so unless he can improve his defense, it’s hard to see him getting much time in the NHL, especially for the Stars. At 21, however, he still has time to work on that part of his game, and in the meantime, he’s entertaining to watch.

Heatherington is the new captain in Texas, and he has a trusted defensive game. He makes a good senior partner for Cecconi, and would likely see time on a call-up in case of an injury to one of the defensive defenders on the left side in Dallas.

Gavin Bayreuther has developed into the most consistent and versatile defenders in Texas. He plays all situations, and looks comfortable running the point on the power play or controlling the defensive crease. He is also one of the few defenders in the Stars’ system who has a cannon from the point, which is something that is missing from the NHL club. Foot speed and skating are areas where Bayreuther should spend his training time.

In net, Landon Bow has improved each year and with continued growth this year, could end up as backup to Ben Bishop in Dallas next year. Jake Oettinger has also looked good, as the two netminders have split games so far this year. Bow has more experience, and it has shown in the results to date, but neither has let in a soft goal through four games.

The season is in its infancy, and at 1-2-1 the start isn’t ideal. However, the Stars prospects in Cedar Park have weathered the call-up of Nick Caamano, Rhett Gardner, Joel L’Esperance, and Joel Hanley, with just Denis Gurianov coming back. Over four games, the team has improved and is starting to gel.

With the talent on this team, there is no reason why Texas shouldn’t be in the playoff conversation by the end of the regular season.