Three Storylines To Follow Early This Season For The Dallas Stars
There's always plenty to watch for at the start of a new season, but here are some of the top things to keep an eye on this year.
Another season of NHL hockey is finally (finally!) upon us, and with it come another batch of incredible stories that will unfold as the year goes on.
Beyond the majestic brutality of the actual on-ice product, one of the best things about the sport of hockey are all the incredible storylines that pop up. Which players will excel? Which ones will fade? Which ones will surprise everyone? And, most importantly of all, how will this year's collection of individual players come together as a team?
To get you off to a running start, here are three of the top Dallas Stars storylines to follow early on this season:
How Will The Young Defensemen Perform?
With Sergei Gonchar out for the next 3-5 weeks with an ankle fracture, the door is now wide open for some of Dallas' young defensemen to step in and show the team what they can do.
According to the most recent line combinations from Mike Heika, it appears that Patrik Nemeth and Kevin Connauton will be the Stars' third defensive pairing against Chicago. The two only have a combined 53 games of NHL experience between them, which makes them quite raw at this level. Making things even more interesting is that Jamie Oleksiak, he of 23 games of NHL experience, is currently the 7th defender. Oleksiak could very likely slide into that third pairing at some point just so the coaching staff can get a better idea of where his game is at right now.
While there's certainly a risk involved going with three young blueliners all at once, general manager Jim Nill knows that he has something special with his group of defensive prospects, and wants to start getting some of them comfortable and up to speed at the NHL level as soon as possible. There might be some growing pains early on, but if any (or all) of the three can really start to get comfortable in Dallas right away then it will be a great benefit to the organization, both now and in the future.
Will The New Powerplay Click?
One of the biggest weaknesses on the Stars last season has the potential to be one of their biggest strengths this year: the powerplay. Or, the "super scary" powerplay, as Greg Wyshynski recently called it.
While lines and setups were jumbled all throughout the preseason, there were a few times where Lindy Ruff used the exact same combination of players on the powerplay, indicating what will likely be the top unit in Dallas this year. That group consists of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky and Trevor Daley. There's a good chance, however, that Alex Goligoski could get switched in there for Daley. While it was only preseason, this group looked very slick together, moving the puck around with a lot more speed and fluidity than last season. If everything goes according to plan this top unit could really be something special.
Dallas' powerplay ranked 23rd last year, with a success rate of only 15.9%, and it wound up hurting the Stars. There were far, far too many instances where a powerplay goal could have tied the game or shifted some momentum in the team's favor. Taking this into account, and adding in the new additions of Spezza and Hemsky, there is going to be a lot of "oohing" and "ahhing" the first few times that Dallas' new powerplay goes on the job.
Is Kari Lehtonen Ready To Go?
OK, so this topic of conversation has been discussed already. A few times, in fact. But that's still not going to make it any less of an important thing to follow.
Kari Lehtonen looked uncharacteristically shaky this preseason, and was even pulled in one of the games where he was supposed to play the full 60 minutes. While preseason games always need to be taken with a grain of salt, it was still an interesting thing to happen.
As Taylor recently pointed out, the Stars need to start the season strong, a lot stronger than they did last year. Lehtonen, as the number one goalie and a leader of this club, will probably need to play at the best of his ability for this to happen, especially since there are still question marks on the goaltending depth chart behind him.
Lehtonen has said in the past that he likes to get lots of action early on to get himself up to his normal form. Considering the first game of the season is against the mighty Chicago Blackhawks, he's probably going to get that opportunity.