Stars vs. Blues Observations: Young Guns Show Promise In First Preseason Game
Curtis McKenzie and Jason Dickinson shined in a strong game from the young players fighting for a roster spot in the NHL.
These first few preseason games will be more about getting some young players minutes and getting some good evaluation time for the coaching staff and management, and Monday's first preseason game was certainly an example of that. A roster that was comprised heavily of AHL and junior players beat the Blues 4-3 thanks to a strong third period performance for a nifty comeback win.
The game started a bit slowly and was clearly a contest with the players still trying to find chemistry together, and things really didn't start to gel for both teams until the third period. The Blues outshot the Stars 18-13 in the exciting final frame, while Dallas won the scoring battle thanks to goals from Jordie Benn, Jason Dickinson and Curtis McKenzie.
It's impossible to make any sort of overall observations on the NHL team as a whole after a game like tonight -- especially considering who was on defense -- but it was good to see a roster heavy with young players hold their own against a Blues team that had a fair number of NHL players on the ice.
Dickinson, who was playing in his first NHL game started a bit tentative and slow but really found his game in the third period. He and Erik Cole suddenly started to really click together and Dickinson would ultimately end up with the game-winning goal thanks to a nifty deflection at the tail end of a strong play by Cole.
"It's a good feeling," said Dickinson. "As the game went along I started to find a groove, started to find some chemistry with Cole and Elie there. We started to feel good together, I think it was mostly starting to move my feet more in the second and third period as I got my legs under me."
Dickinson showcased strong play up and down the ice and had several good defensive plays before he found his groove on offense. Once he got his game underneath him he was certainly exciting and nearly every shift for the young center resulted in a scoring chance for the Stars. He certainly has the offensive skills to be a part of what is being built in Dallas, and on Monday night proved he can at least skate with the big boys for one game.
He's likely headed back to the OHL soon, but this was a great experience for the young center to get a good game under his belt and head to the juniors with the confidence he can play at this level.
Jamie Oleksiak recovered from an up-and-down training camp with a really strong showing on Monday, including some rather aggressive physical play and even a fight after coming to the aid of Lehtonen.
"I really liked his game," said Lindy Ruff about Oleksiak. "He kept the game in front of him. His gap was good. He made quick, smart plays with the puck. He didn't try to chase the game at all, he stepped up physically for us when someone got into our goaltender -- which was great to see."
Jyrki Jokipakka also had a very strong game, including a nifty primary assist on a sharp fake-shot and pass to Vernon Fiddler on the backdoor. The Stars are going to have some tough decisions to make when it comes to the young defensemen on the roster and Monday's game won't make it any easier -- although Patrik Nemeth looked uncharacteristically flummoxed at times with the puck at times.
On young defensemen -- Julius Honka showed off all the good and all the bad that comes with this exciting young blueliner, who grew more confident as the game progressed and had several big chances in the second and third period. There were a few "whoa" moments from the crowd as he deftly moved the puck through the zone with poise and his passes were once again crisp and accurate.
What was clear is that it took him a while to get used to the fact that at the NHL level he has just a split second less than normal to make a decision and snap the puck where he wants it, which is expected from an 18-year old playing in his first NHL game.
"I think he reminded me a bit of Valeri Nichushkin from the beginning of last season," said Ruff. "He has a lot of try to his game but he perhaps held it a bit too long at points trying to make something happen."
Curtis McKenzie was perhaps the best player on the ice overall for the Stars, finishing with a goal and leading the team with four shots and four hits in 14:02 of action. He was physical and strong in both zones and even took on Steve Ott in a spirited scrap after the elder agitator took exception to a big hit along the boards. McKenzie's goal in the third period was a heck of a shot from the far point, and once again an example of his growing versatility as a physical forward with offensive skills.
For the veterans, Erik Cole continued his strong camp with a great game overall next to Dickinson and Elie. The elder winger showed great speed and aggression up and down the ice and once he found some chemistry with Dickinson, really started to pick up the pace in third period.
Anders Lindback also had a strong game, allowing just one goal on 18 shots in the third period and it could be said it was one that wasn't exactly his fault. He showed good poise when play broke down in front of him and the ability to recover when he got out of position a bit, and certainly put his name back at the top of the list for the backup spot. His best save came with the game on the line and less than a minute remaining in regulation when he kicked out a pad on a Steve Ott shot through traffic, and was overall very sharp.
The Stars are back in action on Wednesday night against the Florida Panthers at 6:30 p.m. CT.