Comments / New

Training Camp Battles: Can Matej Stransky Crack the Dallas Stars Roster?

Dallas fans know the charms of the Czech. From the sagacious eccentricity of Ales Hemsky to the earthy two way maestro that is Radek Faksa, Stars fans have grown to appreciate some key players hailing from a place they’d have trouble pointing on a map.

Might Dallas have a 6th round pick from 2011 waiting in the wings to join his fellow Czechs?

First, some non fancy stats. Matej Stransky started his career for the HC Vitkovice Steel in Ostrava. In his second full season he tallied 40 goals for the 2008-2009 calendar year. He then made his way to the WHL, starting off slowly in his first season for the Saskatoon Blades. He followed up a slow start with a 39 and a 40 goal season.

More impressive is the fact that he put up these numbers surrounded with very little talent. He didn’t become the Blades’ go-to trigger man until Brayden Schenn had already left to go contribute to the Flyers and win a TJ Oshie pumpkin carving context. Stransky came to Texas in 2013, never really finding a role for himself. As has been the story of his career, once he had a role, he bloomed. And thus began his light bulb moment for the 2015-2016 Texas Stars.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance?

One of the things Dallas fans are constantly clamoring for, moreso now that some feel like the Stars got House Cleganed by St. Louis, are power forward types. The fact that he’s a right shot , which Dallas is very low on at wing at all levels of the organization, just happens to be the cherry on top.

According to Hockey’s Future:

He uses his body well along the boards and shields defenders away when he has the puck, partly because he doesn’t have breakaway speed.

Indeed he does. Here he is against Nashville’s AHL affiliate shielding himself to protect the puck in the corner.

He makes it look easy. As he’s gotten more ice time, his effectiveness at retrieving the puck in the corners on the Power Play has also been a modest boon for the team.

The biggest knock on Stransky early on was his skating. Which is true. He’s not a great skater. Though still somewhat rigid, we’re not talking Chiasson ‘can’t bend at the knee’ levels. But he’s improved to the level of fluidity: better edgework and stride power allowed him to excel in roles I don’t know he might have earned otherwise. It’s no coincidence that he was stuck on Jason Dickinson’s wing as the season wore on because now he can keep up with the speedsters like Dickinson.

What has never been questioned is his shot. Here he takes a feed from Dickinson after a turnover. Even though he has a defender directly in front of him, he displays deft patience in waiting just enough to pull the trigger as he gets closer toward the slot.

Stransky can be posted in the nosebleeds and still be a threat. Here he is (again) against San Antonio scoring one practically from the blueline. Apologies for the oafishly made gifs.

The mark of any good scorer isn’t just mechanics. Release, velocity, and accuracy are obviously important. But here you see how critical instincts are. In Brazilian jiu jitsu, the motto is ‘position before submission’. Same thing for goal scorers. A good shot first needs proper positioning, and positioning first requires space. Stransky barrels down down the middle slot area to gain the attention of the defensemen. Except knowing they’re occupied with Texas’ pinching defensemen, he quickly retreats above the left circle for space. Before you know it, tie game.

Depth Chart Victim or Depth Chart Valedictorian?

There isn’t all that much stopping Stransky from cracking the lineup. Dallas has a small group of right wingers right now. Valeri Nichushkin, Ales Hemsky, Patrick Eaves, and Patrick Sharp more or less lead the way. But Eaves is always one John Klingberg slapshot or treadmill fall away from missing ten games.

Sharp is absurd on his off wing as he proved in Chicago (on a personal note, I would love to see Sharp on Faksa’s left wing). While Nuke never looks comfortable away from right wing, he’s done so in the past, and shows signs of potential adjustment. The point in mentioning all of this is that right wing doesn’t have a firmly entrenched contributor, and certainly not for the foreseeable future. Heck, three whole spots open up next year on the right side if the UFA’s all walk (which is likely given their age).

With Stransky’s experience, this could be a massive opportunity. Two things hold him back. One is Brett Ritchie. Dallas likely still views Ritchie as the future so long as he can stay healthy.

The other is his own play. Like many power forwards, their size works well going one way (on the rush), but falters when it goes the other (against the rush). Either a function of size, or perhaps even something more abstract like the psychology of power forward types (the whole ‘easier being the hammer than the nail’ bit), Stransky can struggle when phase shifting. I’d argue that he’s better at resetting and transitioning between zones than Ritchie (or most power forwards for that matter). And I’d further argue that it’s no small wonder his transition skills improved while playing next to Faksa. But consistency has been the traditional argument against him, and I don’t know that he’s shed that image just because of one productive AHL season.

Still, the most you can ask for in your prospects is improvement. Stransky is doing that. Will it be enough to crack Dallas’ ineup? ‘Pravda Vitezi’ the Czech motto goes. Whether Stransky is this truth that will prevail is for him to answer.