It was a disappointing year deep in the heart of Texas, with the Stars missing the playoffs for the first time since 2002. The injury bug bit the Stars hard, with Brad Richards, Jere Lehtinen, Brendan Morrow and Sergei Zubov all missing significant time this season. But those injuries did allow for some rookies to lay claim to roster spots.
James Neal, LW
Drafted: 2nd round (33rd overall) in 2005
Neal started the season with the Manitoba Moose (AHL), recording five points in as many games. He was quickly recalled and remained in Dallas for the rest of the year. Neal put together an impressive rookie campaign while flying under the radar. He finished with a respectable 37 points, including 24 goals – good for second among rookies. Not only did the budding power forward bring the points, but he also brought the pain. In 77 games, Neal dished out an incredible 194 hits — a number that placed him only behind Luke Schenn and Cal Clutterbuck among NHL freshmen. The responsible Neal also swiped the puck from his opponents 66 times, second to only Kyle Okposo.
The former second rounder saw nearly 16 minutes of ice time per night, including a healthy amount of power play time. He was one of the few bright spots for the Stars in an otherwise dismal year. Neal established himself so well that he can now be classified as the “present” as opposed to the “future” – and fittingly has graduated from prospect status.
Fabian Brunnstrom, LW
Acquired: Undrafted free agent
Free agent signee Fabian Brunnstrom got off to something of a slow start in his first North American campaign. Despite a hat trick in his first NHL game, Brunnstrom fell on hard times shortly thereafter. In all of November, for example, Brunnstrom mustered just a single tally. While the undrafted Swede saw about two minutes of power play time per game, he wasn’t used too much at even strength. Brunnstrom rarely found himself on a prominent scoring line. He fell short of 10 even-strength minutes per game during his 55-game regular season.
He did prove some doubters wrong by displaying a definite goal-scoring prowess. He netted 17 goals (including five game winners on just 81 shots) and 29 points in his somewhat staggered time with the Stars. Brunnstrom appeared to get a little more comfortable with his team and his surroundings as the year went on and his coaches rewarded him with ice time very late in the season. The shifty Swedish forward finished the year strong and will hope to extend his current five-game point-scoring streak into next season.
Tom Wandell, C
Acquired: 5th round (146th overall) in 2005
In a somewhat unlikely scenario, Wandell was recalled from the Swedish Elite League twice this past season. Jet lag aside, Wandell left the Stars with a lot to think about when creating their lineups for next season. While the scoresheet doesn’t tell the whole story (three points in 14 games), Wandell played quite well in limited time. The Swedish center was used mainly on the fourth line and saw very little special teams time. He gave Dallas brass and fans alike a taste of what’s to come – displaying quick feet, creative playmaking ability and excellent hands.
Wandell spent most of the year with Timra IK (SEL); he registered 41 points including a team-best 26 helpers in 51 games. Wandell will likely be competing for a spot with the big club out of camp next year and at worst should be one of the first call-ups.
Tobias Stephan, G
Acquired: 2nd round (34th overall) in 2002
Rarely did Marty Turco get much of a rest this season but when he did, Stephan stepped in for him. After a tantalizing first career game in 2007-08, Stephan hoped to find himself a more prominent role with the club. Unfortunately for him, he was only allotted the opportunity to start in five games this season. He played 10 games in all, going 1-3-1 with a 3.70 GAA and .870 save percentage. In the rare occurrence where Stephan was on top of his game, the Stars were not. Stephan’s best performance this year was probably his 35-save performance against Nashville on December 13 –- a game in which the Stars were unable to score.
The 25-year-old Swiss netminder is a restricted agent and based on his performance this season, his future with the Stars is fit to be questioned.
Top prospect Ivan Vishnevskiy got his first taste of NHL action late this season. He jumped into a very prominent role, playing nearly 20 minutes per game in three contests. The Russian defender impressed in his limited time. He greatly aided the Stars power play and showed off a lot of his offensive tools. Vishnevskiy will have a good shot at being a regular out of camp next season.
Gritty winger Raymond Sawada got a brief taste of NHL action as well. He played five games for the Stars and potted his first career NHL marker. Sawada found himself on the fourth line during his time with the big club and established himself as a player who can be counted on to play a physical game.
Goalkeeper Matt Climie got the call directly from the ECHL very late in the season. The 26-year-old started in three games where he posted a 2-1 record with a 2.92 GAA and .894 save percentage. Climie didn’t knock anyone’s socks off (nor was he put in such a position) but it certainly was an indictment of Stephan’s play.