When the Dallas Stars take to the ice this season, they will be one of a handful of teams that have managed to keep their core intact. Returning to the ice for the Stars are five of their top six forwards, three of their top four defensemen and their No. 1 goaltender.
The Stars did opt to get rid of some of their older players, most notably former all-star forward Pierre Turgeon, tough guy Aaron Downey, and Rob DiMaio. With the loss of these players and a new salary cap to contend with, the Stars are looking to give younger players a chance to fill out the rest of their roster.
The Stars seem to be nicely positioned with nine competing for the final four forward positions available with the team. Among the guys battling for the remaining spots include Jussi Jokinen, Mathias Tjarnqvist, Vojtech Polak, Yared Hagos, Junior Lessard, David Oliver, Loui Eriksson, Anttti Miettinen and former Ducks enforcer Garrett Burnett.
Twenty-year-old Eriksson will most likely benefit from another year of seasoning at the AHL level and both Tjarnqvist and Burnett have seen limited ice time this preseason due to injuries (sore ankle and fractured hand respectively) which could definitely hurt their bid for a spot on the opening day roster.
The Stars do have an obvious need for an enforcer after letting go of Aaron Downey, and at 6’3 and 234 pounds former Ducks tough guy Garrett Burnett seems the obvious choice to fill this role. However, Stars coach Dave Tippett has already said he refuses to retain a one-dimensional player who can not do much else besides drop the gloves. Expect Burnett to start the season in Iowa, opening a spot for a prospect.
That leaves this impressive group all vying for a spot on the opening day roster.
•Jussi Jokinen has already impressed the Stars coaching staff. The 22-year-old Finn has been taking regular shifts with Stars captain Mike Modano and has scored three goals in three preseason games. He’s expected to be a top scorer after scoring 23 goals and 24 assists in Finland last season. He’s a strong skater and has already proven he’s further developed than most rookies. While Jokinen may not get regular shifts with the captain in the regular season, expect him to make the opening day roster.
•Vojtech Polak has been called “a pleasant surprise” by the Stars brass. The Czech player is among the league leaders in points during the preseason and he made an immediate impression scoring two goals and two assists before notching the shootout winning goal in a preseason contest against Edmonton. Polak has gone 2 for 2 in the shootout. The Stars will most likely let Polak start the season in Dallas and see if he can continue his good play during the regular season.
•Antti Miettinen is another top young forward that has been getting a good look from the Stars coaching staff. The talented left wing has rebounded nicely after suffering a major shoulder injury last season. He’s notched two goals and three assists in five games this preseason. Working in Miettinen’s favor is the fact that he learned to play without the center red line many years ago in his native Finland while many of the other Stars prospects are still adjusting. Miettinen is also very familiar with the type of physical game the Stars are looking to play. He has three years of AHL experience under his belt and is poised to make the jump to the NHL.
•Yared Hagos has a good chance of starting the season in Dallas. With just one goal in four games, his numbers may hardly be impressive, but his forte is defense and at 6’1 and 205 pounds he may serve the team well on their fourth line.
•Junior Lessard also has a chance at making the Stars opening night roster. The former Hobey Baker Award winner from Minnesota-Duluth had high expectations going into the season last year. As the nation’s top scoring collegiate player in 2003-04, many expected Lessard to be among the top scorers in the AHL, but he scored a disappointing 22 points in 71 AHL games. Lessard has begun to heat up in the preseason scoring a goal and an assist in two games but it may not be enough to convince the Stars brass to give him a spot on the opening day roster.
While the Stars blue line does appear to be crowded with the recent additions of Martin Skoula and Stephane Robidas, highly-touted prospect Trevor Daley will still crack the opening day roster. At 5’9 and 197 pounds, he’s small by most teams’ standards, but the Ontario native has impressed the Stars coaching staff. Daley has 27 games of NHL experience under his belt but it was the 78 games played at the AHL level last year that Tippett claims to have improved the Ontario native’s game.
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