We learned important lessons during the Dallas Stars training camp. Some of the burning questions have been answered as the team begins their preseason schedule and closes in on opening night. From the health of key players to variations in the lineup, here is what we know now.
Seguin, Radulov, Hintz, & Bishop Health Updates
The biggest question mark heading into the season was the health of the Stars’ key players. After struggling through injuries the past two seasons, the team should begin 2021-22 fully healthy. All their players took part in training camp and looked great. Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov have both been cleared to play following surgery. Seguin played only three games last season while Radulov played 11. Roope Hintz has not yet been fully cleared but has been skating with the team in all non-physical aspects. However, he is expected to be cleared before the season opener and feels ready to go.
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Things are a bit more complicated with goaltender Ben Bishop. He has been nursing a knee injury since the COVID-19 stoppage in 2020. He returned for a few games in the bubble but struggled and missed most of the Stars’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. Last season, he was pushing hard for a return but suffered multiple setbacks that forced him to miss all 56 games. While he feels good, he has yet to push his knee to the max and is not sure how it will react.
Bishop will likely begin the season on long-term injured reserve but that does not mean he will miss the entire season. If he is able to play, he will:
“Yeah, absolutely. That’s the goal. It’s a process and I don’t want to look too far ahead, but that’s the plan. That’s the goal.”
Yes, losing Bishop is disappointing, but the Stars will have the skill of their top line with Radulov, Seguin, and Hintz. If all three remain healthy throughout the season, Dallas will be a different team than we have seen lately.
Klingberg & Heiskanen With Different Partners
When the Stars signed Ryan Suter to a four-year deal this offseason, everyone wanted to know who he would be paired with on the blue line? That question was answered in camp as Suter lined up next to John Klingberg for each session. This pairing works well because of their high level of hockey IQ, and Suter’s defensive responsibility.
Since Suter and Klingberg will begin the season together, Miro Heiskanen will pair up with Esa Lindell, his third defensive partner since joining the Stars. The two Finns have played briefly together, but Lindell has mostly been a staple next to Klingberg. However, this should be a seamless transition since their styles mesh well, and their Finnish connection will be a bonus.
Bowness Confident in Veteran Goalies Holtby & Khudobin
Heading into the season, the Stars’ goaltending situation was the biggest unknown. Since then, we’ve received an update on Bishop’s health, but there is some mystery. Braden Holtby, Anton Khudobin, and Jake Oettinger will continue to battle for the two roster spots available. Holtby and Khudobin are coming off a tough season and hoping to show they can still play their best, while Oettinger has shown he may be ready for the NHL.
After three days of camp, head coach Rick Bowness has shown confidence in his veteran goalies. Holtby was given the first start of the preseason and responded with 15 saves on 16 shots in the Stars’ overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues on Monday. Given his poor numbers in the past two seasons, it’s easy to forget that Holtby is a Vezina Trophy and Stanley Cup-winning goaltender. Bowness believes this team is the perfect fit to help him return to form:
“He’s coming to camp with the right attitude. He’s working very very hard. Reeser (Goaltending Coach Jeff Reese) is spending a lot of time with him so, I am very confident we can get him back to where he was.”
As for Khudobin, wants to return to the excellent play he showed in the bubble and throughout his career. Last season, he battled through the effects of COVID-19 and struggled to find his game. This season, he is fully healthy, has lost some weight, and is ready for another chance:
“Anton looks really good. He’s in better shape this year. He didn’t fight COVID like he did last year, and he’s in better shape. He’s lost some weight, and he looks a lot sharper too.”
Bowness has made it clear that he wants the goalies to decide who wins this competition and hopes one player can step up and take the position.
“I want them to tell me with their play: I am the guy.”
Tough for Stars Prospects to Crack Lineup
This preseason is an important one for top Stars prospects Riley Damiani, Ty Dellandrea, Thomas Harley, and Riley Tufte. They all believe they are capable of playing at the next level and have shown this to the coaching staff. Unfortunately, this seems to be the toughest season to crack the lineup in years. With the additions of Michael Raffl, Luke Glendenning, Suter, and Jani Hakanpaa, and the return of key players from injury, the Stars have much more depth on their roster.
“We won’t be giving anyone jobs this year. Last year, we had to give guys jobs because of the injuries. If everyone is healthy and with the depth we have now, if anyone gets ice time, they’re going to have to earn it. That makes it more of a competitive training camp, which is what we want.”
So far, these experienced players have shown they fit in nicely, making things even tougher for the prospects. If any of them are going to remain in the NHL this season, they need to change some minds with their play in the preseason or in the American Hockey League.
“We want to see them against good NHLers. The same with Thomas Harley. He’s got to show he’s ready to help us. Here’s your chance. He’ll play a lot, and we’ll see what he can do.”
On Monday against Blues, two prospects stood out. Tufte scored the Stars’ only goal in the final minute of the first period while Harley played a game-high 24:05. For these young players, it will not be good enough to play as well as the veterans. They will need to be better.
Bowness Searching For Consistency
Dallas has struggled to find consistency in their lineup over the past few seasons. Injuries and struggling key players forced the coaching staff to shuffle their lineup far more than they would have liked. Last season, Bowness said that each game was like sticking their lineup into a blender and seeing what came out. This season, he hopes to find that missing consistency. He has kept the same lines and pairings throughout camp and will continue to do so in the preseason.
“Can we keep it like that heading into the season? We will find out in the preseason. Can they do in the NHL exhibition what they are doing in practice? We’re going to find out.”
This approach will also apply to special teams and certain situations. This season, the Stars should have enough depth to maintain the same units more so than in the past.
Training camp has ended, the preseason has begun, and we are close to the beginning of the season. While there are still decisions to make through the preseason, the Stars are beginning to take shape and show us what they will look like in 2021-22.
Sam Nestler is a Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the NHL and NCAA. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!