New Organizational Direction Taking Hold

Part of the problem with last year's unfortunate playoff miss had to deal with the Dallas Stars' lack of tenacity.  Before the Stars' final stretch of games that ended with a heartbreaking loss to the Minnesota Wild, the team could not win tough, physical, playoff-type games.

Jamie Benn and Stephane Robidas reflect after the loss to Minnesota

In the aftermath of that loss, there is a new trend emerging with the Stars' recent moves in the offseason.

Some of the latest additions to the Stars through free agency and the draft may go a bit under the radar for now.  However, they highlight a complete organizational philosophy change.  This team can, and will, hurt you with size and toughness.

As a franchise, the Stars have had a successful history.  Problem is, they find themselves stuck in a rut of playoff misses and a lack of consistency.  Past Stars teams had tremendous two-way players to anchor the team.  Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen come to mind.  The team is in transition.  How could they possibly escape the looming shadow that these two players left behind?

Step one: the draft.  

In the first round, the Stars drafted behemoth defenseman Jamieson Oleksiak with the 14th overall pick.  At 6'7", 244 pounds, and at the age of 18, future NHLers should beware.  Oleksiak shows promise with his already large frame.  He has the ability to play a shutdown defense style.  On top of that, he has shown some offensive upside.  Hockey's Future went as far as to say that he possesses elite potential.

Oleksiak skates with a fluid north-south stride.  Some prospects with size don't utilize their skating ability well, but Oleksiak has the ability to skate smoothly.  It's easy to make comparisons to bigger defensemen like a Braydon Coburn, a Dion Phaneuf, or a Chris Pronger. 

The Stars are already deep on defense in the prospect pool.  This kid just makes everyone else look small.

Next up, with the 44th overall pick, the Stars picked RW Brett Ritchie.  The 6'3", 210 pound Sarnia Sting forward is big, mean, and has scoring potential as a power forward.  Ritchie dealt with mononucleosis and several injuries, hampering his stats while in the OHL.  He posted 41 points in 49 games for the Sting's 9th place finish last season.  The kid has the ability to score with his wrist shot.

Troy Vance (5th round, QMJHL) and Jyrki Jokipakka (7th round, SM-Liiga) round out the Stars' picks with size.  Vance and Jokipakka have above average size as defensemen, and both are capable shutdown defensemen.  The difference between Oleksiak and these two players is their skating ability and puck skills.  Oleksiak has the ability to be elite, while Vance and Jokipakka may be average at best.

This physical philosophy continued with the addition of a character guy in enforcer Eric Godard.  The 31-year-old forward has the ability to drop the gloves and protect his teammates.  On top of that, enforcers are good character people to inspire their teammates.  Godard is physical--no question about it.  His deal is for two years at $775,000 per season.

General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk's past couple moves have been to build this team to be a physical, tough team to play against.  Instead of being a skill team, it was time to move on.  The new philosophy is to be a tough team.  This year's draft may have been the turning point.

This year may yield the same result as the previous one--an inconsistent fringe team with promise.  The value of this year in terms of development should not be understated.  This is Jamie Benn's team now.  The rugged two-way forward must lead the hard workers into battle from now on.  

Is it October yet?

Stay tuned to The Checking Line for the latest and greatest hockey insights from the best bloggers around!  Follow me on Twitter (@jckuhns)!


George Prax's picture

Gonna be tough for the Stars to make the playoffs considered how major a piece they lost. Way too competitive in the west this year. You never know though, should be interesting.

nowhere's picture

They went with size, but did they get the best players available? They're clearly hoping that Oleksiak can be as successful as Tyler Myers. It's not often that rookie defensemen make the jump directly to the NHL - especially the big boys.

Jordan Kuhns's picture

Excellent point, actually. Defensemen do take a long time (usually) to develop their two-way game. We've just seen insane talents like Drew Doughty and Tyler Myers make us forget about that. Oleksiak has to develop as a reliable shutdown D. That offensive potential is a bit of a stretch if you look at the numbers.

evilbobsaget's picture

Don't think they have the firepower to make the playoffs this season. If they do, it will be off a great season from Lehtonen and the defensive core. Personally, I still think getting rid of Neal was a huge mistake. Especially now given the loss of Richards.

Jordan Kuhns's picture

It was an overpayment for Goligoski by giving up both Neal and Niskanen. Neal for Goligoski should have been a fair trade. They needed a defensemen who could make plays. Otherwise they were defensive-defensemen heavy. This season, they definitely need a new or surprising source of scoring. I also learned that Aaron Gagnon is gone. That's a significant potential offensive replacement that is now lost to Winnipeg.