The Future is Now for the Stars

When the puck drops tonight for the Dallas Stars’ season opener in New Jersey, things will certainly be different.  When the Stars open at home on October 14th, a legend will return to American Airlines Center, but Mike Modano will be suited up for the Detroit Red Wings. Fans who have followed the career of Marty Turco saw him decked out in a shiny new gargoyle mask and outfitted with Chicago red goalie pads during the Blackhawks overtime loss last night in Colorado.

The team in 2010-11 will be a shell of its former self, but the Dallas Stars are turning to its young stars for the hope of a more successful future.

It’s no secret that the financial woes of the Dallas Stars have impacted their ability to make power pickups in the offseason.  The Stars were mostly quiet this summer, adding only Adam Burish and a couple of players who will spend this season in Juniors or with the Texas Stars in Cedar Park. There were no flashy contract negotiations, no big deals, no surprises.  Dallas quietly said goodbye to Turco and Modano and went on with the summer.

The Stars are pinning their hopes of NHL dominance on a few young guys, but the question lingers, is it enough?

Up front the Dallas line is deep. Of course there are young potential superstars like Jamie Benn, coming off a stellar rookie year in which he scored 22 goals and had 19 assists and then went to Cedar Park to help lead Dallas’ AHL affiliate to the Calder Cup finals.  Some have predicted that Benn will be the captain of the future, but those are big shoes to fill for a young man who just turned 21 this summer.  Benn certainly has the talent, but it will take more than one left wing to win games.  The Stars will have to rely on others like Fabian Brunnstrom, James Neal and Tom Wandell to step up and make some big plays as well.

On the blue line, Dallas is weak. The team was criticized heavily after this year’s entry draft for passing on defensive powerhouse Cam Fowler since he was still available at No. 11 and instead selecting goalie Jack Campbell. Fowler will be suiting up for the Anaheim Ducks this season and many feel he will make an immediate impact on the team.

While the defense will be led by veteran Stephane Robidas, the Stars will need contributions from their young players, such as Matt Niskanen and Mark Fistric to help them stop the offensive attacks.

Perhaps one of the areas with the biggest offseason question marks is in the net for Dallas.

The Stars re-signed Brent Krahn, who spent last season as the starter for the Texas Stars in Cedar Park, to a two-way contract with the intent to have him compete for the backup role in Dallas. They also signed veteran Andrew Raycroft to a two-way deal, hoping to push both goalies to the top of their game.  Coaches said the battle for the roster spot was extremely close but it was ultimately Raycroft’s NHL experience that gave him the edge over Krahn.

According to Justin Goldman, founder of the Goalie Guild,  Raycroft is “familiar playing against most NHL players, has a high level of comfort playing the backup role and just completed a fairly successful season backing up Roberto Luongo in Vancouver.”

The real hopes of the organization however, are hanging on another youngster, 26-year old Kari Lehtonen.  Dallas made a bold move last season trading away a highly touted defensive prospect in Ivan Vishnevskiy and a fourth-round pick to acquire him from the Atlanta Thrashers and then promptly signing him to a new three year deal. Some may look at this move as a gamble, but Dallas is doing everything possible to make sure it was one worth taking.

The team paired Lehtonen with a trainer to complete a conditioning program this off-season, he spent a lot of time in Frisco working out and he is entering the 2010-11 season in the best shape of his life. Fragility concerns should be addressed by the off-season conditioning and Lehtonen returned to camp this year with something to prove.

“His combination of size, skill and flexibility makes him incredibly hard to beat,” said Goldman when asked about what to expect from Lehtonen this year. “Fans can expect to see an extremely talented goalie with elite foot speed, great upper body positioning and an intimidating presence in the net. For such a big body, he’s very agile and mobile in the butterfly. His active hands allow him to control pucks in front of his body, so he does a great job of challenging shooters and eliminating space in the upper corners.

“Fans will love his ability to make the timely save and they will enjoy watching his flexibility, which lends a hand to making the flashy, dynamic and timely save. He’s the complete package and if he stays healthy, could be a huge catalyst for the team this season. He’s an energetic guy in the crease but has a calm and laid back demeanor off the ice.”

So it is to the youngsters the team looks for success. They will lean on the veteran experience of guys like Brendan Morrow, Brad Richards and Mike Ribeiro, but will depend on a spark from the youth of this team to give them the extra push they need to make an impact this season.

The Stars are hoping the gambles they have made will pay off and they will find themselves making an unexpected playoff run this spring.

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