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2013 Stars Preview: Big Changes in Big D

Jason Brown

A Texas Ranger fan since the days of Richie Zisk, Jason has written for RotoWire since 1998. His loyalties moved on to Oddibe McDowell and Ruben Sierra, before becoming a Rangers clubhouse attendant during his college years, working far too long for far too little but enjoying every minute of it. An early interest in hockey, unusual for a Texan (thanks Dad!), was bolstered when the Stars came to town and culminated in watching Eddie Belfour outduel Patrick Roy in a pair of Game 7 Western Conference Finals wins in back-to-back years. Jason claims to be more attractive than his brother Darin.

The Stars once again failed to reach the playoffs, and it resulted in a major offseason overhauling. Dallas brought in a new head coach in Lindy Ruff, a new general manager in Jim Nill, and made the largest trade of the offseason to land Tyler Seguin from Boston for standout forward Loui Eriksson. In addition to the Seguin trade, Dallas was also able to land Sergei Gonchar to add punch to a weak power-play unit.

Others gone from last year's season-opening squad are notable names like Jaromir Jagr, who performed well before being traded prior to the deadline last spring, Brenden Morrow, the longtime captain who was dealt to Pittsburgh and remains an unsigned free agent, and Michael Ryder, who was an impending free agent and dealt for an extra year of Erik Cole in the spring. Dallas will largely attempt to fill the void left by the aforementioned trio (primarily Jagr and Ryder) from within the prospect ranks, notably Alex Chiasson and Valeri Nichushkin.

Dallas' poor play in recent years at the NHL level has helped stockpile an emerging farm system that features impressive depth at both forwards and defensemen alike. It's that influx of young talent over the next year or two that gives Dallas and its fans more hope that has existed in the past several years.

Whether or not the Stars are able to get quality production from a few youngsters will largely determine their fate for the upcoming season, but it's clear that the franchise is back on the upswing after half a decade of poor on-ice showings.

The Big Guns

Tyler Seguin (C): Acquired from the Bruins for Loui Eriksson and a few fringe prospects, Seguin gets a chance to move back to his natural center position and take over the reins as Dallas' No. 1 center. Last year was a slight step back from 2012-13's breakout, but there is still lots to like about the 21-year-old phenom. He should flourish in a less pressure-filled environment with the Stars and gives Dallas a cornerstone to build around.

Jamie Benn (RW): Benn struggled for large stretches last season with the added responsibilities that come with being the No. 1 center, a move made out of necessity more than anything else. It's not that he's not talented, but he's more comfortable in his natural spot on the wing. One of Dallas' offseason goals was to acquire a top-line center to allow Benn to move back to the right side and they get a big "mission accomplished" sign to hang up with the acquisition of Tyler Seguin. At 24 years of age, Benn is only just entering his prime and should eclipse the 30-goal plateau if he can stay healthy.

Kari Lehtonen (G): Lehtonen's well-earned reputation as a talented-but-fragile goalie from his Atlanta days appears to be well behind him, as he's proven to be a durable and solid goalie ever since he landed in Dallas. His GAA slipped a bit last season, but he kept his team in games for prolonged stretches of last season. An improved Dallas team in front of him should help and another 30+ win season seems very likely given his workload.

On The Rise

Alex Chiasson (RW): Chiasson enjoyed a fine start in the AHL (32 points in 53 games) in his first season as a pro and hit the ground running with six goals in seven games when called up to the NHL. Unfortunately, that promise was cut short when he suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season. He showed a nose for the net in his brief NHL stint and figures to compete for a spot on the top two lines when training camp opens. His size will help him get to the front of the net and there's 20-goal potential there if he can get regular time among the top six.

Brenden Dillon (D): One of the true bright spots in Dallas' 2012-13 season was discovering Dillon. He's not going to be any sort of contributor on the offensive side of the score sheet, but he provided a nice anchor to Dallas' blue line and was the team's best defensive defenseman by the end of the year. Expect more of the same this season.

Don't Overrate

Cody Eakin (C): Acquired for Mike Ribeiro in the summer of 2012, Eakin managed seven goals and 17 assists in 48 games last year as the second-line center, far exceeding even the most optimistic of projections. He could end up sliding back down to the third line with the offseason arrivals of Rich Peverley and Shawn Horcoff, so temper your expectations a bit. Dallas' scoring just doesn't go deep enough to yield a ton of value outside the top six.

Erik Cole (RW): Cole's 35-goal outburst from 2011-12 is long since forgotten and resulted in a mid-season trade to Dallas for Michael Ryder. Cole scored just six goals in 28 games with Dallas, skating largely on the third line, and seems destined for a similar role this season given Dallas' offseason acquisitions. He'll be hard-pressed to reach the 20-goal plateau if he sticks on the third line as expected.

Stephan Robidas (D): Robidas was reportedly the subject of trade rumors over the summer, but all signs point to him returning in his role as one of Dallas' top- two defensemen. And that illustrates part of the problem in Dallas. Quite frankly, Robidas is better served as a third or fourth defenseman on a good team. And with just one goal and 13 points in 48 games last year, his point production continues to trend downward. He's durable and can dish out the hits if your league rewards that, but there's not much else here.

Two To Watch

Ray Whitney (LW): Whitney continued his late-career renaissance with yet another solid season last year, picking up 11 goals and 29 points in just 32 games, as he was limited with a foot injury. Skating alongside Jamie Benn, Whitney is now expected to be joined on the top line by Tyler Seguin and should continue to post excellent numbers, even at age-41.

Alex Goligoski (D): Despite being largely perceived as a disappointment, Goligoski narrowly missed finishing last year in the top-10 list of scoring defenders with 27 points in 47 games. Add three more points to his season total and he would have moved up to fourth on that list. Still, he didn't cash in once with the man advantage despite getting regular time on the top power-play unit, continuing a career-long frustration with the man advantage (his career high is a mere seven PPG). He has been a 45-to-50 point defenseman in two of the past three years (projecting last year's total over a full season), so there's definitely some value here.

Top Prospects

Valeri Nichushkin (LW): The talented Russian fell into the Stars' lap with the 10th pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and the expectation is that he'll immediately jump to the NHL -- partly to keep him from returning to Russia (he's unlikely to report to the minors) and partly because there's plenty of room on the top two lines for a scoring winger. His name is being mentioned in early Calder Trophy talk and it seems well justified at this point. He looks legit.

Brett Ritchie (RW): Ritchie had a stellar final season in the OHL, scoring 41 goals (sixth in the league) and adding 35 assists in 53 games, despite missing 15 games. And included in that was a stretch where he scored and impressive 26 goals in 20 games. He made his professional debut following the OHL campaign and quickly notched three goals in five games with the Texas Stars (AHL). He is expected to begin 2012-13 in the AHL and combines with Alex Chiasson and Valeri Nichushkin to give Dallas some great young scoring depth at right wing.