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2014-2015 Stars Preview: Where's the D in Big D?

Dustin Nelson

Dustin Nelson is a writer based out of NYC. His fantasy team is full of loafers.

Though last season’s first-round exit in the playoffs wouldn’t seem to offer much to get excited about, there should be plenty of happy fans in Dallas. The Stars are finally getting back to contender form, and have a very bright future with a ton of young talent, including a couple players who could be elite.

The Stars’ greatest asset is their incredible assemblage of forward talent, bolstered by some of the best depth and youth in the West. What the team still needs is some more help on the blue line. They lack a true No. 1 defenseman, and there remain some questions about who might back up their starting netminder, the skilled but oft-injured Kari Lehtonen. Is it Anders Lindback, who looked like he was being signed for that very purpose? Shortly thereafter, the Stars signed Jussi Rynnas on a one-way deal, suggesting Lindback’s path to the No. 2 role might not be clear. And then there's Jack Campbell, who has been playing for the AHL club and has been a top goalie prospect for the team for a few years.

While there are still issues to work out, at the very least, coach Lindy Ruff and general manager Jim Nill have turned the Stars into an exciting team that's no longer contending for top draft picks.

The Big Guns

Tyler Seguin, C (RotoWire Position Rank*: #5) The secret is out -- Seguin is a superstar. But then again, you knew that -- didn't you? He finished fifth in the league in goals at 37, fourth in points at 84 and fourth in shots at 294. And he's only 22. Seguin and wing man Jamie Benn were an unstoppable force last season, and there's every indication this duo will continue to produce at an elite level for years to come. In addition, the acquisitions of Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky provide a serious second- line threats for the Stars, which might make teams turn some of their attention away from focusing all their efforts on thwarting the Benn-Seguin unit. All indications are that Seguin could have an even bigger year in 2014-15. He might even go off the board right after some guys named Crosby, Stamkos and Malkin.

*RotoWire Position Ranks reflected for points-based leagues*

Jamie Benn, RW (RotoWire Position Rank: #6): Jamie Benn? Oh, you mean international superstar Jamie Benn. Last season, Benn revealed himself to be an elite talent playing beside Tyler Seguin in what was one of the NHL's hottest duos. He set career marks in goals (34), assists (45), plus/minus (plus-21), penalty minutes (64) and shots (279), and his star is still on the rise. The addition of Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky gives the Stars a tough second line that opposing teams will need to take seriously, and one that may draw pressure away from the Benn-Seguin line. So, look out -- this guy doesn't need much time or space to make offense happen and extra time to execute will only help him pad his even-strength totals. And the addition of Spezza to the team's power play will mean increased production there, too. Benn is poised to have a mammoth season and needs to be drafted early.

Jason Spezza, C (RotoWire Position Rank: #24): The move to Dallas is going to be good for Spezza. The Senators weren't able to provide the kind of forward depth that this young Dallas team boasts, and that's great news for Spezza's fantasy owners. Teams aren't going to be able to focus shut-down lines on him when the top line in Dallas features Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Plus, the move will reunite him with Ales Hemsky, who was a great complement for Spezza late in the season last year. After Hemsky joined his line in Ottawa, Spezza had eight goals and 12 assists over the final 19 games of the season. Spezza will also add great firepower to what should be a very dangerous top power-play unit. The center should be good for 20-25 goals and 40 assists again this season. There's great upside to drafting Spezza, but just don't jump on him too early.

Kari Lehtonen, G (RotoWire Position Rank: #15): Lehtonen will be the man in Big D again this season. He had a couple of dry spells -- and yet another injury -- to contend with last season, but still finished with a respectable 2.41 goals against average and a .919 save percentage. The job is his to lose. He no longer has Tim Thomas or even Dan Ellis behind him vying for minutes. The backup situation, despite the acquisition of Anders Lindback, is unclear at the moment. The team also brought Jussi Rynnas over from Europe, and they're saying they won't commit to who will be the No. 2 goalie this season. Nonetheless, Lehtonen will be in net to start the year. And he should benefit -- at least in the wins column -- from an improved forward corps as well. There is a slight concern that the team has not replaced defense-first rearguard Stephane Robidas, though, leaving Lehtonen toiling behind a number of young players who are unknown entities. He's not in the elite echelon of goaltenders for your draft, but he's a known commodity and has a job that could allow him to pick up 60 starts. The injury risk remains, though, and that's the thing that will keep him out of the elite group of goalies. But he'll put up solid numbers for you again this season. Just be sure to have a backup plan if he gets hurt again.

Alex Goligoski, D (RotoWire Position Rank: #46): The 29-year-old defenseman saw the biggest offensive year of his seven-year career last season, posting six goals and 36 assists. In addition, he had a pair of power-play goals, 28 penalty minutes and 141 shots. This season, he'll play top-pair minutes and will helm a first power-play unit that will likely feature Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza. That's a license to print money -- and score points. He could even see his first 50-point season. Move him up your cheat sheet.

On the Rise

Valeri Nichushkin, LW (RotoWire Position Rank: #49): Nichushkin had an impressive rookie campaign, tallying 14 goals, 20 assists and a plus-20 rating. If he can avoid the pitfalls of the sophomore slump, he could be a pick in your draft that pays dividends beyond his selection slot. He'll likely line up on the right side of the Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin line, which means that he'll be the benefactor of one of the best forward tandems in the NHL. But he's a high-risk, high-reward player. Any first-unit power-play time disappeared with the arrival of Jason Spezza. But a second unit with Nichushkin, Alex Hemsky and Cody Eakin would be a unique combination of power, speed and skill. He's still developing, so he'll have his ups and downs. But he will be better prepared for the length of an NHL season this time around and that could mean 50 points are within reach. Stardom -- no, superstardom -- may still beckon in two years time. And when it does, he might be better than Jamie Benn AND Tyler Seguin. Dynasty leagues need to act now or forever miss their chance to roster him.

Antoine Roussel, LW (RotoWire Position Rank: #38): If the secret isn't out on Roussel in your league, you need to grab him. The French forward has a good nose for the net and loads of grit. His game is growing and he has a real shot at a gig on the left side of Dallas' second line. As the Stars coaching staff works with him, you should expect to see his offensive production grow and his PIMs decline as they help him rein in his hot temper. Still, he may provide up to 40 points this season and offer ample help in the penalty minutes category. He logged 209 PIMs last season -- third-highest in the NHL -- and will still likely deliver 200 this year. His coaches just can't bottle up that temper that quickly.

Brenden Dillon, D (RotoWire Position Rank: #78): Dillon performed well in his first full NHL season, putting up six goals, 11 assists, a plus-17 rating, 86 penalty minutes and 97 shots in 80 games. He's going to climb the depth chart a bit with the departure of Stephane Robidas, and his numbers should improve slightly as a result. But Dallas has plenty of young, hungry defensemen who will want to pass him, so that spot is Dillon's to keep or lose. We think he'll not only win that gig, but line up with Jordie Benn to form the Stars' shutdown duo. Sadly, there's not much fantasy value in that, unless you're in a super-deep format.

Two to Watch

Cody Eakin, C (RotoWire Position Rank: #82): Eakin is certainly not lacking in potential. But Dallas' addition of Jason Spezza means that Eakin will spend most of this season in a third-line role. Dallas' third line is no lame-duck checking line, though -- they can score. Eakin figures to start the season with former 30-goal scorer Erik Cole and Ryan Garbutt on the wings. The addition of Ales Hemsky, along with Spezza, may mean Eakin gets slightly less power-play time as well, but the Stars still want him to develop and be a key part of a future Cup contender. Forty points are within reach, but only you know if that output fits your fantasy needs, particularly in those leagues with positional requirements.

Erik Cole, LW (RotoWire Position Rank: NR): Cole remains a player with the ability to surprise, but at 36, he's in the twilight of his career. With two 30-goal campaigns far behind him, it will be tough for him to offer much more than the 16 goals and 13 assists he produced last season. Those aren't bad numbers and deep fantasy teams may have a role for him, but he's clearly not the player he once was. Part of that lowered expectation is that he may be relegated to a third-line role for secondary scoring with the addition of Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky to the lineup. Cole is good for 30 points, but not 30 goals.

Don't Overrate

Sergei Gonchar, D (RotoWire Position Rank: #150): Yes, Gonchar dates back to the first Clinton administration (Bill, not Hillary). But he's still good for some decent numbers. He put up two goals and 20 assists last season. But he'll be 41 before the season is over and he's really slowing down. He only averaged 17:37 a night last season and scored in waves, with long droughts punctuating those streaks. He's hit or miss, and it's hard to know how he'll hold up as the season wears on. Coach Lindy Ruff will likely continue to protect Gonchar's minutes, and that might keep him relatively fresh. But he's nothing more than a 25-point, power-play specialist who'll see minimal time at even strength.

Ales Hemsky, RW (RotoWire Position Rank: #46): Hemsky's potential has consistently overshadowed his actual production throughout his career. No one, including Hemsky, can explain why. But things sure changed when he moved to Ottawa late last season. There, he lined up with Jason Spezza on the top line and was a revelation, recording four goals and 13 assists in 20 games. In Dallas, Hemsky is being reunited with Spezza and will be on the second line, tucked neatly behind the power duo of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. That means that he and Spezza will likely find a little more open ice to work their magic because they aren't facing the opposition's top line anymore. But let's take a quick reality check here before you take him off the board too early. Hemsky is 31 and six seasons removed from a 70-point season. He won't get back to that height in Dallas, despite the chemistry he clearly has with Spezza. But a gig on the second power-play unit and 50-plus points should be on tap.

Jordie Benn, D (RotoWire Position Rank: #92): Benn emerged as a top-four defenseman for the Stars this past season. He's a tough player, but his fantasy value is limited by his style. He’s active and make some plays coming out of the defensive zone, but he's deployed as a stay-at-home defenseman who blocks shots and lays hits. Last season, he saw limited power-play time, but lots on the penalty kill. And that doesn't provide much value in most fantasy formats. Expect him to be utilized much the same way this season, and similar results (20 points, 100 blocks and hits) should result. There's always a possibility that his role might change, but we just don't see that coming.

Anders Lindback, G (RotoWire Position Rank: #58): Things were briefly looking up for Lindback, the often derided former backup in Tampa, when Dallas tendered him a contract. But shortly after acquiring Lindback, the Stars went and grabbed Jussi Rynnas from Europe, and signed him to a one-way deal. What’s up with that? Either Rynnas or Lindback will be on the move early in the season, either through trade or through waivers down to the AHL. Rynnas looks to have the inside track for the No. 2 gig -- after all, he's the one with the two-year contract. But anything can happen there. Still, drafting Lindback is a risky move with next to no upside.

Top Prospects

Radek Faksa, C (RotoWire Prospects Rank: #43): Faksa had a busy 2013-14. He started the season with the OHL Kitchener Rangers, but was traded to the Sudbury Wolves midseason. He was then called up later on for a short stint in the AHL, playing in both regular-season and playoff games there. Most importantly, he didn't look out of place there, picking up three points in six regular-season games and four goals in 21 postseason contests. The 20-year-old forward has some developing to do, but the Stars have high hopes for him. He will start the upcoming season with AHL Texas. His impact may not be at hand, but Faksa will be relevant to your fantasy draft within the next couple years.

Brett Ritchie, RW (RotoWire Prospects Rank: #53): Ritchie posted 22 goals and 26 assists over 68 games for AHL Texas last season, adding another seven goals and four assists through 13 playoff games. He's only 21 and already making his mark. Don't be surprised if the power winger gets called up to the NHL for a game or two this year, but it's unlikely that he'll make an extended appearance in Dallas.

Jamie Oleksiak, D (RotoWire Prospects Rank: #63): Oleksiak scored five goals and collected 18 assists over 69 games with the Texas Stars of the AHL last season. He would receive a call-up to play seven games in Dallas, and previously suited up for 16 games with the big club in 2012-13. He's a rare combination of a huge frame -- he's 6-7 and 250 lbs -- and offensive upside. Oleksiak could very easily crack the Dallas lineup again this year, particularly if coach Lindy Ruff works to manage veteran Sergei Gonchar's ice time. But it's unclear if his offensive talent will translate to the NHL level (it hasn't yet). Stay away for now.

Julius Honka, D (RotoWire Prospects Rank: #75): Honka is a small, sweet-skating defender with ice water in his veins. He’s not the most-talented blueliner in the 2014 draft, but he’s second only to forward Sam Reinhart in hockey IQ, at least according to Central Scouting. We’ve heard comps to Sami Vatanen of the Ducks, Torey Krug of the Bruins and maybe even Erik Karlsson of the Sens. He’s not the offensive threat that Karlsson is, but his skating is almost as sublime. And he could prove to be a game breaker in the right situation. The Stars are so big up front that rolling a little guy on the back end surely won’t hurt. And he’ll certainly get those big boys the puck. He’s a good one, but he's several seasons away. Follow him in dynasty formats and if you're a Stars fan. Otherwise, it's safe to ignore him for now.