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2021-22 Dallas Stars Preview: Bright future, crowded crease

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From Stanley Cup runner-ups to missing the playoffs, the Stars are looking for consistency.

John Klingberg #3, Jason Robertson #21, Joe Pavelski #16, Jason Dickinson #18 and Jamie Oleksiak #2 of the Dallas Stars celebrate a goal by Dickinson against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on May 10, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The Stars defeated the Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Long gone are the days of when “Dallas Sucks” chants would rain down from the rafters of the SAP Center ever since the Dallas Stars moved out of the Pacific Division, with the once-heated rivalry between the San Jose Sharks and the Stars having gone dormant.

The Stars only missed the playoffs by four points thanks to an extremely hot Nashville Predators team, but make no mistake about it, this is still a very solid team. Back in the proper Central Division after sharing the division last year with teams that are definitely not located in the Central United States, such as the Carolina Hurricanes and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Stars will be hoping that a much more normal season in 2021-22 will get them back into the playoffs.

Where they left off

The 2021 Stars’ season did not exactly start on a high note, with as many as 17 players testing positive for COVID-19 during training camp. The first four games of their season were postponed as a result. The Stars’ off-ice bad luck returned in February when a trifecta of winter storms that knocked out power in Texas forced the Stars to postpone three of their games.

Though COVID-19 rescheduling became a new reality in the NHL last season, the Stars’ schedule was particularly brutal after a number of delays.

On the ice, results varied. The team enjoyed a breakout rookie campaign from 2017 second-round draft pick Jason Robertson, who scored 17 goals and 28 assists in 51 games. The Stars decided to stay pat at the trade deadline, with their only significant move being claiming defenseman Sami Vatanen off waivers from the New Jersey Devils. Despite a hot April in which the Stars went 10-5-2, they weren’t able to match the Predators’ pace, who clinched the fourth seed and consequently knocked the Stars out of the postseason race.

2021 NHL Entry Draft

Despite holding the fifteenth pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, the Stars decided to trade back with the Detroit Red Wings on Day One, swapping pick number 15 for the 23rd overall pick, 48th overall pick and 138th overall pick. They set their sights on Windsor Spitfires center Wyatt Johnston, who only played in eight games last season, all with the Canada under-18 World Championship team, due to the coronavirus pandemic wiping out the 2020-21 Ontario Hockey League season. He’s described by Josh Tessler of Smaht Scouting as a crafty passer who “consistently will utilize an active stick.”

Noteworthy Day 2 picks included Kamloops Blazers forward Logan Stankoven, who Ben Kerr of Last Word On Sports describes as being one of the best shooters in his draft class with an “outstanding” wrist shot and a quick release, and Russian defenseman Artyom Grushnikov, another prospect who, like Johnston saw limited action in his draft year. Grushnikov’s offense is a question mark, but his defensive game is very strong, which is an archetype of player the Stars would like to have in their defensive corps. Kerr compliments Grushnikov’s penalty killing, noting “he maintains his position and is willing to block shots and make it difficult for his opponents to hit the cross-seam pass.”

All in all, the Stars had ten picks in the 2021 draft. Their remaining picks were left wingers Ayrton Martino and Justin Ertel in the third round with picks 73 and 79, left wing Conner Roulette in the fourth round (111th overall), defensemen Jack Bar and Jacob Holmes in the fifth round (138th overall and 143rd overall), center Francesco Arcuri in the sixth round (175th overall), and finally right wing Albert Sjoberg in the seventh round with the 207th overall pick.

Roster

Before the NHL transaction freeze that took place before the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft, the Stars traded forward Jason Dickinson to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for a 2021 third-round pick that was used to select Ayrton Martino.

When free agency commenced, the name of the game for Stars general manager Jim Nill was defense. After locking up former third-overall pick Miro Heiskanen to an eight-year, $67.6 million contract, the Stars sought out a replacement for Jamie Oleksiak, who had been selected by the Kraken in the Expansion Draft. They found what they were looking for in the recently bought-out Ryan Suter, signing him to a four-year, $14.6 million contract. The term is a bit long, but Suter is still a solid defenseman.

The Stars continued to add depth to their blue line, signing Andreas Borgman, Alexander Petrovic to one-year contracts and Jani Hakanpaa to a three-year contract with a $1.5M average annual value (AAV). The Stars also addressed their bottom-sic forward corps, signing center Luke Glendening, a defense-first center, to a two-year, $3 million contract with a $1.5 million AAV, and also signing Michael Raffl to a one-year, $1.1 million contract.

Their most surprising move in free agency, though, was the addition of goaltender Braden Holtby, who signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Stars. For those of you keeping track at home, this does indeed mean the Stars have four NHL goaltenders on their roster, with Ben Bishop, Anton Khudobin, and Jake Oettinger all under contract. However, Bishop’s status for the upcoming season is still unknown after missing the entire 2020-21 season due to a torn meniscus. The Stars remain hopeful he can be ready for training camp. In the meantime, the addition of Holtby serves as an insurance policy, however unnecessary it might be.

Daily Faceoff projects the Stars’ opening night lines as such:

Forwards

Roope Hintz — Joe Pavelski — Jason Robertson
Jamie Benn — Tyler Seguin — Alexander Radulov
Joel Kiviranta — Radek Faksa — Denis Gurianov
Michael Raffl — Luke Glendening — Blake Comeau

Defenders

Ryan Suter — Miro Heiskanen
Esa Lindell — John Klingberg
Andrej Sekera — Jani Hakanpaa

Goaltenders

Jake Oettinger
Anton Khudobin

What can we expect in 2021-22?

The Stars will certainly be aided by a healthy Tyler Seguin, who only played in three games last season due to a torn labrum he suffered while playing through the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He’s projected to reunite with Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov on the second line, one of the Stars’ more consistent lines.

Their young forward core consisting of Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, Denis Gurianov and Joel Kiviranta all emerged last season, with Robertson finishing second in Calder Trophy voting, Hintz producing at a point-per-game level with 43 points in 41 games, Gurianov providing complimentary scoring with a career-high 30 points in 55 games, and Kiviranta adding 11 points with fourth-line ice time, despite an injury-plagued season that limited him to only 26 games. It’s very possible that we see defenseman Thomas Harley, the Stars’ 2019 first-round draft pick, make his NHL regular-season debut after leading defensemen on the AHL’s Texas Stars in points.

The big question mark for the Stars, as it stands, is the crowded crease. Will Ben Bishop be healthy enough to begin the season? Does Anton Khudobin get traded to a team in need of goaltending? After a solid rookie season, does Jake Oettinger start the season in the NHL? And where does Braden Holtby fit into all of this? The abundance of talent in the Stars’ crease is certainly a good problem to have, but it has the potential to get very messy if it hasn’t already.

Joe Pavelski, John Klingberg and Alexander Radulov are all unrestricted free agents following this season, so the Stars are looking to make this season count and get back to the playoffs. And since they’re back in a more normal Central Division, with the addition of the Arizona Coyotes, they’ve got a good chance of making it back.

The first time the Stars and Sharks will meet this season will be in San Jose on Saturday, December 11 at 7:30 p.m. PT. From that point on, they won’t face each other until the season is nearly over, once again at the SAP Center on April 2, 2022, before their final meeting of the season on April 16, at American Airlines Center in downtown Dallas.