The Dallas Stars spent last season as one of the more fun teams to watch. Their high powered offense played with skill and speed leaving most of the NHL in its dust. Despite the accolades their offense was getting, the Stars were still lacking a physical presence on their side of the ice, and ultimately it led to their playoff exit. Stephen Johns offers them a solution.
Much of the attention for the Stars woes has been placed on the goaltending duo of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Neimi. With the two netminders sporting a .906 and .905 save percentage respectively, there were ample reasons to look at them in a bad light. Despite the memories of the Game 7 destruction at the hands of the St. Louis Blues still fresh in the mind, there are other things Dallas needs to address to help them take that next step towards a Stanley Cup.
Stephen Johns came to the Stars in the Patrick Sharp deal last summer. The 24-year-old defenseman may end up being the biggest piece of that trade before all is said and done. This is not to diminish Sharp’s abilities or contributions, and Johns will never be the stat stuffing defenseman that will get consideration for the Norris. What Johns brings to the table is the physical ability on the backend that the Stars were sorely lacking.
During the second round loss to the Blues, St. Louis owned the area around the Dallas crease in every situation. It was especially noticeable with the man advantage. Dallas did not effectively clear the front of their net, and many times they did not even try. This left players like David Backes and Troy Brouwer the freedom to create screens, tip shots and jam away at rebounds.
Much of this boiled down to personnel. The Stars defense had been constructed with puck moving defensemen who complimented their offensive style through breakouts from their zone. John Klingberg, Johnny Oduya, Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers, while good defensemen, where not up to task to efficiently clean up the front of the net.
What Stephen Johns Brings
Stephen Johns gives the Stars exactly what their blueline needs — a physical edge. While he cannot do it solely on his own, his presence and expanded role brings an element to the game the Stars desperately need. At 6’4” and over 230 lbs, Johns has the physical stature to match up with any forward in the NHL when jostling for territory.
The former Blackhawk is more than just a physical force. He is a fluid skater for his size, and makes smart decisions in clearing his zone. He has a good shot from the point, that he can continue to develop. Overall he is a solid second pairing guy who can do the dirty work in front of the net. He is the type of player who perfectly complements John Klingberg and the rest of Dallas’s puck movers.
After spending most of the year at the AHL affiliate Texas Stars, Johns appeared in 14 games in the regular season. He then suited up in all 13 of the Stars playoff encounters. Despite the relative inexperience at the NHL level, Johns looked solid during his time on the ice.
Johns can use his physical nature to help the Stars become a more complete defensive unit. If similarly built and skilled Patrick Nemeth can earn a spot on one the pairings, Dallas will have more than one option to slow down how other teams have found success in attacking them by being able to match up physically in more situations. There will no longer be any free rides to the front of the crease. In this way, Johns can give the Stars a new dimension defensively, one that has been missing.