As training camp begins, the Dallas Stars will look to find their optimal line combinations and roster for the 2021-22 season. Normally, many positions are known throughout the preseason while others are filled in as players are evaluated. However, heading into this season, there are a lot of unknowns surrounding this team.
First, they have multiple key players returning from injury that are hopeful to be ready for the season. Second, star players like Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin could play multiple positions throughout the top three lines. Third, this is a team with many aging veterans such as Joe Pavelski, Ben Bishop, Ryan Suter, and Alexander Radulov, meaning any of them could see a decline in their play. Finally, it is still to be determined if they will choose to spread out their offense throughout or load up their top two lines with scoring power. With all of the factors in place, here is my projected Dallas Stars lineup for opening night.
Hintz Line Leads Stars’ Forward Group
- Robertson- Hintz-Pavelski
- Benn- Seguin-Radulov
- Kiviranta- Faksa-Gurianov
The top line for the Stars is the most certain aspect of their entire lineup. With Roope Hintz, Joe Pavelski, and Jason Robertson leading the way last season, head coach Rick Bowness will keep them together to begin this season. Hintz is expected to be fully healthy while Robertson will work to avoid any type of sophomore slump after his stellar rookie season. With the return of key players from injury, there will be less pressure on the 22-year-old, which should help.
Next up, the reunion of one of the most dangerous lines in recent Stars history. Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov have shown excellent chemistry in the past and will look to bring an offensive punch to the second line. All three players have experienced all aspects of the NHL, can score goals, and still maintain their defensive responsibilities. For a quick glance at how dangerous this trio can be, check out the video below as they dominated Game 5 vs the Nashville Predators in 2019.
One question that faces this line is which position will Benn end up playing? After his emergence at center last season, it seemed likely that he would begin this season in that position. However, if he was to play center, either Radulov or Seguin would have to play on their off-wing (left) or switch to another line altogether. It seems that the captain will fit best into the left-wing spot, allowing more fluidity on the line, especially when it comes to faceoffs. If the staff does choose to put Benn at center full time, it will likely have to be on the third line, causing some shuffling among the group.
The third line in Dallas has been known as the “F-C-C” line for years. Radek Faska, Blake Comeau, and Andrew Cogliano have been the most consistent line, playing together for more minutes than any other combination. With Cogliano’s departure for San Jose and the Stars’ need for more offense, this line will see some change. Instead, Faksa will center two skilled young forwards in Joel Kiviranta and Denis Gurianov. Not only will this lead to more offense from them but it will allow Faksa to focus more on defense, his biggest strength. He has also shown the ability to score some goals in the past and will likely do so on top of the crease as the beneficiary of some skill work by his speedy young wingers.
The fourth line will be the truest grind line of the bunch. Newcomer Luke Glendenning will provide veteran experience, excellent faceoff ability, and a responsible two-way style of hockey down the middle. Comeau has proven he can shut down top offensive players, block shots, and kill penalties and should excel in a role with less offensive expectation. The third spot on this line is likely up in the air. I chose Tanner Kero after his emergence last season where he gave the Stars a consistent presence in the midst of their laundry list of injuries. He was able to play up and down the lineup and even spent time on the top line with Benn.
Other options for this spot include Michael Raffl, Ty Dellandrea, and Rhett Gardner. I believe that players such as Riley Damiani, Joel L’Esperance, and Riley Tufte will be better suited playing big offensive minutes in the American Hockey League but may get their chance at some point this season.
Heiskanen, Klingberg, Suter, Lindell: Is There a Better Top Four?
The top four of the defense is clearly held down by John Klingberg, Miro Heiskanen, Esa Lindell, and Ryan Suter. However, the combinations are still unknown. Lindell and Klingberg have played together for years, finding chemistry and creating a great offensive/defensive duo. Lindell’s defensive responsibilities allow Klingberg more freedom to roam and make plays, where he is at his best. With the addition of Suter in free agency though, things could change. Of the two skilled defensemen in Heiskanen and Klingberg, the former is better on the defensive side of the ice. At only 21 years old, he is already a top defenseman in the league.
For that reason, it makes more sense to slide Suter onto the left side with Klingberg since he is a veteran with loads of experience and skill. His presence would allow even further freedom for Klingberg, leading to more offense from the backend. Suter is also capable of playing heavy minutes and could fit on either pairing. This means that Lindell would slide down next to Heiskanen in what has basically become a 1A/1B top four for Dallas. Heiskanen provides the speed and offensive skill while Lindell is a true shut down defender that will block shots and make up for mistakes up the ice. This will remain one of the top storylines to watch throughout training camp and the preseason as both combinations are likely to be tested.
“I think they’ve got a good group already with Klingberg and Heiskanen, those guys are solid players and I’m just excited to be a part of that. I’m looking forward to having a lot of success. Helping those guys, they’ll help me, I just think it’ll be a good fit for the d-corps.”– Stars’ defenseman Ryan Suter
On the third pairing, there are three players that will be cycled. Andrej Sekera has been a solid veteran presence and shut down defender since coming to Dallas in 2019 and has continued to exceed expectations. Joel Hanley emerged last season and earned himself a two-year contract extension in April. He will look to continue his consistent play and add more to his game. Jani Hakanpaa will be the third player to join this line but it is to be determined how he will perform. He has size, skill, and potential but has only played two NHL seasons to this point. If he can perform up to his potential, he will likely be the most consistent player on this pairing while the other two battle for playing time.
Bishops’ Health Controls Goalie Carousel
- Oettinger- AHL
Finally, we arrive at the blurriest part of the depth chart. The Stars have four NHL-caliber goaltenders on their roster with Ben Bishop, Anton Khudobin, Braden Holtby, and Jake Oettinger. The simplest aspect of this situation is that Bishop will be the starting goalie if he is healthy. However, it seems likely that he will begin the season on the Long-Term Injured Reserve as he continues to rehab from knee surgery in 2020. With that will come a battle between three goalies for two available roster spots. Since Oettinger does not require waivers, he will likely begin the season in the AHL. This will allow Dallas to test their two veterans to see if they can find a winning formula. If Khudobin and Holtby struggle, Oettinger is just down the road ready for his chance.
Now, as for the battle for the starting spot, I believe it will be a similar situation to last season. I think Holtby has a chance to prove he can still play at an elite level while Khudobin wants to prove that his run to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final was not a fluke. Both goalies struggled last season but have had excellent careers. If either player can prove they can play up to their elite years, they will be the starter.
However, it seems likely that it becomes more of a 1A/1B situation as both goaltenders are given adequate playing time. Last season, Bowness rode the hot goalie, only making changes when one struggled or the team played multiple games in a short period of time. This may be the best approach as they wait for one of the two goaltenders to catch fire and monitor Bishop’s health.
Looking further ahead, Bishop could be an option if he is able to return to full health during the season. However, this will come with a big risk since one of the two veterans would need to be traded to make room for his contract. The risk grows even more if you look back to the second round of the 2020 playoffs when he returned from injury in Game 5 against the Colorado Avalanche. The Stars struggled early and he looked uneasy as he allowed four early goals before being pulled. He has not played another game since. Either way, Dallas hopes to have one or two veteran goalies in their crease as they near the end of the season and hopefully a playoff run, so this will be a storyline all year long.
There you have it, the Stars lineup for opening night of the 2021-22 season. There are a lot of moving pieces and much of this will be decided on the health and performance of many key players. However, on paper, this is a dangerous team that really has the chance to do something special. Now it is time to see if they can put it all together.
Sam Nestler is a Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the NHL and NCAA. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!