Unfortunately, the Dallas Stars will not be competing in the postseason this year, just 56 games removed from their Cinderella trip to the Stanley Cup Final. The reigning Western Conference Champions may be watching the playoffs from the couch like the rest of us, but there are many former Stars draft picks and players that fans can cheer for in the tournament.
Jason Spezza, Toronto Maple Leafs
Jason Spezza came to the Dallas Stars after an 11 year run with the Ottawa Senators, where he served as the captain in the 2013-14 season. He was an important part of the team’s elite offense for the first few years with the club, including a season where he put up 33 goals and 63 points in the 2015-16 campaign. At the end of his tenure with the Stars, he had totaled 81 goals and 228 points in the victory green sweater and was not extended following the team’s game seven loss to the St. Louis Blues in the second round of the 2019 playoffs.
Spezza has found a new stride this season in Toronto in the bottom six forward group, ranking seventh on the team in points with ten goals and 30 points. The 37-year-old is likely looking at the best chance of his career to win the cup on a stacked Toronto Maple Leafs’ team with a relatively easy path to the league’s final four.
Corey Perry, Montréal Canadiens
Corey Perry came to the Stars in free agency after spending his entire 14-year career with the Anaheim Ducks. He got off to a slow start and had an unimpressive regular season but turned his game up a notch in the playoffs, playing a pivotal role in the Stars’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. Then, after finding his game within the lineup, he left in free agency to join the Montréal Canadiens.
The Canadiens have benefitted all season from the hard-nosed hockey that Perry brings. If they are going to upset the first seed Maple Leafs, they will need Perry and his shenanigans to get the Leafs’ top forwards off of their game.
Jordie Benn, Winnipeg Jets
Jordie Benn was undrafted and started his professional career with the Texas Stars, the Stars’ AHL affiliate in 2010. With hard work and grit, Jordie cracked the main roster in the 2011-12 season but did not become an NHL regular until 2013-14, when he suited up for 78 of the 82 games. Jordie was a fan favorite during his tenure with the club, often occupying the left side of the third defensive pairing.
In 2017, the Stars sent Jordie to the Canadiens in a deal that brought Greg Pateryn to Dallas. After signing with the Vancouver Canucks in free agency in 2019, he was sent at this year’s trade deadline to the Winnipeg Jets to fill the role of a depth defenseman. I don’t expect Jordie to be playing every game for the Jets, as he is more of a seventh defenseman than a regular in the lineup, but he should have Stars fans support when he does appear.
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell was the Stars’ first-round draft choice in the 2010 NHL Draft, but his career took a winding path. He only ever appeared in one game for the Stars and went a couple of years between NHL starts before appearing between the pipes for the Los Angeles Kings in 2016 following a trade.
In a Kings’ uniform, Campbell scratched and clawed his way back to being an NHL-caliber goaltender, putting up nice numbers for the team for four years. Then, in February 2020, the Maple Leafs made a trade to bring in a physical presence in Kyle Clifford to their forward group. Although Campbell was a part of the deal going to Toronto, he was mostly an afterthought. This season, though, he has been anything but.
With Frederik Andersen out for most of the year, Campbell has played himself into the starting role. He is 17-2-2 and has led the Maple Leafs to their first division crown in 21 years, including an eleven-game win streak to start the season. Campbell is the Maple Leafs’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy awarded to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.” The players love him and speak highly of his character, and he has become one of the best feel-good stories of the season.
Mattias Janmark, Vegas Golden Knights
Mattias Janmark was originally a third-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft by the Detroit Red Wings, a team with Jim Nill in the front office. Jim Nill then left the Red Wings to join the Stars as the general manager in April of 2013, and in 2015 he traded for Janmark to join him in Dallas.
In his two seasons on the Stars, Janmark registered 15 and 19 goals before regressing to six and six in his final two seasons with the team. In total, he had 109 points and was a solid depth player for much of his time with the team, including last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Final, where he had eight points and 38 penalty minutes.
After the run to the cup final last year, Janmark was not extended in Dallas and instead left in free agency, where he signed a one-year deal worth $2.25 million to become a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. Fortunately for Janmark, he was then traded to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday, April 12, at the NHL trade deadline. Now a member of the team who the Stars beat in five games in the Western Conference Final last year, Janmark has slotted in as a depth forward in a loaded roster that is ready to make a run at the cup.
Devin Shore, Edmonton Oilers
Devin Shore is another Stars draft pick who has found a new home. After being drafted in the second round of the 2012 NHL Draft, he made his full debut with the team in the 2016-17 season. He played in all 82 games for two seasons with the team, where he totaled 24 goals and 65 total points. Much like Janmark, Shore was a depth winger and a decent one before he was shipped to Anaheim in the deal that brought Andrew Cogliano to the Stars halfway through the 2018-19 season.
Following rather short stints in both Anaheim and Columbus, Shore signed as a free agent with the Oilers. While he is not the focal point by any means, he can make an impact with his footspeed and slots in nicely with the bottom six forward group in Edmonton. In his first season, he has managed five goals and nine points. If they are going to defeat the Jets in the first round of the playoffs, they will need depth guys like Shore to step up to help ease the weight on the shoulders of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
James Neal, Edmonton Oilers
We have to go all the way back to the 2005 NHL Draft to talk about James Neal, who was a Stars’ second-round pick. Neal did not become a regular feature in the team’s lineup until the 2008-09 season as a 21-year-old winger. In just over two seasons with the Stars, he accumulated 72 goals and 131 points and was eventually sent to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a deal that brought Alex Goligoski to the Stars blue line.
Since the trade, the 6-foot-2 winger has amassed 294 goals and 554 points in his career, playing for the Penguins, Nashville Predators, Golden Knights, and Calgary Flames before ending up on the Oilers, where he has spent the last two seasons. Neal has been to the Stanley Cup Final twice, both times coming up short. Although it seems unlikely that this is the Oilers’ year, it would be good to see him make an impact in the tournament. Neal is 33 years old, so time may be running out, but perhaps he can prove me wrong and prove that there is something left in the tank.
Valeri Nichushkin, Colorado Avalanche
The Stars’ 10th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft was a failure in Dallas, where he spent four years on the roster and most of it on the wing with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. It seemed everyone in Dallas was waiting for his big arrival, and Lindy Ruff did all he could to get the 6-foot-4 Russian going offensively, but it never came. In his 223 games in a Stars sweater, Val Nichushkin only mustered 23 goals and 74 total points, including a horrific 2018-19 campaign that featured zero goals and 10 total points in 57 appearances. After that, Nichushkin and the team parted ways.
For a player who scored zero goals the previous season, Nichuskin’s priority was getting into an offensively minded system, which he found in Colorado. As a member of the Avalanche, Nichushkin has 23 goals in 118 games, a feat which took big Val about twice as long to reach in Dallas. He is now a member of the Avalanche top-six forward group and is realizing the potential that the Stars saw in him when originally drafting him. The club is poised to make a deep run in the playoffs with a dominant regular season to this point, and they are in the fight for the top spot in the West with the Golden Knights, who we will look to for our next player.
Colton Sceviour, Pittsburgh Penguins
For the last Stars’ draft pick on the list, we go to Pittsburgh to cheer on the 2007 fourth-round pick, Colton Sceviour. He didn’t fully arrive at the NHL level until the 2014-15 season when he played 71 games. Sceviour would go on to play in a Stars uniform until the end of the 2015-16 season when he became an unrestricted free agent and signed with the Florida Panthers.
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In September of 2020, after four years with the club, the Panthers shipped Sceviour and Mike Matheson to the Penguins in exchange for Patric Hornqvist. As a member of the first seed in the MassMutual East Division, Sceviour has put up five goals and five assists in 46 games and is another depth player who will spend most of his time on the wing of the third or fourth line of a red-hot Penguins team who have their hands full with the Islanders in the opening round.
A Brighter Future
Despite coming up just short, Stars’ fans should be proud of the way they fought through an incredibly taxing schedule and many injuries this season. Head coach Rick Bowness was vocal throughout the year about how difficult it would be to play 44 games in 78 days following a COVID-19 pause and the Texas snowstorm delay, and was not shy about the experience in his exit interview, where he referred to this season as “an experience you hope you don’t have to go through again.”
Nonetheless, there were many positive takeaways from this season, most notably being the emergence of a new offensive weapon in Jason Robertson and a solid young netminder in Jake Oettinger. The Stars will not have to navigate an offseason that includes a Seattle expansion draft and the re-signing of Miro Heiskanen. I suspect the Stars will come back with a similar look next year, and barring significant injuries, will look more like the team of last year’s playoffs than of this year’s regular season. Until then, Stars fans can cheer on the former players in their quest to capture the Stanley Cup.
Peter is a Dallas Stars writer at THW. He grew up playing hockey in Los Angeles and Dallas and has followed the Stars closely for over a decade. He currently studies psychology at Stanford University and plays on the hockey team. You can find more of his work at MuffinHockey.com and weekly NHL recaps at the Stanford Daily Newspaper. To make article requests or ask questions, contact him on twitter @MuffinHockey.