At some point, every NHL team believes they are in “win-now” mode. This means that they have the right balance of veterans and young players that are at a high-level of their game and believe that the next few seasons may be their best chance to make a deep run into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the Dallas Stars, that window is undoubtedly right now. Coming off a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the Stars have a mix of young players and veterans that look to bring the perfect balance to win right now. However, when looking at the roster midway through this season, it may be that the window to win that people believe is so small, is much bigger than it appears.
First and foremost, Dallas has one of the youngest core groups of any team in the NHL. When you look at the players that have led this team on both sides of the ice, the ages may be surprising. Tyler Seguin has become a true number-one center at only 29 years old. Jamie Benn is the team’s captain and strong power forward at 31 years old. Roope Hintz (24 years old) and Denis Gurianov (23 years old) exploded onto the scene last season to become two of the Stars’ most dynamic forwards.
In the bottom-six, Dallas has counted on Radek Faksa (27 years old) and Jason Dickinson (25 years old) to oppose the top players every night. Faksa centers the third line with Andrew Cogliano and Blake Comeau that has been one of the most effective checking lines in the league while Dickinson can play up and down the entire lineup.
Defensively, John Klingberg and Esa Lindell have been the top pair for years now. Klingberg (28 years old) brings a high level of offensive skill along with his solid defensive game while Lindell (26 years old) is one of the most underrated shutdown defenders in the NHL. Behind them, another solid pair came together last season. Jamie Oleksiak (28 years old) has found a home in his second stint in Dallas paired with young superstar Miro Heiskanen, who at 21 years old is already being discussed in the Norris Trophy conversations for the best defenseman in the NHL.
Do not forget that Stephen Johns (28 years old) is also still on the roster despite missing significant time due to post-concussion issues. Although his future is unknown, Johns provides a top-four option for Dallas if he is able to make his way back into the lineup. The Stars will remain patient with him and allow him to recover but if he is able to return, that is a huge boost to this already stacked defensive core.
That list accounts for a large portion of the stars scoring and their top four on the backend. With this core intact, the Stars can continue to fill in pieces left by their veterans while staying a highly-productive team.
Of the core group of players on this roster, only Alexander Radulov, Ben Bishop, Joe Pavelski, Cogliano, Comeau, and Anton Khudobin are over the age of 31. Those are of course some big names for this team. However, the Stars look to be ready to fill these veteran spots with their younger players whenever they need to.
The Kids Can Play
Answered the Call
A pleasant surprise during this 2021 season has been the emergence of the youngest Stars. With all of the injuries and COVID issues this season, Dallas has been forced to trust their young players with bigger roles than they would have liked. However, for the most part, the kids have answered the call.
The first to make a statement was Ty Dellandrea who has shown a hustle and grit style of play that any coach wants to have on their roster. At only 20 years old, he is still learning the game but he has three goals and two assists in the 18 games he has played in this season to go along with his grinding mentality.
Jason Robertson started off slow in his first few games but since then, he has been on fire. The 21-year-old winger has 11 points in his last 12 games and has been an assist machine. The most impressive part of his game has been his poise and vision with the puck. He is constantly finding passes and making smart plays with the puck that are unexpected from such a young player. He is a pure goal scorer and playmaker and is showing that he is getting more comfortable in the league.
Jake Oettinger Is Calm, Cool, & Collected
Another calming presence for the Stars comes in net with Jake Oettinger. With Bishop missing nearly the entire season, Oettinger knew he would get his chance in the NHL rather than playing in the AHL for another season. He has taken full advantage of his chance battling with Khudobin for the number one goaltender spot.
Oettinger has an impressive .913 save percentage and has only lost in regulation twice in his 12 starts this season. The kid is still learning a lot about controlling the game and winning past regulation but has shown a calm that is unheard of from a young goaltender. When a goalie can have that presence in the net, it allows the team to play relaxed in front of him.
He has earned the trust of both his coaches and his teammates early in his career. It was known that Jake would be the future for the Stars but he has shown that his future might come a lot sooner than expected.
Other players such as Rhett Gardner, Nicholas Caamano, and 2020 playoff-hero Joel Kiviranta have shown their abilities as well. Caamano has been finding his way into the lineup on a consistent basis and has given the Stars a solid checking game. Gardner just scored his first NHL goal vs Nashville on Sunday night and is earning more minutes and trust. Kiviranta has shown the ability to score goals in bunches and looks to be developing some chemistry with many forwards in the lineup.
The Back End
Defensively, Dallas has a plethora of names that can fill those bottom two spots. This season, Joel Hanley has been the most active young player when Andrej Sekera, Taylor Fedun, or Mark Pysyk have been unable to play. Hanley has gained experience not only in the NHL but in the spotlight of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He scored his first NHL goal in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.
19-year-old Thomas Harley has only played in one NHL game but has impressed at the AHL level with eight points in 14 games this season. He is seen as having the potential of Heiskanen with possibly even more offensive skill.
Harley still needs a couple more seasons to develop but will be a huge addition to the backend when he is ready.
The Ageless Wonder
NHL players usually start to see a downfall in their game as they reach their older age. While most players seem to lose production well before they turn 40, there have been some like Patrick Marleau, Jaromir Jagr, and Mike Modano that continued to produce in their upper 30s. Pavelski has proven that he is one of those few. At 36 years old, many teams chose not to take a chance on him in free agency in 2019. He had been a consistent scorer up until that point but wanted to be signed to a deal that kept him in his new city for at least a few seasons. The Stars took that chance and they have not regretted it.
Big Plays in Big Moments
After his adjustment time in the early 2019-20 season, Pavelski has been one of the Stars’ top offensive threats. He found his game and his place with his new team when they needed it most, the playoffs. He scored 13 goals in 27 games during the run to the Stanley Cup Final. He also seemed to always be the one who scored the big goal in the biggest moments.
The most memorable were his game-tying goals vs Calgary and Tampa Bay. His goal vs the Flames with only 13 seconds left in Game 4 kept the Stars from a 3-1 series hole and allowed them to come back to win the series. His late goal vs Tampa Bay in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final kept the Stars alive to fight another day as they won the game in double overtime.
Right Where He Left Off
He continued this season right where he left off with 7 goals and 15 points in the first eight games of 2021. He currently leads the NHL in power-play goals with 10 on the season. To add to his importance, even more, the Stars have only won a single game when Pavelski does not record a point. He is proving that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank and could be a longer-term solution for Dallas than they originally thought.
Ready for the Long Haul
The Stars are definitely in win-now mode. They have the pieces and proved that they have the ability, almost winning it all last season. However, with their young core staying intact, some very talented young players beginning to make their mark, and the ability to replace some of their older players when needed, the window for the Stars to win looks to be a lot bigger than most people think.
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!