Stars Defensive Depth Passing the Test

Dallas Stars blueline prospect Stephen Johns, acquired last summer as a key part of the Patrick Sharp trade, made his NHL debut last Friday against the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that drafted him in 2010. While his performance in the first two games of his NHL career was solid, rather than “earth-shattering,” his slap shot near the end of practice Monday was…impactful:

Johns’ Saturday night performance against the St. Louis Blues was also impactful. Though he struggled in spots and was the victim of some bad “puck luck,” the 6’4″, 225-pound defender registered a team-high eight hits in 18:41 of ice time, giving the Stars d-corps an element of physicality which has been lacking all season.

Recent injuries to blueliners Jason Demers, John Klingberg and Jordie Benn have forced the Stars to lean on their younger defensemen. Johns, Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak have responded well. Head coach Lindy Ruff has utilized a five-man rotation the past few games, with Johns and Nemeth getting significant minutes against Chicago and St. Louis over the weekend.  On Monday, Ruff assessed the play of the trio:

I thought they played well.  I thought Johns stepped in and played real well.  I know he was on for a few goals against, but a little bit of that was bad luck…but I thought his puck movement and his physicality was real good.  I thought Nemeth had a real good two games.  I thought Oleksiak was on-and-off, gave us some good shifts but had a couple tough moments inside games.  But I thought overall, they were a big part of allowing us to get three points in two nights.

After Monday’s practice, the coach said he anticipated Klingberg returning to practice Wednesday, with Jordie Benn “maybe a couple days behind that.”  Though both took part in Tuesday’s morning skate, which was optional, neither will dress for the Stars’ tilt with the visiting Los Angeles Kings:

Thus, the Johns-Nemeth-Oleksiak trio will take to the ice for another big game. The Kings hold a slim two-point lead over the Anaheim Ducks for first place in the Pacific Division. They’re not just talented; they’re big, too. As of opening night, the Kings boasted the heaviest team in the NHL and tied for third-tallest. With the 6’4″ Johns, 6’3″ Nemeth and 6’7″ Oleksiak in the lineup, the Stars should give as well as they get. It’s yet another tough test for Dallas’ young defensemen.

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