The lack of second-line scoring was one of the biggest issues that held back the Dallas Stars last season. Behind the top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov, the Dallas Stars just did not have the players to ice a second line that posed as a scoring threat to other teams. For reference, the second line the Stars used in almost the first 10 games last season consisted of Devin Shore, Radek Faksa and Tyler Pitlick. Even the year before in 2017-18, the Stars iced a second line of guys like Mattias Janmark, Jason Spezza and Brett Ritchie. When you read these names off, you’re probably not impressed or “wow’d” by any means and rightfully so. For the past few years the Stars have leaned heavily on that top line.
Well, that’s all changing this season for Dallas. With new acquisitions and some of the younger players starting to evolve, the revamped top six for the Stars will likely play a huge role in the team’s quest for their first back-to-back playoff appearance since 2008.
Out with the Old, in with the New
As mentioned, last year’s Stars’ team was built on hope. Hope that guys like Shore, Janmark, Pitlick and Valeri Nichushkin would take the next steps and become scoring threats. That did not pan out. However, this year Jim Nill went out and got Joe Pavelski, which completely changes the top-six makeup, especially when you add in the fact that Roope Hintz and Jason Dickinson have shown they are capable of playing top six minutes.
When comparing the two lines as according to their previous year Wins Above Replacement (WAR) totals, you start to see the vast improvement this year’s Stars’ second line is:
2018-19: Shore (0) — Faksa (1.7) — Pitlick (0.5) = 2.2 Total WAR
2019-20: Dickinson (1.7) — Hintz (0.4) — Radulov (3.1) = 5.2 Total WAR
Pavelski to Bring in Valuable Flexibility
Pavelski brings positional flexibility to the roster that head coach Jim Montgomery sees as a valuable asset. He can play center or right wing. Hintz can play center or left wing. Dickinson can play center or both wings. Radulov can play on the top line or second line right wing. So depending on how the game is playing out, head coach Jim Montgomery has an absolute arsenal of options to shift through.
This preseason we’ve already seen Pavelski play with Benn and Seguin as well as with Hintz and Radulov; there really is a lot of shuffling that can be done that all contains scoring threats. That is not something the Stars have been able to do in years, unless you go back to 2016 when the team won the Western Conference with Patrick Sharp and Jason Spezza in their top six. If the Stars can replicate that amount of offense as they did back when they actually had a line behind the big three… the entire NHL may need to watch out.
Gurianov, Perry to be Top-Six Dark Horses
Benn, Seguin, Radulov, Pavelski and Hintz are solidified top-six skaters. They are a lock. The only question mark here to some people may be Hintz. However, if that’s the case I’d love to point you to this article I wrote a few days ago pointing out that he could very well breakout for 50-plus points this year. To summarize, he’s the real deal.
Dickinson currently is the sixth man in the top six group. He was serviceable in the playoffs and in parts throughout the season. Since none of the prospects really captured that top spot in the lineup, it will be his position to lose. Denis Gurianov and Corey Perry will likely be the first players to get a shot at a top six role if Dickinson isn’t providing enough value in the top of the lineup.
Gurianov failed to maintain his top-six role that he started with in the preseason, so that spot has now gone to Dickinson while Gurianov falls to the fourth line. In the event that Dickinson isn’t producing enough and gets demoted, it’s very likely Gurianov could get a regular season shot at obtaining his top-six roster spot back.
At the beginning of training camp, the coaching staff had Gurianov playing on the left wing with Hintz and Pavelski/Radulov. Unfortunately for him, zero points in six preseason games wasn’t good enough to keep his spot up with the big boys. He may get another shot at impressing the coaching staff if things aren’t going well, but for now the role is not in his hands. He no doubt has the speed and skill that you like to see in your top-six forwards, but he just hasn’t been able to put it all together for the Stars. He had just four points in 21 games in the 2018-19 season and hasn’t had that breakout moment like his former teammate Hintz had earlier this year.
Another dark horse that could see significant minutes in the Stars’ top six is Corey Perry. The Stars signed Perry to a one year, $1.5-million deal this offseason in hopes that he could bounce back and provide some depth scoring. There’s no doubt that Montgomery would like to see how he plays with some of the high-scoring forwards on the team to try and get the most out of the former Hart Trophy winner. His opportunity in the lineup will have to wait as he is currently out with a lower-body injury. Perry is going to be reevaluated in the next coming weeks according to team sources. However, there is no doubt that throughout the 2019-20 season the Dallas Stars would love to see him find that extra gear and bring some depth scoring to the roster; something they desperately lacked last season.
The glaring issue with the Dallas Stars last year was depth scoring. Rather than wait to see if Nichuskin, Janmark and Shore can find their scoring touch, Nill has put his chips on the table with acquiring Pavelski and Perry. Management has started giving more freedom to young guys like Dickinson and Hintz, which they haven’t done in the past. I expect this type of improvement will give the Stars that boost they were looking for last season and will be the missing piece of what is needed for a Stanley Cup run.