The Dallas Stars know all too well that things can change quickly in the NHL. After a season filled with injuries, postponed games, and a hectic schedule, the team hoped they could begin 2020-21 without drama. While it may have lessened, there are still a few storylines to watch for ahead of Thursday’s opening night matchup against the New York Rangers.
Injury Update: Robertson, Comeau, & Radulov
The Stars have been hit by the injury bug early for the second straight season. While last season was far more severe, any injury before opening night is a tough pill to swallow. Jason Robertson and Blake Comeau are dealing with upper-body injuries that have kept them out of practice all week. Both players have remained in Dallas as the team embarks on a four-game road trip through the east coast.
According to head coach Rick Bowness, Comeau is closer to returning than Robertson, but neither player is expected to dress on the trip. Comeau was placed on the injured reserve yesterday to ensure the team has available cap space if needed. The move was also triggered by another injury.
Just as the Stars and their fans were adjusting to a lineup without Comeau and Robertson, bad news hit them again. Alexander Radulov was held out of practice on Wednesday due to illness. It is not COVID-related, which is the good news, but the bad news is that his status remains unknown for tonight.
“We’re hoping.”– Stars head coach Rick Bowness when asked if Radulov would play Thursday
Radulov practiced on Thursday morning, so if he is able to play, he will likely slide in alongside Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. If he is out, Jacob Peterson or Joel Kiviranta are the top candidates to fill that role. Despite the setbacks, Dallas is likely the most prepared team in the league for these situations.
“We’ve had lots of injuries the last few years, so I think we’re used to it. It’s bad to say, but we’ve always had some injury in the past. There were always some changes, so we’re used to it.”– Stars forward Radek Faksa
Stars Youngsters: Who Is In, Who Is Out?
The top storylines of the NHL preseason are always which young players will make the opening-night lineup. For the Stars, that question has finally been answered. Rookie Jacob Peterson was one of the most impressive players through the preseason and will make his NHL debut against the Rangers.
“He makes plays, he kills penalties and he’s good on the power play. We want to keep looking at him, but he’s put himself in a position, in a serious position, to make the hockey club. He’s been that good.”– Stars head coach Rick Bowness
Versatility may be Peterson’s best asset, and it will be tested early, given the team’s injuries. While he found success playing with Seguin during the preseason, he will likely slot into Robertson’s spot next to Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski to begin the season. No matter where he plays, it will be a special night for the 22-year-old Swedish forward.
Unfortunately, Ty Dellandrea and Jake Oettinger will begin the season in the American Hockey League. Both players saw significant ice time last season and were impressive in certain areas. Now, they will need to continue to impress on what should be a very good Texas Stars team. Oettinger knew his chances of cracking the lineup were slim, but this will be just another test for the youngster to pass.
Both players were part of the injury carousel last season and know their NHL chance will likely come at some point this season.
Stars Opening Night Projected Lineup
The lineup looks a bit different than anticipated, given the injuries and illnesses. If Radulov is healthy, we will see the team’s dynamic top line of Seguin, Benn, and Radulov. That would push Peterson to fill in for Robertson, and Kiviranta would slide down to the fourth line. There are no surprises on defense, and the new pairings will get their first test in the regular season. In goal, Dallas will go with newcomer Braden Holtby for opening night. He and Anton Khudobin will likely split games to begin the season.
While this is not the Stars’ full arsenal, the team is excited to get going. After two shortened seasons, playoff bubbles, empty arenas, and everything else involved with COVID-19, Dallas will begin the 2021-22 season with far more normalcy than we have seen in years. It will likely be a bumpy ride, filled with all types of craziness, but isn’t that what the NHL is all about?
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!