No top scorers? No top defencemen? No number one goalie?
No problem. At least, not if you’re the Texas Stars.
Ok, sure, the team didn’t lose all of their best players once the NHL lockout ended and their big league affiliate, the Dallas Stars, started making call-ups. But when you lose a big group of guys like Cody Eakin, Reilly Smith, Colton Sceviour, Jordie Benn, Brenden Dillon and Cristopher Nilstorp, all of whom were integral players at their individual positions, it would be very easy to assume that the team as a whole would struggle afterwards.
Yet instead the Stars continue to shine, playing some of their strongest hockey of the season despite the massive roster upheaval. Texas is 4-1 in the games following the first round of Dallas’ call-ups, outscoring their opponents 24-15 in that time, even doing so shorthanded more players during some of that time, with Jamie Oleksiak and Antoine Roussel getting recalled and attending Dallas’ training camp before being sent back down.
Factor in injuries to Travis Morin, Francis Wathier, Tomas Vincour and Scott Glennie, on top of all the recalls, and Texas’ success the past couple of weeks is as heroic as it is unfathomable.
Overall, the Stars are 9-1 in their last ten games, catapulting the team into a tie with the Charlotte Checkers for 1st place in the entire AHL with 55 points.
With so many essential pieces now missing from the puzzle the Stars have needed the remaining roster players to carry more weight, and so far they are doing exactly that.
Oleksiak, the hulking blueliner and the Stars’ 1st round, 14th overall selection in the 2011 NHL entry draft, has been making a massive statement since returning from Dallas that he, too, is ready for full-time NHL duty. He has six assists and a +6 in the three games since being sent back down from training camp, and is playing the best hockey of his season as he tries to show the parent club what they are missing out on. He currently leads Texas’ blueline with 23 points in 41 games, and also leads the entire team with 20 assists.
Left wing Matt Fraser, who was one of the AHL’s top goal scorers last season with 37 tallies, did not get called up at any point during Dallas’ training camp, but much like Oleksiak is making a very strong case for NHL promotion thanks to his recent play. He is currently riding a seven-game point streak, and has surpassed Eakin, Smith and Sceviour for the team’s lead in scoring with 27 points in 42 games. Much like last season, however, it’s Fraser’s finishing ability that is his bread and butter, with 20 of those 27 points being goals, good enough for a tie for second in the AHL in that category. Most impressive is that he’s been scoring at will as of late despite the absence of his longtime setup-man and partner in crime, the play-making Morin.
Taking Nilstorp’s place in net is Richard Bachman, who was the backup in Dallas last year but was sent down to the AHL for conditioning after not having played at all during the lockout. He’s won both starts so far with Texas, but don’t be surprised to see that trend continue. Bachman surely didn’t take the demotion lightly, and will be doing everything he can to battle his way back to the NHL.
Even though five of the six players that have stuck with Dallas to start the season have already played for the team (Sceviour being the only exception), their statuses there are not set in stone, especially with so many other promising youngsters elevating their play in the AHL as of late. Whether any further roster changes occur due to guys being sent down because their play lackluster or sent up because their play is outstanding, the Texas Stars are making a bold statement that they are a team to be feared regardless of who is in their lineup.
Derek Neumeier primarily covers the Dallas Stars, but also other various topics related to the sport of hockey. A Journalism graduate of Mount Royal University, Derek also writes for Defending Big D, and has done previous work with the Edmonton Oilers as a communications intern and Hockey Canada as a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter at @Derek_N_NHL