The captain and many others are back in the fold but there will be at least one new face on the blue line this fall.(Credit: Texas Stars/Ron Byrd)
All this week, we are going to take a look at the Texas Stars expected roster for the 2011-12 season. As free agency has died down, the picture has become clearer as to who will make the cut on opening night. After covering goaltending on Monday, we'll continue today with defense and close Friday with forwards.
In terms of question marks, the Texas Stars defense corps really only has one. Returning six players from last season, the single issue that isn't resolved is who stays as the seventh man and who goes to Idaho. It is interesting to note that after having three players on standard player contracts last season (Stephenson, Benn, Spang), every defenseman this season is on an NHL deal. Let's break down the lineup.
The 'first' pairing will certainly be the captain, Brad Lukowich, and second-year pro Philip Larsen. Larsen was thought to have potential to start in Dallas this season, but the signings of Adam Pardy and Sheldon Souray have given Dallas seven blue liners on one-way contracts. Larsen will be among the first called up in case of injury, but he will start the year in Cedar Park.
Second is another redux from last season in Maxime Fortunus and Brenden Dillon. The young Dillon was balanced well by the savvy veteran presence of Fortunus at the end of last season and into the playoffs. Dillon will continue to grow into his role as a hard-hitting defenseman at this level while Dallas is sure to keep an eye on his development for a potential callup. Larsen and Dillon play very different games and depending on who is injured, one might be a better choice than the other.
The third pairing is again one that was often seen at the CPC last season in Jordie Benn and Dan Spang. Both were on AHL deals in 2010-11 but upgraded to two-way NHL contracts this season. My initial worries about this line were that Spang's offensive forays would leave the rookie Benn vulnerable to quick tranisitions by opposing forwards. However, the two worked well together in their time on the ice and it has to be a pairing that is under consideration.
Finally, the decision that is to be made. Hubert Labrie and Jace Coyle both finished their junior careers this past season and will be turning pro in the fall. One will stay in Texas, and one will go to Boise. Having not seen either play, there isn't the slightest indication of which one would be staying or going. Much of the decision lies with new head coach Jeff Pyle and GM Scott White. However, with Labrie and Coyle both being Dallas prospects, some direction could come from Joe Nieuwendyk's office as well on the matter.