|Mangene, Hulak and Rallo (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)|
This is the first big move of the free agency period for the Texas Stars, who have only signed two rookies to this point. Further, the Dallas Stars have made no moves in free agency that would add players to the roster in Cedar Park.
The forward signings help to solidify scoring for the coming year. Greg Rallo is coming off a career year in which he potted 27 goals and 22 assists. His goal tally was the best of his career and came in fewer games than his previous best of 26 (78 games v. 72).
"It was a bounce-back year," said Rallo at the end of the season. "Hockey became fun again, and it wasn't a job. Playing in key roles is a key to scoring and putting up numbers. It went away [in San Antonio] but once [Coach] Laxdal trusted me in those situations, I got a chance to be in those roles."
Rallo solidifies a veteran core among the forwards along with Travis Morin, who is under contract to Dallas for the coming two seasons. With the signing, Texas may have also just inked its new captain. Barring a large veteran signing on defense, the captaincy is probably a two-man race between Rallo and Morin.
By his own admission, Morin is not the sort of player to lead with a C on his chest. He'll definitely have an A though. Rallo already served as captain of the San Antonio Rampage for one season. If you combine this with the familiarity he has with both the organization as a whole and its head coach, it makes a lot of sense.
Derek Hulak is a player with a huge upside and an excellent re-sign by Texas. He was fifth on the team in scoring as a rookie (21-23=44) and seems to be ready to contribute even more. You can pencil him into the top six, perhaps alongside Morin and Brendan Ranford.
Matt Mangene is the third re-signing and an interesting one to be sure. The defenseman came to the Stars on a PTO late in December 2014. He was picked up on a standard contract before the end of the year but only played ten games in the months of March and April after playing in 21 in January and February. To be fair, he scored six points in those ten games despite some long stretches of scratches.
Mangene's usage was heavily offensive. He was on the power play often when he was in the lineup, at least until the unexpected emergence of Cameron Gaunce as a power play contributor (something I think even Gaunce was flummoxed by). He even played forward for many games.
"I knew coming in here I'd have to be a role guy and I embraced the role," said Mangene at the end of the season. "It's not the easiest thing to do."
His offensive prowess brings up an interesting question: Is Texas betting on Matt Mangene becoming Maxime Fortunus 2.0 for the club?
By the time Fortunus became an everyday AHLer and hit his stride in Manitoba, he was potting an average of 20 points in a season. Each season he was playing 70+ games, however. Meanwhile, Mangene put up 17 points with the Stars last year in just 36 games. If you stretch that out to 76 games, it comes out to about 35 points. That's one better than the high-water mark that Fortunus achieved during his Texas career (34 points twice, in 10-11 and 14-15).
Aside from scoring, long-term, does Mangene turn into the player that you lean on for veteran leadership? Is Texas locking in his loyalty early and making a big bet on his future development?
Maxime Fortunus was a big asset to lose for the Stars, especially in the same year that the club lost Derek Meech and Cameron Gaunce. I'm not saying that Mangene steps right into those shoes on Day 1, but he could definitely develop into that player for Texas.
If nothing else, Mangene will at least have enough time to get his car to Austin this time around. Last season, Mangene was "Scott Valentine's shadow" because he never had a chance to get his car from Florida to Austin, and the roommates basically had to do everything together thanks to the lack of transport for Mangene.