Friday, September 15, 2017

Dallas Stars Kick Off Second Hitchcock Era with Up-Tempo Practice

Ken Hitchcock at Day 1 of Training Camp (Credit: Texas Stars)
Today's article was contributed by a staff writer who will be joining me this season. For various reasons, I'll hold off on introducing him until next week, but I am excited to have him on board.

Dallas Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock ran a high intensity program on Friday as the organization began their training camp at H-E-B Center in Cedar Park. The 60-man roster was split into two practice groups, each of which took to the ice for 105 minutes this morning.

Here are a few things that stood out from a Texas Stars perspective on day 1:
  • As if it wasn't clear before, Mike McKenna appears to be your AHL number one goaltender, perhaps with Landon Bow as his backup. Philippe Desrosiers likely has an open door to grab the number two spot with Bow having a difficult Traverse City tournament, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. McKenna is the type of AHL journeyman that you can get excited about. He wears a cartoon Dimebag Darrell on the back of his helmet. The battle between Bow and Desrosiers is a huge unsettled question and will be a fascinating camp battle to watch.
  • PTO invitee R.J. Umberger was on the ice, but the uptempo practice was a challenge for the forward, who did not play professionally last season. Conventional wisdom says that coach Hitchcock loves him as the two worked together in two past coaching stops. Umberger currently projects as the 13th forward on the NHL squad if he makes the team. If he makes the roster, it pushes an AHL player out of the running for NHL minutes. If you want to spin it positively though, perhaps the young bubble NHL-AHL Stars will get big minutes in the AHL rather than watching the Dallas Stars from the press box. Dickinson, Gurianov, or Hintz would do better to play than wear a suit and tie every night in the press box.
  • Pour one out for Julius Honka's AHL career as he appears headed for a full time NHL roster spot skating next to Marc Methot during camp, though lines don’t appear to matter at the moment. Coach Hitchcock echoed as much about Honka during post-practice scrum. While the NHL club is locked into a intense defenseman battle with nine guys clamoring for six spots, Honka’s promotion sparks some competition on the AHL blue line.
  • One name to keep an eye on is Ondrej Vala. He spent most of the season in the WHL last year and was brought in for three games with the Texas Stars. He has a colorful personality and intriguing size on the blue line, and he skated well today. Vala could end the season with Texas after his WHL season is done. He is too young for the AHL currently at 19 years old. Vala was signed by Dallas as an undrafted free agent.
  • 2017 Stars draft pick Jason Robertson looks endearingly like a rookie. In a couple moments of high comedy, he slipped and fell in front of the net while everyone was resting; later, he cursed loudly within earshot of several children. I like him already. He didn't show much, but you can see what the franchise likes about him as he clearly has skills with the puck.
  • I’ll be interested to see if the diminutive Sheldon Dries can make a splash in the Stars organization this year. He seemed to be a lock for the ECHL Steelheads, but he was one prospect that really stood out to me. He made several beautiful centering passes on 5-on-5 drills. His skating was more than competent and he held his own against bigger players (he’s listed at 5’9”). Maybe I tend to root for smaller guys, but I liked the skill that I saw.
  • There was an all-invite line of Shaw Boomhower-Tomas Soustal-Cole Tymkin. I’m sure these guys are fine players in their own right, but they were in over their heads and beat up on in drills by veterans during their entire session. It was tough to watch.
Practices resume tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM at H-E-B Center.

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