|Jake Oettinger (Credit: Texas Stars)|
Aside from this, expect the usual preseason two-step. The Idaho players will feature heavily tonight and get a second game if they show well. Texas will look to get as close as they can to opening night lineup in the second game. That won't be entirely possible of course with a few players still in Dallas.
Who has the inside track into top-six duty?
Stephen Meserve: Texas has more than six players who are in the mix for top six duty, possibly as many as eight. Youth might put some of the players in the middle six to start the season before they rise in the lineup. For example, do you trust Jason Robertson or Tye Felhaber on the first line on opening night? Possibly but probably not at first. Also, you’re probably not going to get two rookies on the same line this early regardless of how talented they may be offensively.
Therefore, the way-too-early lineup prediction we have here shows Robertson-L’Esperance-Mascherin across the top with Caamano-Kero-Felhaber in the next bunch. I could see swapping Joel Kiviranta into that top six as well and perhaps someone like Felhaber starts in the top nine instead.
How will D pairs shake out?
Ryan Pennington: This is a real strength of this team, and head coach Derek Laxdal recently lauded the depth that his team possesses on the back end. A cursory glance at the makeshift depth chart backs it up. Provided Taylor Fedun wins the 7D role in Dallas, that leaves Texas with a nice mix of dependable veterans and youth with plenty of upside. It’s hard to go wrong. I just don’t see Joe Cecconi playing heavy minutes in the top pairing coming off offseason surgery. I could also see Laxdal sticking with the shutdown combo of Heatherington-Hanley that he utilized most of last season. With that being said, I can some combination of:
SM: Until Cecconi is healthy and ready for games, I would look to either John Nyberg or Ondrej Vala to jump into the lineup and/or be the seventh man. Nyberg is ahead of Vala on the depth chart.
Who takes over the Travis Morin role on the power play?
SM: My vote goes to Tanner Kero. The centerman had 11 PPG and 13 PPA last year for Utica.
RP: No argument there. Kero checks all the boxes as a scorer, veteran, and can play all the forward spots. Texas should be just fine on the half wall this season.
Is Justin Dowling still the captain? What happens if he stays in Dallas?
SM: All credit to Justin Dowling. Undrafted and starting on an ECHL contract in the lockout season, he is in position to be on the NHL opening roster on October 3rd. That being said, he’s still ostensibly the captain of the Texas Stars. This is the first time a captain has “left” by this method, but it’s not unprecedented, uncharted territory. In the past, Texas has put As on several players and waited to make a captaincy announcement until at least one month into the season. If Dowling doesn’t come down by that point, I’d imagine Texas does the same thing again.
Captains in the AHL are in a weird spot where you might change captain every season because your previous captain moved on. No one signs lengthy contracts in the AHL. Texas has only signed two 2-year deals in team history: Max Fortunus and Landon Wilson.
With no inside knowledge on it, my personal bets would be on Reece Scarlett or Michael Mersch.
Who will compete with Joel L’Esperance for the team’s best player?
SM: I would personally like to see the Stars really hit it out of the park on a blue-chip prospect like Oettinger or Robertson. The Texas Stars have been a very successful team over their ten year tenure in the league and they’ve done it all without ever having a true ‘top prospect’ in the mix for a lengthy portion of the season.
RP: No one wants to hear this, but I really think that Robertson has a ways to go, and that needs to be okay. Dallas hasn’t really done that great in terms of bringing in true blue chips over the last several years just based on their first round track record. Their lineup has been built on the strength of free agent signings and hitting in the middle rounds of the draft. It also helps that the front office has done well to find talent in the ATO and PTO pool. Because of where their bread has been buttered, I think that it’s also important that Kiviranta and Felhaber turn into something of substance.