|(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)|
Coming off a season without playoffs for just the third time in team history, Texas is motivated and ready to make it back to the postseason with a roster stacked with young, exciting prospects and veteran experience as well.
“What excites me is that we’ve got a balanced group with a lot of depth,” head coach Derek Laxdal told the media at Wednesday’s Media Day. “From what I’ve seen, we have a bigger team with more speed and more skill. We’re going to have a few players sitting out that could have played in our lineup last year.”
Texas adds significant rookies to the lineup this season with highly touted draft picks and strong free agent pickups in the mix. Jason Robertson, a second round pick from 2017, was the OHL’s top scorer last season. Laxdal calls his a “pure scorer,” noting that if he gets around the net, he’s going to score. Second place in the OHL scoring race was Tye Felhaber, who is also joining Texas this season. Former first rounder Riley Tufte, a 6’7” winger, is getting his first pro shot, and don’t sleep on his former teammate at UMD, Parker MacKay, who made the team on an AHL contract.
The defense is mostly stacked with veterans, but Joe Cecconi is making his rookie debut as well. “I really like the outlook of our group,” noted Laxdal. “[Depth is] the strength of the organization. Dallas has done a great job of providing that depth.”
Dillon Heatherington is one of those veteran defenders and was named captain of the team Wednesday as Justin Dowling has now cemented his place in Dallas. The NHL club told Dowling to get a place in Dallas, confirming his spot for the long-term.
Heatherington said that the captaincy means a lot to him personally, “My pro career I’ve had some excellent captains, and I’ve learned a lot. I want to implement those things with our young team.” He added that he felt he was named captain because “I’m a more vocal guy in the dressing room. I play a hard physical game and I don’t take shortcuts.”
Among the veterans also returning on the blueline are Reece Scarlett, who is making his return to the ice after missing all of last season with an ACL injury, and Joel Hanley, who was named an alternate captain and is the oldest player on the team at all of 28.
At 23 years and 7 months, Texas ranks as the ninth youngest team in the league. The Stars are actually quite often in the top ten youngest teams in the league, but this is the youngest the team has ever been on average in its eleven year history.
Michael Mersch, who is the other alternate captain on the squad, recalled his rookie year when asked about how these players will adapt to the pro game, “There was a time where I felt I was getting it, probably around the All-Star Break. You just have to come in everyday and put the work in. You’re going to have good days and bad days, even still. As long as you’re putting in the work, you’re going to see results at some point in the season.”
If a prediction were to be made on how this team has success this year, it’s going to rely heavily on the success of their newest additions. Can the new forwards who have a flair for offense make an impact and push this team to the top of the standings? The Stars lost a lot of offense with the departures of Dowling, Erik Condra, Travis Morin and Denis Gurianov. I would predict that if Texas is to have success this season the secret weapon will be this veteran defense. The offense will only feel comfortable jumping into the play if the defense can get their backs when something goes sideways. Mersch added, “Having the defense who can get the pucks up into our hands, the less time you’re in your d-zone and the more you’re playing offense.” With a solid blueline, the forwards will be ready to take more calculated risks and, if they are rewarded for it with goals, the success will compound on itself.
Landon Bow, who anchors the goalie tandem with another highly-touted newcomer in Jake Oettinger, summarizes the optimism this team has about this season. “We weren’t happy with how the year went, but we have a whole new team basically. We have a lot of new guys. We need to gel as a team, get those bonds together. Everyone is going to be pushing each other this year, and we’re going to be an exciting team.”