Weekend Preview: Three Questions for Opening Weekend

[Ed. Note: With tight timelines to turn around gameday previews for weekend series, we’re going to be trying out a “Weekend Preview” format when Texas plays games on Friday and Saturday, especially when they are playing the same team back-to-back. We’re also shifting to a conversational Q&A format for at least these previews. Let us know what you think about all of these changes in the comments!]

(credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)

The quest to bring playoff hockey back to Cedar Park begins tonight as the Texas Stars take on the Tucson Roadrunners. They finish off their home set on Saturday against the Manitoba Moose. Since we don’t know anything about anything yet, here are some questions we’re contemplating heading into these contests.

Q: How big is the upside for the offense this season?

RP: Texas is tasked with replacing the scoring output of Justin Dowling, Erik Condra, Denis Gurianov, and someone named Travis Morin [Ed. Note: Who?]. There certainly has been an influx of youngsters with high offensive ceilings, I’m just not sure where to set the line. Here’s where I’m confident: I don’t think Joel L’Esperance’s output was a fluke, though I don’t expect him to score at the same pace. I think Adam Mascherin will take a step or two in his sophomore outing, and I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Nick Caamano’s game. Outside additions of scoring mixed with some improvements from the holdovers should make for a top ten scoring team.

SM: I’m interested in a few players that might be getting overlooked as well, in terms of offense. Brad McClure will slot into the bottom six and had a scoring knack last season. I think Parker MacKay’s chemistry with Riley Tufte could give him more upside than folks realize. And man, don’t forget Joel Kiviranta, who comes in without much fanfare but has a chance to be a difference maker.

Q: Will the Texas power play be as lethal minus the players above?

SM: At Wednesday’s media day, Coach Laxdal indicated that Jason Robertson and Tye Felhaber are going to start the season on the power play. I don’t think that the team has anything to worry about in terms of the man advantage. It’s sort of one of Laxdal’s specialities. I would look for young forwards like Rhett Gardner or Riley Tufte to earn netfront minutes as the season goes on (or maybe even to start). L’Esperance, Joel Kiviranta and Michael Mersch all surely draw in here as power players, along with Mascherin and Caamano. The Stars will have no shortage of offensive weapons on the power play.

RP: We’ve been talking about how the Stars probably have one of the stronger blue lines in the league. I’m going to be paying close attention to who gets to quarterback the power play units provided the Stars go with the expected 4F-1D sets on both units. They certainly aren’t hurting for options, but expect to see Ben Gleason and Gavin Bayreuther running point on the man advantage. I think either one could finish near the top of the league in rearguard scoring because of it.

Q: What can we expect from the young pairing of Landon Bow and Jake Oettinger?

SM: Speaking with Bow on Wednesday, he is aware that being the “veteran” on the goalie squad at 24 is new territory. However, he noted that a lot of teams are going with this more youthful pairing setup for the AHL. Bow said he spent the summer working on overall strength and spending time with Ben Bishop working on puckhandling. That should be a big boon to an already vet D corps.

Rookie Jake Oettinger certainly has more than a few eyes on him as the heir apparent to the Dallas crease. With the schedule so spread out to start the year, it would seem that Bow and Oettinger will split starts. When the schedule heats up, that’s when the real questions emerge about which player gets the majority of the starts. We’ve seen in the past that coaches are completely willing to alternate if both goalies are on their game. Coach Laxdal tends to ride the hot hand. All but the most dedicated fans might forget that there was a significant stretch of 2017-18 where Mike McKenna sat the bench. He wasn’t hot and that was the choice. I bet that’s the way Laxdal goes this season.