Weekend Preview: Texas Opens at Home Against San Jose

Brian Flynn takes a faceoff the last time San Jose visited Texas over three years ago. (Credit: Texas Stars)

It's three games in four days for the Stars as San Jose comes to town for the first time since 2018. The team held a virtual media day yesterday, so there are a number of quotes from that event peppered in here as we take a bit more of a bird's eye view on the entire.

Getting started on the season
It's been a weird start to the year; there's no question about that. Without preseason games, it was tough to get a feel for what this team was going to be for an outsider. For the coaches and players, they already knew. Neil Graham noted that the extended period everyone spent in training camp in Dallas gave more time than normal to develop the chemistry and the team dynamic.

Graham notes this is a "fast, skilled group," and is complimentary of his forecheck, calling it "hungry and tenacious." Other players, such as Cole Schneider and Anthony Louis, both veteran forwards, had similar thoughts on the team's strengths. With so many young players, the quick legs are going to have to be an asset.

Early returns and players who are popping
New team captain Schneider noted that it's good anytime you can start the season on the road and come home with a winning record. The baseball-style schedule of this season is going to create a lot of mini-series, including rubber matches when 'series' are tied 1-1. "It's funny," noted Graham. "[The schedule] doesn't change that much for the Texas Stars. We would play Iowa for three anyways." Of course, he's right in a lot of ways because of the Stars' geographic isolation. But he added, "I like the competitive flair. Game 3 of the year and there's already animosity."

Riley Damiani (2-2=4) got a callout for Graham for having an excellent start to the season. He's been paired up with Adam Mascherin, who was one of his linemates from Kitchener in the OHL. The choice to put them together was intentional.

Graham also complimented Dawson Barteaux, Ryan Shea, and Jerad Rosburg for their weekend work. Overall, he said it's fun having the younger energy around the team from all the first and second-year players.

Harley's rookie year
Thomas Harley is probably the biggest skater prospect to hit the Stars in a while. Jake Oettinger comes close as a goalie, but the Stars get so few blue chip, ready-to-go prospects that it's an infrequent luxury to have a player like him in the AHL. Harley, who has spent the majority of the last year living out of hotel rooms in Edmonton and Dallas, scored his first pro goal this past weekend.

He is certainly confident about his play, "I had a lot of opportunities all weekend. In the back of my head, I thought 'I should have had one by now.'" But he also knows he has much to improve on. Personally, he had one of the most introspective takes on his development that I've heard from a prospect in my time writing about the AHL. He said he needs to work on "everything" in his game to be ready for Dallas and that his first NHL game experience in the bubble was "humbling" and taught him "how far I have to come to be an impact player in the NHL."

As far as the Texas blueline, his wily veteran partner is Joseph Cecconi, only in his second year himself. Harley added that "Cheech" settled him down in his first AHL game last week. It's a traditional offense-first plus defense-first blueline pairing and it's paying early dividends for the club.

Texas did something they had never done before this year and named a newcomer as captain. For Cole Schneider, it's not his first time as captain; he wore the C in Hartford in 2018-19. Schneider was under contract with Milwaukee when the Admirals decided not to play this season. "It's not a hard decision when you get an offer to come [to Texas]," he said. "Playing against some of these guys last year, you realize this team can be good." He, of course, also got texts from his former coaches Karl Taylor and Greg Rallo, both Texas veterans, congratulating him on joining the team and giving him some advice on the Austin area.

Anthony Louis was one of several players this weekend to wear a letter as Texas works to name their alternate captains. Louis noted that it was an honor to wear an A, especially with all the younger players on the team who need that veteran leadership. Louis's summer was very different from many as he was one of only a handful of players across the league already on an AHL contract for this season before the shutdown last season. He said it was "very relieving" to know he had the contract as the summer dragged on and the season became more dicey.

Other notes
  • With the addition of Julius Honka, Texas now has seven NHL-contracted defensemen and several AHL deals as well. Graham does not plan to use an 11-7 setup to work more of them into the lineup. However, he said he isn't afraid to do that, having done it many times last year.
  • Asked if the fact that the Calder Cup is unlikely to be awarded this year changes his success metrics, Neil Graham was an old pro and pivoted right to the development of these players: "I don't want to start going down that road. There's a lot of speculation and I don't know. We want to prepare players, a culture of success and winning. The fact that we're able to play sports is an absolute blessing. I feel so fortunate to be able to be coaching and developing and working with these guys. Let's enjoy the moment and so far so good."
  • It sounds like the Stars expect to carry a larger roster all year with ECHL Idaho not playing this season. When asked if the team has considered sending players to other ECHL teams, Graham said, "I would never say never, but at this point that's not something we've discussed."