STARS MAILBAG: Development camp, goalies, and a prediction on Nichushkin

Let’s just get the Valeri Nichushkin questions out of the way first.

Nothing is set in stone, but I expect Nichushkin to remain in Russia and finish out his two-year contract with CSKA Moscow.

The Stars are remaining non-commital on the subject at the time, and they should. But there are too many factors — including the slimming cap space in Dallas, the Olympics, and Nichushkin’s KHL contract — that signal the Russian will stay in Russia this season.

I do believe that Nichushkin will be part of the Stars roster to open the 2018-19 season.

Now let’s dive into the rest of the mailbag….

Should be fun to watch Miro Heiskanen in camp after the Stars drafted him with the No. 3 overall pick last month. Heiskanen’s the Stars highest pick since Mike Modano was taken first overall in 1988, which is an exciting endeavor for the franchise.

I’ll also be keeping an eye on Jason Robertson, who may have been one of the biggest steals at No. 39 in the draft.

Also focus on Niklas Hansson and Roope Hintz, who will both be making their AHL debuts this season with the Texas Stars after playing in Europe last season.

Another thing I like to watch for is how the AHL players from last season look in development camp. Those players with AHL experience should look like the best players in camp, so have they entered camp with the right attitude and delivered on that expectation?

They aren’t unknowns per se, but I’m interested in getting a chance to watch the three centers Dallas draft in rounds four through six of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

We already have decent amount of intel on the earlier picks (Miro Heiskanen, Jake Oettinger, and Jason Robertson) since they were at the draft in Chicago. But Liam Hawel (fourth round, 101st overall), Jacob Peterson (fifth round, 132nd overall), and Brett Davis (sixth round, 163rd overall) weren’t at the draft so I haven’t had a chance to speak to each of those prospects yet for a proper interview.

Also development camp roster has no bearing on the AHL standing. Development camp is more of a orientation for the prospects than a competition for jobs, and Philippe Desrosiers has already attended three development camps since he was drafted.

As stated before development camp is more of an orientation than a competition, so the top name prospects won’t really be impacted by a good or bad camp.

However it is a great opportunity for some of those free agent invites to grab the Stars attention and maybe earn an NHL or AHL contract.

That’s what Ondrej Vala did last year. He was an invitee to development camp and the Stars liked him enough to bring him to the Traverse City Prospects Tournament in September, which ultimately led to an entry-level contract.

If healthy Mike McKenna will likely play 45 or 50 games for the Texas Stars, leaving roughly 30 for the other goalie.

Desrosiers and Bow will battle it out in camp and preseason for the AHL job. Based on last season Bow might have the early edge on the ice, but I know the Stars are still high on Desrosiers and they are happy with his mental growth after getting demoted to the Norfolk Admirals in the ECHL last season.

Personally I would have them battle it out in camp and see who wins the AHL job. I’d like to see a closer to 40-40 split, or 38-38 to be exact, with McKenna in AHL games while there will be more frequent work with a goalie coach at the minor-league level.

I’d like the goalie that doesn’t win the AHL job to play two thirds of the games in Idaho, while I think it’s also important that Jim Bedard also makes the occasional trip to Boise to work with the Bow or Desrosiers.

I’ll have more on this after development when I put out my positional prospect rankings, but I have the goalies ranked in this order at this moment:

(Remember this is based off long-term projection and likeliness to be an NHL starting goalie in Dallas).

1. Jake Oettinger
2. Landon Bow
3. Markus Ruusu
4. Colton Point
5. Philippe Desrosiers

Honestly after Oettinger it’s a crap shoot for these rankings. You could make a case for any of the other four to be second, and there are question marks around all of them.

Bow is a nice find as an undrafted goalie and earned his NHL contract last year, but what’s stopping him from becoming the next Maxime Lagace and looking like a one-hit wonder? Ruusu has been part of Finnish national teams for his age group, but we haven’t seen him play in the big games (he was the third-string goalie at World Juniors). Point was supposed to be the starter at Colgate last season, but illness cost him that opportunity. How will he look with larger workload? Desrosiers situation is eerily similar to Jack Campbell — he’s immensely talented, but can he find the consistency and mental game to be an NHL option?

Anything is possible, I guess.

The cap space just doesn’t work for that.

A bridge deal and a show-me deal are the same thing in my mind. It’s a two-year contract where Rithie can better his stock and earn a bigger payday as a UFA.

As one of those bottom six forwards told me earlier this week in a text, “I guess it’s going to be a battle in camp.”

Lots of options, that’s the benefit of the Stars carrying this many forwards into training camp.

I have Mattias Janmark slotted as the second-line left wing at this moment, but that’s in an ideal situation where he is the Janmark we saw as a rookie during the 2015-16 season.

If Janmark isn’t good to go, or needs to be slotted lower in the lineup you could see Antoine Roussel or Devin Shore on the second line alongside Martin Hanzal and Jason Spezza.

Should be a good division. I wonder how much of an impact Chicago Blackhawks will have this season after getting cap crunched (again) and how big of a drop the Minnesota Wild will take in the standings. Either way I see a playoff spot for Dallas if they buy into Ken Hitchcock’s system early on.

That’s a big what-if. A lot is made about Tyler Seguin having to buy into Hitchcock’s system, but I’ve talked to a couple scouts (one from an Eastern Conference team, another from within the Central Division) who seem more concerned about John Klingberg and Hitchcock clashing stylistically.

Can Klingberg kill penalties effectively and can he be trusted in late-game situations in close games in his own zone? In my mind you can’t be a Norris Finalist for the best defender if you aren’t actually an effective defender in all situations.

(On that note, I think we need an award for best offensive defensemen. We have an award for best defensive forward, so why not?)

I don’t like it, but I feel like they will carry all nine defenders into training camp and then sort the situation out.

If they carry nine into camp they will have an internal competition to fill out the roster. Eventually they’ll have to trade away Patrik Nemeth, Greg Pateryn, or Jamie Oleksiak and if they can’t find a deal they’ll have to risk losing one on waivers (and frankly I don’t see Nemeth or Pateryn getting claimed on waivers at this point if you put them on waivers early in training camp).

Hopefully, Oleksiak would probably have the highest value of the group based on his size and draft status.

Colorado makes too much sense. They have a ton of holes to fill, and they have time to give Oleksiak and Nemeth a chance to play on a consistent basis.

Ben Bishop can be a top-five goalie in the NHL behind the right defense. Question is how good will the Stars defense be.

From my understanding the Stars are pretty much done in the free agency front. You will see the Texas Stars sign more AHL-contracted players to fill out the roster in Cedar Park and help the ECHL-affiliated Idaho Steelheads.

Stars already have their top-line defenseman acquired in Marc Methot.

Shea Weber also is 31 and is under contract for nine more years with a cap hit of $7.85 million. That’s not something I want to take on, especially when my cap space is already set up nicely to give Tyler Seguin an extension during next season.

My defense breaks down this way:

Marc Methot — John Klingberg
Esa Lindell — Stephen Johns
Dan Hamhuis — Julius Honka

Lindell and Johns played very well together in the AHL, I think it’s a pairing that can work in the NHL under this coaching staff.

I think the Stars already have enough veterans and enough of a logjam already at forward. Basically bringing Cullen in would guarantee someone like Dickinson wouldn’t make the NHL roster in training camp.

Niklas Hansson. We keep talking about the Stars defense of the future, and he gets overshadowed by other names. But keep an eye out for him.

Montreal and Edmonton shelled out big money for their most important players, which is more than understandable.

The big thing to take away from the contracts is how they’re being paid out. Connor McDavid’s eight-year, $100 million extension comes with $86 million paid out in signing bonuses, which gets paid out on July 1 each year no matter what.

Essentially McDavid and his agent are smartly prepared for a lockout, which is a bummer for hockey fans.

Curtis McKenzie is a very good bottom-six player in the NHL. He’ll kill penalties and come up with the timely offensive contribution, and he comes at an inexpensive cap hit.

He’s also the ideal teammate and he could have a long NHL career as that type of player, especially in the cap era where you need low-cost options.

Depends on Roussel. The Stars would like to get an extension signed for a similar cap hit, but I have a feeling Roussel is going to want to a nice raise after this season. If he has a similar year to last season, where he played himself into the Stars protection plans for expansion, it might behoove Roussel and his agent to look into free agency to grab a bigger payday.

I think the Stars are in a much better spot defensively, and I think the defense sets up well for a number of years. Dan Hamhuis and Marc Methot will ultimately be phased out as younger players step into the role.

It sets up well both talent and salary cap wise on the blue line.

I’m not surprised that Greg Rallo is back with the Texas Stars, mainly because I know how much he and his family wanted to be back in Texas.

Rallo and the Stars touched base after his past season in Germany and their was a mutual interest to bring the veteran back. It’ll be a good influence on younger players, and Rallo’s shot should also be a nice boost on the power play.

Don’t see a need or a desire for the Stars to trade Brett Ritchie. You’d have to get creative with the cap space if Nichushkin came back (which we addressed earlier), but moving Ritchie wouldn’t be an option I’d look into just to open a roster spot for the Russian.

Colorado hasn’t done much to improve and they were horrendous last season.

Same reason we drive on a parkway and park in a driveway.

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