STARS MAILBAG: Some (minor) Nichushkin clarity, future blue lines, and prospect talk

The mailbag is loaded this week, no need for an intro. Let’s just dive in…

This a very good question and something I was wondering myself, especially after Vladimír Sobotka was able to join the St. Louis Blues after the KHL season ended this past spring.

So I asked Stars assistant general manager Mark Janko this week at development camp, and he explained it to me. Essentially Val Nichushkin is still a restricted free agent, in order for him to play in the NHL this season he’d have to be signed by Dec. 1, if not he can’t play in the NHL this season.

Sobotka was a different situation since he had received a contract in arbitration before bolting to the KHL. When Sobotka returned he already had a contract to come back to, therefore he was able to come back and play for the Blues right away (he also signed an extension that starts this coming season).

The Stars are still being diplomatic about it, but we can basically accept that Nichushkin won’t be playing in the NHL at all this season.

Editor’s note: Nichushkin’s agent confirmed on Friday afternoon that the Russian will be playing in the KHL this season.

Not really too much to read into that, essentially Patrik Nemeth and his agent worked quicker to come to a deal with Stars.

Jamie Oleksiak will be re-signed sooner than later, it was made pretty evident when he didn’t file for arbitration.

Likely around $975,000. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less.

At this point I don’t see any value for Patrik Nemeth. If there was a trade for Nemeth the Stars would have made it at some point last season. Jamie Oleksiak is also a depreciated asset and I compare his value to Dylan McIlrath, who netted the Rangers a seventh-round pick and an NHL-AHL tweener (Steven Kampfer) in a trade last November.

If anyone pulls a Janmark it will be Roope Hintz. He’s a bit of an unknown and could really come in and impress the coaching staff.

I feel like Denis Gurianov making the roster would be a surprise, but not a shocking development like when Janmark made the team as a rookie. Remember that Mattias Janmark was actually supposed to play in Sweden that season, but his play in training camp forced a change of plans.

When talking about skating ability we are often looking at technique, balance, and power within a player’s skating motion.

Is the player getting the most out of his stride? Is he generating as much power as possible when he skates?

I asked Todd Eldredge about it this week at Stars development camp, and he compared it to offensive linemen in football. An offensive lineman gets more leverage and power by getting low, it’s how battles are won in the trenches.

In hockey, particularly with the larger players, Eldredge is looking for players to get lower in their skating stance. Use all of the muscle groups in the legs, and practice long strides that generate more power with each step.

Balance was another thing that Eldredge harped on, which is both a natural and learned skill — some people are just naturally more balanced. That’s why we saw so many drills at development camp with players working to balance on one foot or adjusting weight quickly, those are exercises that add more stability to one’s skating ability.

Those things all contribute to a player’s overall speed. A player with average natural speed can look fast with proper technique, while a fast player can be uncatchable if they are getting the most out of each step.

“A lot of players can really take the next step in their game if they work on skating the way they work on their skills,” Eldredge said. “That’s what we are trying to teach them this week (at development camp). If you can’t skate, you can’t play in the NHL.”

The good news is you really only have to pass the time until September. Training camp and the Traverse City Prospect Tournament come in that month, so there will be hockey to talk about at that time.

Personally I’ve been watching several movies this summer when I’m not reading or writing. Spider-Man: Homecoming was really good, so was Baby Driver. Would highly recommend each of those movies. We got free tickets to see the new Transformers movie and it was very bad.

With the cap situation it would behoove the Stars to carry seven defenders and 13 forwards. The Stars are close to the cap heading into this season, and they can save space by carrying 22 players instead of 23 on the active roster. Never know when you need extra cap space in case of an injury.

Another case for seven defenders — from my understanding Rick Wilson likes to set his six defenders, have them win their roles and then he doesn’t make many changes. There won’t be constant in-and-out of the lineup, so the disappointment and brooding of two unhappy defenders could have a negative impact on the locker room.

It depends on what Antoine Roussel wants. He’s a player who I think is a very good role player, but he’ll want a raise after this season. How much of a raise is he going to want and will he be willing to give the Stars a bit of a hometown discount?

It’s one of those situations where I wish I had more clarity, but it’s a year away and it’s hard to get into Roussel’s head.

Radek Faksa can be a top-six center, and I think he’ll reach that level sometime within the next two seasons. Whether he’ll actually be in the top-six depends on the make-up of the lineup and how the coach decides to deploy his center.

I also think we need to re-define the so-called checking line. In today’s NHL all four lines need to play, and ice time isn’t as top-heavy as it used to be for the top lines. So while Faksa may be on the third line, that grouping often plays a similar role to the second line.

Jason Dickinson will have a chance to make the NHL roster this season, but it’s going to be difficult. With the Stars offseason moves there aren’t going to be many spots available for the younger kids, meaning the competition in training camp will be heated.

If Dickinson doesn’t make the team (and my gut says he starts in the AHL), he’ll be in the first call-up group competing with the likes of Denis Gurianov, Justin Dowling, Remi Elie, and Gemel Smith. Roope Hintz could be in that group of first call-up players, but let’s see what he does once the season starts.

Miro Heiskanen is playing in Finland next season because that’s where the Stars want him to play, it’s a bad answer but that’s the truth.

I asked Jim Nill about it and he said he’s comfortable with Heiskanen in Finland for another season before coming over to North America. Personally I would have him play in the AHL right away, Julius Honka went through a similar path and I think we are going to see the positive results of that this coming season.

Honka is going to be exciting to watch this season. Ideally he’s going to be in a spot where he can learn from his mistakes early in the season, and he’ll have a nice safety net with a veteran defenseman in Dan Hamhuis.

Honka has long-term potential to be better than Klingberg. They are both offensively gifted, but Honka plays with more defensive edge and can actually dominate the game in all three zones, I’m still not confident Klingberg can reach that level as a 200-foot player.

They’ll be more Honka in 3-on-3.

He’s a better player than Jiri Hudler and hopefully he won’t catch a weird virus.

Hudler wasn’t coming off a big year, so the Stars were taking a risk on his signing either way. Hanzal is less of a risk and has been playing well the past couple seasons, he’s also a better two-way player and on a whole makes the team better.

If not Marc Methot you’re going to see Dan Hamhuis or Esa Lindell paired with John Klingberg.

Klingberg should have a bounce back season. The question is how well he meshes with Ken Hitchcock and how quickly he buys into the defensive system.

Yes, the system should be much better. That was a big problem last season.

The biggest change is going to be on defense, where there will be more discipline and a more refined attention to detail. Ideally you won’t see defenders taking foolish takeout slides on a 2-on-1 (which was a Lindy Ruff staple) and defenders will be smarter about when and when not to join the play.

Good question, and good follow up to the prior question.

A lot of it comes down to positioning and the little parts of the game. Can Tyler Seguin stick with another team’s center in the defensive zone? Can he commit to tying a guy up with his stick and allowing his teammate to make a clearing play. It’s not going to be anything major, and they don’t need Seguin to hit people, it’s going to be the minor details that you’ll notice over time.

Alexander Radulov picked Dallas and he knows what he’s getting into, so I’m not overly worried about him and Hitchcock clashing. They could have their moments, but from everything I’ve heard Radulov isn’t a locker room issue and he was a positive influence on the Montreal roster last season.

Possibly, but if he is that hasn’t been decided. Having an official coach in waiting doesn’t work, it always leads to problems.

I didn’t know much about Jacob Peterson, and I was pleasantly surprised with his skill level. I’m not sure how well his game will translate to the NHL as he progresses, but he can do some creative things with the puck.

Jake Oettinger’s composure in net wasn’t necessarily a surprise, I had seen it in games, but I had never seen him practice before and didn’t know that he always has that same calmness in goal — even in a camp that essentially turns into a shooting gallery.

Going to take a cop out and go with the Stars top three picks from this draft class. Miro Heiskanen, Jake Oettinger, and Jason Robertson. Already felt like the Stars did a great job in the draft, development camp just helped drive that point home.

I like Joseph Cecconi’s game, I feel like he’s a forgotten prospect on defense and he’s a dark horse NHL option in two or three years. Nick Caamano also had a good camp, he’s going to be back in the OHL this season, but he looks like a player that could be a nice scorer in the AHL at the start of the 2018-19 season.

Jakob Stenqvist also impressed me this week, he’s playing in Sweden this coming season but is another defender to keep an eye on.

The defense should be very good in Traverse City. I expect Miro Heiskanen, Niklas Hansson, and Gavin Bayreuther all to head to the tournament, and that’s an elite blue line for that tournament.

The forward group will have some recognizable names in Roope Hintz and Nick Caamano, but their isn’t much depth there with the college prospects unable to attend (they will already be in school). So that should open the door for a couple tryout invites, including a couple players the Stars may be eying for AHL contracts.

The biggest question for me is in goal. Who will share the net with Landon Bow in Traverse City? Colton Point and Jake Oettinger will be in college, Markus Ruusu is supposed to be starting for his team in Finland, and Phil Desrosiers has already attended Traverse City a couple times. That likely leaves Bow playing the majority of the games with a free agent invite likely filling the other goalie spot on the roster.

Jim Nill did a nice job this offseason and he set himself up well to succeed in the coming offseasons. The salary cap situation sets up well for the Stars to give Tyler Seguin his big extension and, most importantly, it made the team better for the immediate future.

In general I don’t think Nill’s job security impacted his moves, with one exception and that’s the Ben Bishop deal. Personally my first choice was Scott Darling, and I think it was a nice move by the Caroline Hurricanes (who overall have done a nice job in the offseason) to bring in the former Chicago Blackhawks backup.

The Stars were in on the discussion for Darling and ultimately balked at the price. Instead they made the deal for Bishop, who has a longer track record as an NHL starter. Essentially the Stars went with the less riskier Bishop and passed on the higher risk, but higher potential reward (in my opinion) in Darling.

Bishop. I know I just talked about Darling being my first choice, but having a goalie that you can trust to stop the puck has such a calming influence on a team. I also think Bishop’s signing really got the ball rolling for the rest of the Stars offseason player acquisition — Dallas needed a hallmark move to get others attention, and signing Bishop did that for the likes of Radulov and Hanzal.

In my mind the ideal split in games played will be 55 for Bishop and 27 for Kari Lehtonen. That’s a number that should keep Bishop fresh for the playoffs, and keep Lehtonen playing every third or fourth game.

Overall I think it could be a very good pairing in goal. Lehtonen is a much better goalie in lower-pressure situations, some of his best moments have come when there was nothing on the line, and he should be able to adapt well to a back-up role.

Bishop could play 60-plus games, but I think scaling back his starts to the 50 or 55 range will keep him fresher and allow him to perform at a higher level behind a much improved defense.

And I do think Lehtonen will spend the entire season in Dallas.

That depends on how this season goes. How does Lehtonen play? How do the prospects do in the minor leagues?

If neither of the young goalies in the minors take a step forward and Lehtonen is interested in coming back on a short deal, I think you have to be consider it. Of course, this is a year away and lot of things can change.

Don’t believe it’s a curse, rather just a sign of what type of players are typically alternate captains.

Alternate captains tend to be veterans that have been in the league for a while, so their shelf life with a particular team isn’t very long.

At some point I would assume Dallas would be in an outdoor game, or at least in big spectacle game. Perhaps at Jerry world.

Here’s the thing, I don’t really think many offseason departures will be overly missed. Patrick Sharp was a good locker room presence, but the Stars have other veterans and younger players need to take a step forward.

This was always my fear with Cole Ully, I just don’t think he’s big enough to be an NHL player. He’s quick, but not quick enough to make up for his size and be an impact player in the NHL on a consistent basis.

The other thing with Ully is his production in the AHL. Whenever you watch him you see the natural offensive talents, but he hasn’t been able to translate that into a higher point output in the AHL.

I believe you mean Sheldon Dries. He’s on an AHL contract with the Texas Stars for this season, not overly noticeable in a good or bad way at development camp. I liked his game in college at Western Michigan, he can score goals and do a little bit of everything.

Quite a few players said they were surprised how much they were sweating just walking back to the hotel.

He’ll be a sophomore at Minnesota-Duluth.

It’s hard for the special teams to be any worse, frankly. The penalty kill was the NHL’s worst statistically since the 1993-94 season.

The power play should also take a nice step forward with Stu Barnes, and I think it won’t be so rigid and stuck in it’s ways (for example there won’t be a drop pass on every zone entry).

I don’t mind them keeping Curt Fraser on staff in the eye-in-the-sky role he’s going to play. Fraser’s biggest issue, in my opinion, were in-game adjustments and that will now be Barnes responsibility on the bench.

The Stars are a better team with Julius Honka in the lineup, his roster spot shouldn’t be dependent on Nemeth or Oleksiak.

Jake Oettinger has the best odds of reaching the NHL and having success, but he should be on the top of the list as a first-round pick.

After that I have a hard time putting down a definitive ranking. Even after seeing some of the prospects in person this week and talking with a couple people within the organization.

I think Landon Bow has the best chance to be the next NHL goalie, but I think that’s in a back-up role behind Ben Bishop. I also don’t mind the idea of a future goalie tandem of Oettinger and Markus Ruusu, who I think can be very good and is going to be playing in Finland’s top league this season.

Ruusu is still Stars property, teams have four years to sign draft picks with players drafted out of Europe.

It’s tough to make predictions this early since so many things have to play out. But if I were handicapping teams based on chances of making the playoffs, I’d list the Central Division teams in this order.

1. Nashville Predators
2. Dallas Stars
3. St. Louis Blues
4. Minnesota Wild
5. Chicago Blackhawks
6. Winnipeg Jets
7. Colorado Avalanche

It feels weird putting Chicago out of the playoff picture, but I look at the most recent cap crunch as the final downfall of their playoff run. Winnipeg also has potential to be a good team, but that’s something I need to see proven first.

Yes, I think both the Texas Stars and Dallas Stars will be in the playoffs. Both should be much improved.

He could be an NHL call-up this season, and he has the speed to be an NHL player. I just don’t see much of an opportunity for him in Dallas thanks to depth in front of him, so Gemel Smith might have to go to another franchise to be an every day NHL option.

Janmark has been skating this summer and has looked good so far, so that’s a good sign. Unfortunately we won’t have a true ideal of his effectiveness or how his knee will actually hold up until training camp starts.

On the defensemen question, I think you’ll see a waiver/trade move in late training camp to finalize the defense core.

Geographically it makes a ton of sense, but the Stars have been very happy with the Idaho Steelheads and all signs point to them continuing that relationship for the foreseeable future.

I’m not stepping into this fight…

I’m encouraged and hopeful it will work out well.

Personally I haven’t set expectations for finals or bust. I think this season is only a so-called failure if the Stars fail to make it out of the first round, that would be a disappointment.

Honestly, I just want a more solid official answer just like everyone else.

I’m going to ask Val this question in his first media availability after returning to the NHL.

Hard. Mint chocolate chip.

Guessing rainbow.

Who doesn’t?

Nope, that would be nice.


Send emails, Tweet, prove there is a market for it. If there is a market asking to buy something the team could sell they might grab hold of the idea, after all this is a business.

I feel like this a list better compiled in the season when all players and dogs are in town for proper analysis. Let’s visit it closer to the season.

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