STARS MAILBAG: Heiskanen, potential lines, and it’s game day in Traverse City

After five long months it’s finally game day.

No, the NHL team won’t have formal opening night until Oct. 6. But this afternoon at 3:30 ET (2:30 CT) the Dallas Stars prospects will face off against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first game of the Traverse City Prospects Tournament.

The game may be played in a small community rink in Northern Michigan, but the teams will be decked out in NHL jerseys and it’ll be our first chance to watch a couple exciting prospects in formal game action on North American ice.

And yes, you can watch at home. The games will be streamed on the Detroit Red Wings (the host for the tournament) website and on Fox Sports Go.

You can also count on coverage of the tournament from this site including recaps, features, notes, and even a podcast on location in Traverse City. It’s an exciting week and leads in perfectly to the start of NHL training camp next Friday in Cedar Park.

And with that, let’s get started with the mailbag…

On a team level it provides a slight forecast into the NHL future.

Winning or losing games in a prospect tournament isn’t going to determine how the NHL team will perform that season, but it does give us a taste of how individual prospects could pan out and how far along they are in their development path.

The Stars have actually only won the tournament in Traverse City once and that was back when Jamie Benn was a prospect and had a strong showing in the showcase.

“We had a really good team,” Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal said, who coached that prospects winning team when he was the coach of the ECHL-affiliated Idaho Steelheads. “Jamie Benn was the key part of that team and you saw what he did against his age group and it was obvious he was he’d be something special.”

So will this week determine which team wins the Stanley Cup in five years? No. Will it give us a list of names to keep a closer eye on? Yes.

Jeremy Brodeur isn’t a Dallas Stars prospect. He’s simply a free agent camp invitee and the Stars needed a second goalie. Landon Bow is going to get the majority of the playing time in Traverse City, and Brodeur is likely destined to sign a minor-league contract with an ECHL or AHL team this season.

Lines always change, so we do have to take any preseason combinations or quotes from the coach with a grain of salt.

That being said, we do have to assume that Martin Hanzal and Radek Faksa will play together at some point this season. There are some ideal benefits with them playing together — they are both defense-first centers that can play against the other team’s top forwards. It could be a true shutdown line, perhaps one of the better ones in the league.

But would that alignment be making the most of Faksa’s skills? Wouldn’t it be more ideal to have Faksa centering his own line and creating setup down the middle where two of your top-three lines can be trusted in any situation?

On top of that Hanzal and Faksa are both left-handed, so this isn’t a situation where you could have each player taking face-offs on their strong side. Hanzal is the Stars best center on face-offs, so he’ll take the draws. Faksa is very good on face-offs, but he won’t have a chance to take many this season if he’s playing with Hanzal.

There are situations where Hanzal and Faksa should be on the ice together. But those are need-based scenarios — the penalty kill, late defensive zone draws — and putting them on the same line might not be the optimal setup for Faksa longterm.

It’s going to be an interesting development that we’ll have to track in training camp and the preseason.

I didn’t do the interview so I didn’t get to ask the follow-up question or clarify which wing he meant. I’m planning on catching up with Hitchcock this weekend in Traverse City.

To answer the first part of the question, Spezza played right wing at times last season. He’s been on the left wing for fleeting moments in his career, but he was always a center before Lindy Ruff put him on the right wing last season.

Stars are stuck with Jason Spezza for better or worse. With his big contract and his age, moving him in a trade is a logistical nightmare. So the Stars have to hope he fits in the system.

Alexander Radulov could have a nice start to the season with his new team. I believe he’s going to have instant chemistry with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, and he brings a nice energy level to the game that others will feed of off.

It’s not necessarily a surprise, but I would also keep an eye on Antoine Roussel as a player that could put up some early offensive numbers and build off his body of work in France during the World Championships.

If Brett Ritchie is on the top line with Benn and Seguin, that would likely mean Alexander Radulov is on a line with either Martin Hanzal or Jason Spezza in the middle.

That wouldn’t be a bad thing and would create balanced set of of scoring lines for the Stars. I’m sure will see some form of this combination at least tested in the preseason.

Miro Heiskanen had stitches and he got hit in the mouth in Finland. That’s the most recent update from the Stars. We’ll likely get more details as we get closer to training camp.

If Miro Heiskanen is one of the Stars best six defenders in training camp he should be on the NHL roster on opening night, that’s at least how I would handle the situation.

In reality it’s close to a lock that Heiskanen ends up playing in Finland. It’s the easier decision and with his injury it becomes even easier to send him back to HIFK when training camp wraps up.

And the other reality is the Stars don’t have a solid plan B if Heiskanen makes the NHL team. They’ve proven that over the past two seasons that they can’t figure out what to do with extra defenders, and there isn’t a magic elixir that’s going to solve all their problems with one application.

Either way it feels like there is going to be a messy end to this overload of defenders. It’s either going to result in a trade that brings back minimal value, a frustrating waiver claim, or a sticky situation where a player is getting NHL money to play in Cedar Park with the Texas Stars.

That’s what happens when you aren’t a very good defensive hockey team.

Fifty-five games for Bishop. Close to 30 for Lehtonen.

In case you missed, the NHL is introducing a new rule this season. From now on, a failed offside challenge will result in a two-minute penalty against the team asking for the review. You also no longer lose a timeout if you lose the offsides challenge.

Overall I like the rule. I understand your concern with an inconclusive call turning into a penalty, but I think this gets us back to a better flow within the game. It also eliminates the practice of some coaches using a questionable challenge as an extra long timeout to rally their team.

That’s a question for someone with the team, but I will be doing my best to have lines and projected lineups from morning skates for preseason games here at Wrong Side of the Red Line.

If the Stars are doing well at the trade deadline, which is Feb. 26, and are a so-called buyer it might actually behoove them not to make a move. Sometimes the best moves are the ones you haven’t made and if Dallas is in an ideal position, it might make sense to stick with the group that they’ve relied on for the first five months of the season.

If the Stars are sellers at the deadline Tyler Seguin could be on the move. That wouldn’t be ideal, but it’s a possibility if things spiral out of control.

Danny Grant won the Calder Memorial Trophy in 1969 as a member of the Minnesota North Stars. Bobby Smith won it 10 years later in 1979, since then the organization hasn’t had a player named the NHL Rookie of the Year.

Mike Modano should have won Calder in 1990, but Sergei Makarov was named the NHL Rookie of the Year as a 31-year-old in his first NHL season.

That incident actually changed the rules. Players now must be 26 or younger on Sept. 15 of their rookie season to be considered a Calder candidate.

Yes, that’s the biggest thing for Val Nichushkin. He’s a potential all-world talent, but he needs to mature as both a player and a person before he can have that type of impact on the ice.

Jamie Benn would take the cup from Gary Bettman, hoist it, and then make the first pass of to back-up goalie Ben Bishop. It’s 2023, it’s the final year of Bishop’s contract and everyone knows he won’t be back with Jake Oettinger ready to be the full-time and undisputed starter during the 2023-24 season.

Hintz wins the Conn Smythe, while Julius Honka scores the cup-clinching goal in Game 6.

There is a parade in the streets and Denis Gurianov gives an eloquent speech, in perfect English, about how he and Val Nichushkin have become close friends over the years. Gurianov gives credit to Alexander Radulov, who re-signed a short contract during the 2022 offseason to continue playing on an all Russian line that terrorized opponents in the playoffs.

I understand the skepticism and I think it boils down to this fact — the Central Division is loaded this season. The St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Chicago Blackhawks, and Dallas Stars all look like playoff teams on paper. Even the Winnipeg Jets have potential to make the postseason and have a nice young core.

Someone has to miss the playoffs, and the Stars hot-and-cold stretch the last two seasons has more than merited some skepticism.

Overall the Stars could be undone by a poor start to the season. A rough month of October and November could raise tensions amongst the team, and could signal that players aren’t buying into Ken Hitchcock’s system.

There is also the injury question, can the Stars stay healthy? And if not, can they forge past those excuses and prove they’re actually a good team?

I grew up in a soccer house and played the game most of my life. Soccer was my favorite sport before I discovered hockey as a kid.

One of my earliest sports memories is going to a couple World Cup games in 1994 at Giants Stadium as a 5-year-old. We actually had season tickets for the New York/New Jersey Metrostars for the first couple MLS seasons.

I still watch quite a bit of soccer, particularly the English Premier League on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Haven’t really had a die-hard favorite team since Tab Ramos retired, but I am a bit of a Tottenham fan and watch most of their games.

I believe they have a separate radio signal (97.5 FM) for the in-arena crowd, which matches up well with the play.

Former Stars prospect Emil Molin is playing with Modo in Sweden’s second division. A fourth-round pick in 2011, Molin had one nice season with the Idaho Steelheads, scoring 46 points during the 2015-16 season, but he never adjusted to the speed of the AHL and returned to Sweden after one North American campaign.

That’s an interesting scale you’ve set there, because Jamie Benn and Patrik Stefan each had wildly different expectations as prospects. Benn was a fifth-round pick, Stefan was the first overall selection.

Because of that, Gurianov is closer to Stefan — that doesn’t mean he’s going to miss a wide-open empty net.

It just means that Gurianov is going to have high expectations as a first-rounder and hopefully he can live up to them.

You wouldn’t need a trade to land Andreas Athanasiou, who is in a bit of a cold war with the Detroit Red Wings and hasn’t been signed yet.

Since Athanasiou is an RFA the Stars, or any team for that matter, could submit an offer sheet and see if the Red Wings match it. This would likely cost the Stars a second-round pick, depending on the dollar amount.

Here is the full breakdown for RFA compensation:

$1,295,571 or less – No compensation
$1,295,571 to $1,962,968 – Third-round pick
$1,962,968 to $3,925,975 – Second-round pick
$3,925,975 to $5,888,960 – First and third-round picks
$5,888,960 to $7,851,948 – First, second and third-round picks
$7,851,948 to $9,814,935 – Two firsts, a second and third-round picks
Over $9,814,935 Four first-round picks

No promises, but I’ll see what I can do.

Dan Hamhuis, Adam Cracknell, and Antoine Roussel.

Not nearly as excited as you. It’s a good show. I’ll tune in from time to time. Personally I’m waiting for a re-boot of America’s Next Great Restaurant.

Does this count as a highlight?

I try my best to improve everyday. Today I’m feeling great, I get to watch hockey in September. Hopefully as a group we can all be awesome throughout the season.

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