This 2011-2012 season for the Dallas Stars has been one of growth and new beginnings. A team that was picked by many to dwell in the cellar is right in the middle of everything and has been a fun team to watch. From new ownership, to younger guys stepping into bigger roles, to new faces contributing, and to the team starting to feel like their really will be a strong future ahead. It has been enjoyable because although they positional-wise might be around where they have been at times the last couple of seasons, we have seen glimpses that show us that things are changing in Dallas. In the midst of all of this, the Stars have taken on a new title: Pesky Stars. And leading the charge is one man that might just be one of the feistiest players in the NHL.
Steve Ott is not a new face to the faithful of Dallas. But what the team is getting from him over recent seasons is. “Otter” is one of the last Dallas Stars of a past generation. Drafted in 2000, Ott came at the end of the glory years of Stars’ teams of the past, and since then he has been with the team during the rough seasons. Starting in 2002, Otter became a staple of the Stars roster. But for a former 1st rounder he fit into a different role. Ott quickly became one of the best agitators and pests in the league, and started earning a reputation as one of the players that guys love to play with and hated playing against.
But after a few seasons in the NHL (and one in the AHL during the lock-out), things started to change. While he continued to pile up penalty minutes and regular run-ins with the best in hockey, he was still nothing more than a 3rd line forward on a team going through some rough seasons. In the 2008-09 season he started to finally show his offensive side at the NHL level. While he averaged over a point-per-game in his OHL days with the Windsor Spitfires (twice topping 40 goals in three seasons), his offensive numbers in the NHL never amassed to more then a handful of goals and maybe 15-25 points. But in his 6th season in with the Stars he contributed 46 points (19G, 27A) in 64 games and he started working his way onto the 2nd powerplay unit. While still one of the grittiest (or dirtiest, depending on who you ask) players around, we started to see is wildness come with a little control and some offensive skills begin to shine through. And at a perfect time too. With the NHL slowly changing and moving into a new era with player safety and senseless physicality among the chief concerns, the days of the agitators and fighters of the old NHL are dwindling. We still have tough guys and scrappers, but the lifespans of players that can’t skate and contribute are starting to greatly decrease. And Steve Ott has quietly fit right into this transition.
Once a guy known for only stirring up the pot and getting in other’s faces, Otter has transitioned into a valuable NHL commodity. When the Stars signed him to a four year deal for $2.95 million a season in 2010, some questioned the deal and the amount of money Dallas was willing to give him. But “green” GM Joe Nieuwendyk said he was becoming a “versatile offensive player and he makes us a harder team to play against.” And currently I can’t help but praise Joe for keeping him around when some thought he wasn’t worth it. He has only continued to grow and take on larger roles with the team. Now the former bottom-six scrapper is one of the players that nightly leads the 2011-12 Dallas Stars. He has shown the ability to be a guy that can give 40-50 points a season while playing in any situation you want him to, and he will try to make an impact every shift.
He has transitioned from winger to center, and become one of the team’s top faceoff guys over the last couple of seasons. He regularly plays on both the powerplay and penalty kill units. And while the penalty minutes are still there, we have seen the “dumb and stupid” penalties start to disappear at times and his fight numbers nearly disappear. First year coach Glen Gulutzan has relied on him to still be that spark the team needs, but now he is doing it while playing top six minutes and with a little wisdom. The former young firecracker has found a way to become a leader and glue for this “Pesky Stars” team and embodies everything they are about. And if I had a way to tap into GM Joe, I’d make sure that Ott continues to be an integral part of this franchise for some years to come. Because while the patch on his shoulder might be an “A” currently, I wouldn’t have any problem with an otter being the future captain of the Dallas Stars.