It was a big move and a gamble. Trading a fan-favorite and important piece in Steve Ott for the offensively gifted and dangerous Derek Roy. Not only with the fan reaction and change in culture by moving someone like Ott, but bringing in Roy who has had recent injury issues and then a rough season last year with the Buffalo Sabres (but just about all of their players had a tough year). The end result was adding a top-six offensive player that could be a part of the future if the team wants him to be and bringing in someone that adds firepower to the line-up near the top.
But just a couple of weeks later Roy had surgery and we all learned that the deal might not be all it looked like it was cracked up to be. While Roy is a great talent to add and he definitely could fill the 2nd line center spot, it now appears he could be out until November and that seems like a best case scenario. So now the Dallas Stars are at least for the short-term dealing with the center issue again. Traditional winger Jamie Benn is being used as the top center and has at times been fine with the transition, but still seems more comfortable on the wing. Now their only true top-six center is out for part of the year and will likely be adjusting to a new team and trying to catch up with the rest of the team until possibly Christmas time.
So what do the Stars do in the meantime? The wings look good with Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney joining Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder, and if he can at least return and stay healthy then Brenden Morrow provides another great option that could play on any of the top three lines. But the issue with who will center what lines is now an issue again. The wings look solid, but there is a big gap at center on the 2nd line for at least a couple months.
Cody Eakin was brought in via the Mike Ribeiro trade, and while many speak highly of his skating abilities and that he could potentially turn into a top-six option, he is still only 21-years old with a total of 30 games at the NHL level. He will likely start the season with the Stars at the NHL level, but for the immediate future Eakin looks like a 3rd line player that might at times jump up to the 2nd line if he takes thing in stride this season. While he appears to be a nice, young player that could be part of the future, he doesn’t appear ready to become the 2nd line center so soon with a brand new team.
Vernon Fiddler returns for his 2nd season in Dallas after an up-and-down first season. The veteran center had a great start to the season offensively as the 3rd line took-off after Eric Nystrom was added, but down the stretch the line was on the ice for many goals against and looked tired. Fiddler fits that mold though as a 3rd line center and bottom-six key member. He doesn’t bring a lot offensively but can add a little and know how to play in his own end. But could Vern be the answer on the 2nd line? Again not likely. His skills and talents fit the 3rd line and even an unproven Eakin might be a better option simply because of his skating abilities and offensive upside.
Maybe the wildcard is Tom Wandell. Like Eakin, he has better skating abilities than Fiddler and many of the bottom-six guys. But Wandell has been a interesting player over the last few seasons. The skills might be there to be a top-six forward, but the pieces have yet to click. After posting 15 points in 50 games in his extended NHL action during the 2009-10 season, Wandell has floated around multiple lines while only putting up 24 points 147 games. He physically has a little more size than Fiddler and Eakin, which could help him. But right now Wandell appears to be a wildcard that the Stars decided to give one more chance to. The skill-set looks like more that that of a career 4th liner and his skating abilities alone belong near the top for current forwards. But at some point things offensively and with the puck have to blossom, or he could be a fringe player that spends his career bouncing between lower lines. With more experience than Eakin and a bit more size and skill than Fiddler, he could be the short-term option and if he takes off could finally have a strong season.
Past those three, the next option might be prospect and former 1st round pick Scott Glennie. He and Eakin are the same age, but Glennie has yet to see serious NHL action and only had his first pro season last year with the Texas Stars of the AHL. He had a rough start to the year, but his offense picked up as the season went along as he finished with 37 points in 70 games. The forward has mostly played right wing, but has played some center over the years and in juniors. But it seems unlikely, even with him looking sharp at the recent development camp, that his first NHL action will be as the 2nd line center. He could make the opening day roster, but it is far more likely to be in a 3rd line/depth role to start out if he does.
So who takes the spot? With a good camp and early season showing, the best option could be Wandell. But at the current moment that appears to be a big question mark, and a wildcard filling a big question-mark spot as the 2nd line center might not be the best option if the coaching staff is more comfortable with Fiddler or if Eakin takes off and surpasses Wandell. In the end the Stars have to find out something by the start of the season and have one of these guys step up. If not they might not be able to repeat their recent strong starts and having to wait for Roy might look like a questionable move.