Ryan Garbutt finished the 2013-14 season third on the Dallas Stars in goals, behind only Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. After scoring only five goals in his previous 56 games, the former Brown University product exploded for 17 goals in 75 games and three more in the playoffs, but can he do it again?
Playing consistently alongside line mates Cody Eakin and Antoine Roussel for the majority of the season, the trio found their niche on the team with a fast and aggressive style that was able to get under the skin of the opposition. Garbutt has blazing speed, and showcased it again and again to get not only behind the defense but to the front of the net, showing that he has the ability to score on the rush or from the “dirty” areas in front of the crease.
Due to the Stars lack of a true second line, the Eakin-Garbutt-Roussel trio often would get matched up against the opponent’s top line in a checking capacity. Garbutt was the only one of the three able to finish the season with a positive plus/minus rating (plus 10). Garbutt was able to prove that he could consistently score, recording only two multi goal games, with 15 of his 17 goals coming at even strength (along with two shorthanded goals). The fact that the line generated a combined 47 goals against some of the opposition’s top players proves that all three can contribute offensively for Dallas.
But can Garbutt repeat or exceed those offensive contributions in 2014? The Stars addressed their clear lack of a second line with the acquisitions of Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky in early July. They now have a top six that features Seguin, Benn, Spezza, Hemsky, Valeri Nichushkin and what figures to be Erik Cole. The opponents will have their hands full matching up with whoever the Stars roll out with their first and second lines. Coach Lindy Ruff has shown no qualms about his guns going head to head with the best the opposition has to offer and there is little doubt that will change.
Ideally this leaves Garbutt and his line mates the opportunity to match up with the opponents third and fourth lines. Seeing what he was able to accomplish against the opponent’s top two lines last season, what reason is there to doubt that he can’t duplicate his production this upcoming season against lesser competition? Another year in Ruff’s system means that Garbutt should be more comfortable with where and when to be certain places on the ice at certain times. There is also the added benefit of consistently playing alongside the same teammates, which can’t be overstated. That familiarity with both the system and his line mates should lead to Garbutt being able to truly play hockey instead of having to think about playing hockey, something that has plagued many an NHL grinder type.
I’m no Vegas odds maker, but I wouldn’t bet against Garbutt. Keep in mind that this is a player who went undrafted, worked his way up the professional hockey ladder from the Central Hockey League through the American Hockey League who is now on his second NHL contract (3 years, $5.4 million). He seems to rise to each challenge presented to him and after notching 17 goals in 2013 it wouldn’t be surprising if we see Garbutt break the 20 goal barrier in 2014.
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