Apr 21, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars right wing Valeri Nichushkin (43) skates against the Anaheim Ducks during the third period in game three of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at American Airlines Center. Nichushkin scores a goal in the second period. The Stars shut out the Ducks 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Stars' Top Line: Hemsky or Nichushkin?

Welcome to the month of September! Here at Blackout Dallas, we’re happy to see the final hockey-free month fade into the rearview mirror as we welcome the coming season. After months of debate and speculation, hockey fans league-wide finally get the chance to debate and speculate while also watching preseason hockey!

For all the signings, trades, extensions and retirements that come with summer in the NHL, it’ll never beat the thrill of actually watching one’s team in action.

Fortunately, the Dallas Stars have had what most agree is an exceptional offseason, addressing major needs while preserving precious cap space for coming years. However, that’s not to say there won’t be question marks as the Stars open training camp on Sept. 12. Which Cedar Park prospects will become regular contributors? Who’s the back-up goalie? Chief amongst fans, though, is the matter of the top forward line. It’s indisputable fact that Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn will make up two-thirds, but will the missing piece be sophomore Valeri “Nuke” Nichushkin or newcomer Ales Hemsky?

Successful line combinations and team chemistry typically develop organically, although head coach Lindy Ruff is a master of wringing production out of rotating combos. It’s natural to assume that Nichushkin gets the opening day nod: he held his own on a top line that produced the majority of offense last year. Similarly, Hemsky already has an established repertoire with second line center Jason Spezza. If it ain’t broke, why tamper?

Well, it’s important to remember how young Nuke is. He is really, really young. Eighteen year-olds don’t normally suit up with the top club for 79 games in their rookie year. When the Stars drafted him tenth overall in 2013, it was almost a given that he would play for Dallas immediately, given that Russia’s KHL was beckoning if he was sent to the minors (talk about baptism by fire). His game is raw, in the sense that a diamond needs polishing. He has a nose for the goal, as well as incredible burst on the rush. But he has frequently found himself out of place on offensive sequences, and is guilty of the forgivable rookie mistake of just trying to do too much.

Hemsky comes to Dallas after a stint (and rebirth of sorts) in Ottawa. Prior to that, he spent ten-plus seasons with the Edmonton Oilers. After topping 70 points in two of his first five NHL seasons, the latter five in Edmonton were marred by injury, some finger-pointing, and general dissatisfaction on the part of the fans and media. However, he honed his craft as a player’s player. Selfless, swift, and often surprising, he can play to compliment just as well as he can play to kill. He’s healthy again, and he can play with Spezza off he rip. Actually, he can play with anybody off the rip.

Come October, though, I’ll be surprised if Hemsky doesn’t get a little time with Benn and Seguin. He’s a proven scorer, and is a premier puck-possession player. There isn’t a need for a flashy game-changer who takes risks. There’s a need for a skill player who can clean up when needed, and who can surrender to the needs of the team. This is by no means a slight on young Val; I only mean to say that his yet-unrefined game is perhaps better suited with the second line, where he can bring an element of surprise as his skills start to shine.

As the preseason begins, we’ll be treated to the molding of the 2014 edition of the Dallas Stars. Who would you use to round out the top line? Thanks for reading, and feel free to comment!

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