The Dallas Stars entered the 2019 preseason looking for one of their bubble forwards to clinch a spot on the roster. With one preseason game remaining, however, a decision has yet to be made (or forced, for that matter).
The general consensus among Stars fans and media members was that 11 forward spots had been claimed on the roster, leaving a starting spot and 1-2 healthy scratch spots up for grabs. But which players would make a play at and eventually secure those spots? The options seemed endless.
After signing their first NHL contracts with the Stars during the 2018-19 season, Joel Kiviranta and Tye Felhaber looked to be potential challengers. By another token, veterans like Denis Gurianov and Justin Dowling who both served in stints with Dallas during the 2018-19 campaign looked to be near the front of the line. Finally, recent draft picks like Ty Dellandrea and Jason Robertson seemed to have built up enough potential and hype in their OHL performances to take a swing at a roster spot.
The list of potential suitors was stocked, and each player had a valid argument to be considered. And while training camp offered each forward a springboard, the seven-game preseason slate set the stage for the actual push to begin.
But here the Dallas Stars sit with just six days separating them from the beginning of their 2019-20 regular season, and they don’t seem to be much closer to solidifying their offensive lineup. Thursday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild further highlighted that.
“Not really,” Stars coach Jim Montgomery said when asked if any forwards on the bubble stood out in the game. “You would’ve liked to have seen a little more of a spark and energy. I think our fourth line was minus-2 tonight.”
Monty has posed a similar response after each of the Stars’ six preseason games, and for good reason. A “bubble forward” has yet to step up or stand out through preseason action, and that’s forcing management and the coaching staff to take matters into their own hands.
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After opening up training camp with a 63-player roster, only 29 players remain on the Dallas Stars roster as of Friday morning. It’s likely that there will be even less by Friday night as the Stars continue working towards their 23-player group for opening night.
Ty Dellandrea didn’t make a sincere impact in his preseason appearances, so he was sent back to the OHL on Wednesday morning. Joel Kiviranta and Joel L’Esperance were involved in the same round of cuts as both were loaned to the Texas Stars. Tye Felhaber made it through the first week of the preseason before being sent down to the AHL.
So while no forward has necessarily stepped up and solidified their spot on the Dallas roster, some have outperformed others. But there is still work to be done.
Considering that there are realistically 20 roster spots already accounted for on the Dallas Stars roster, only 2-3 spots are still seemingly up for grabs. One of those is a starting spot on offense. And that’s where the final few bubble players come into the fold, including Nick Caamano, Jason Robertson, Denis Gurianov, Justin Dowling, and Rhett Gardner.
Throughout a stale and primarily uneventful 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night, that group once again failed to step up. While Gardner spent the night as a healthy scratch, Robertson was awarded a spot on the second line alongside two NHL starters in Jason Dickinson and Joe Pavelski. Caamano, Dowling, and Gurianov composed the fourth line and ended up being on the ice for both goals against while only generating two shots.
Gurianov has now played in five of the Stars’ six preseason contests and has no points and a -6 rating to show for it. Caamano has also skated in five games, logging zero points and a -3 rating. Dowling has dealt with an injury for half of the preseason and skated in his third game on Thursday night. And while he has scored a goal (an overtime winner against the Wild last week), his -3 rating also sticks out. Robertson now has four games under his belt and only has a -2 rating to show for it.
The only consistency between the bubble forwards through six games has been inconsistency. And when no one steps up and takes control of their own destiny, that responsibility is left to the coaching staff.
“We need someone to go out and grab it, you know?” Montgomery told Jeff Odom of DallasStars.com on Monday. “Not disappointed, but not overly excited either. People gotta step up.”
Sure, the Dallas Stars offense as a whole has been lacking throughout the preseason. Through six games, the Stars have only scored seven goals. They have been shut out in two games and have only scored once in two games at the American Airlines Center. If it weren’t for a strong, top-to-bottom effort from the goaltending department, Dallas would likely be worse off than their record of 3-3-0.
But an NHL preseason is about focusing on individual performances and efforts more than anything. Players are trying to make the cut on certain rosters and work their way up the depth chart in order to be in the best position by the time the season begins. That starts and ends with their efforts during the preseason.
As of right now, the bubble forwards can’t seem to get their individual play to the expected level. So where does that leave the team with one preseason game remaining and opening night less than one week away?
Well, it leaves them with another tough decision to make.
Should Dallas take the experience route and award the final roster spots to Dowling and Gurianov? That seems like the most logical option at this point. But the Stars have also shown an openness to giving their young talent opportunities at the NHL level, so could Robertson, Caamano, and Gardner also be logical options?
That’s something that the Stars will have to take into account and weigh over the next few days.
On Sep. 13, an opportunity to secure an NHL roster spot presented itself to a handful of Dallas Stars prospects. And through two weeks, none of them have made an incredibly convincing argument to be considered for said spot(s). While that’s disappointing, it has to be dealt with properly.
Saturday night’s preseason finale against the Colorado Avalanche will provide one final opportunity for these bubble forwards to make their case. There’s also a chance that a few of them won’t even make it past Friday afternoon (depending on if the Stars plan to make another round of cuts).
But Dallas has a definite number that they must continue working towards, and that includes making a few more roster decisions.
And if the forwards still vying for a spot aren’t making the decisions easy through their play, it’s going to be up to the Stars to make the correct one.