What to Expect from Pete DeBoer: A Comprehensive Breakdown

Jan 4, 2022; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Vegas Golden Knights head coach Pete DeBoer is pictured during the third period against the Nashville Predators at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 4, 2022; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Vegas Golden Knights head coach Pete DeBoer is pictured during the third period against the Nashville Predators at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports /

Pete DeBoer has been hired as the new head coach for the Dallas Stars on a four-year deal and spoke to the media for the first time on June 22. Based on what was said, here’s a summary of expectations for next season. All quotes are from the media session on Bally Sports Southwest.

Pete DeBoer Expectations: New Style of Play

A large part of DeBoer’s remarks centered around a new style of play. He emphasized that he wants to keep the Stars defensive strengths but also said “I don’t think it’s a secret we want to unlock some of the offensive game to this group.”

And it’s not a secret. The Stars scoring woes are nothing new, but the new coach seems determined to make a system-wide change to fix this. He wants to start with all six defensemen getting involved in the offensive zone and does not want one defeseman with 80 points and the rest with a few.

It’s worth noting that Rick Bowness used to urge the defensemen to get involved in the rush in media sessions as well. But when it came to games, offensive pairings and opportunities were restrained. It’s up to DeBoer to turn his words into action now.

The Stars have had a defensive identity for several seasons now, but it started to unravel last season especially when faced with defending 1-goal leads. And maybe that was the problem, they focused on defending the lead instead of increasing it. It will be interesting to see if this changes with a more purposefully offensive style.

Regarding this new style of play, he said, offense starts with “being able to get out of your own zone clean, getting through the neutral zone with speed, and then playing in the offensive zone.”

Extrapolating from this, a hope would be a significant reduction of the dump-and-chase style Dallas is used to. Clean zone exits and speed through the neutral zone also speaks to strengths of players like Roope Hintz. If this is an emphasis of the new style, then elevating your best players should also better the team.

Pete DeBoer Expectations: Miro Heiskanen

Speaking of the best players, DeBoer spoke very highly of Miro Heiskanen at his introductory press conference. While praising his abilities and established skill, he said “[Miro’s] got a whole ‘nother layer that he’s going to be able to develop here… the sky’s the limit.”

That’s the key with Heiskanen. DeBoer called him a difference maker, but for practically his entire NHL career he has been used at his high floor rather than shooting for his ceiling. And according to DeBoer, “the sky’s the limit” for his ceiling.

In order to make a difference most effectively, the best players need to be supported in positions to succeed. Despite being relied on heavily, Heiskanen has still found ways to do so. It’s in the Stars best interest to allow the best player to unlock his full skillset. It is an expectation now that the defense will allow Heiskanen to unleash his untapped offensive potential. Perhaps he will even be allowed to play on his strong side again, but that was not addressed specifically.

Pete DeBoer Expectations: Age is Just a Number

DeBoer spoke highly of the veterans on the team including Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, who he called “world class players.” He repeated the phrase “age is just a number” twice which points to high expectations for them. With proper utilization, a resurgent Benn and Seguin would ease the offensive struggles of the Stars.

On a team comprised of experienced players, this indicates that he may want considerable contributions from them. This could be good for players like Seguin recovering from injury, but it will be important to not neglect the younger talent as well. Optimizing these older players and their hockey IQ with younger talent and speed could work very well — just see the top ‘Pavs and Sons’ line.

Pete DeBoer Expectations: Development

“The only criteria for me was that I was working with good people and had a chance to win a Stanley Cup.” DeBoer is in win now mode and did not want to go to a rebuilding team. The Stars organization is always in that mode if ‘win now’ means making the playoffs and hoping anything can happen.

With certain contracts aging poorly and the younger core developing, the Stars do not currently have the roster on paper to win the cup. But the desire to win from DeBoer will hopefully push the Stars into playoffs position more comfortably rather than waiting until the last few games of the season.

He commented on Dallas’ exciting young prospects that have the potential to be difference makers. A couple notable names include Mavrik Bourque, who is currently playing for the Memorial Cup, and Wyatt Johnston who was named the OHL’s most outstanding player of the season.

General manager Jim Nill’s philosophy remains “the key for young players is they’ve got to play.” The new coach will need to evaluate this influx of young talent and players developing at the NHL level, such as Thomas Harley and Jacob Peterson, and see if they can play. With this urgent mentality, if the coach does not think he can trust them they’ll either be sent to the minors or back to juniors.

DeBoer contemplated which young player’s development he’s most proud of. Timo Meier was an easy answer as a high draft pick making a name for himself. But he spoke most on Kevin Labanc, a former sixth round pick for the Sharks. A poor development camp followed by the coaching staff putting in hours to develop a legitimate player in this league is what DeBoer was proud of.

The Stars know late round picks and the importance of developing them. Two of the most influential leaders on the team are John Klingberg and Jamie Benn, both former fifth round picks. A hope would be that DeBoer can help a struggling young player such as Denis Gurianov get his groove back. How he can strike a balance of development with his ‘win now’ mentality remains to be seen.

Pete DeBoer Expectations: Goaltending

While the rest of the coaching staff needs to be hired, it seems like Jeff Reese and Kelly Forbes will remain with the Stars as DeBoer expressed excitement about them. This is key for Jake Oettinger as he has a strong relationship with Reese and has taken great strides under his coaching.

When asked about the Vegas goalie situation, DeBoer reflected on the tough decisions he had to make going into the bubble choosing Robin Lehner as the starter and the next season choosing Marc-André Fleury to start. He shed light on how he will approach goaltending in Dallas by stating “I’m going to make the decision that’s best that will win us the game that night.”

The theme of making the best decision to win an individual game was recurring. Decisions that the coach thinks are best but may not be popular should be expected.

In regard to Oettinger specifically, he claimed he’s “really excited, but like all young goalies you’ve got to temper that.” DeBoer applauded his strong playoffs performance but the key will be for the coach and team to keep foundation and structure around him so that he can build on his success each year.

There was tension especially towards the end of last season with regard to the way DeBoer spoke about an injured Lehner in the media. It’s fair to be cautious of his approach with the Stars goalies but the words on helping Oettinger build each year is hopefully a positive sign.

Pete DeBoer Expectations: Communication Style

“I understand now the importance of getting relationships with players quickly, making sure your leadership group is involved in all the important decisions with your team.” With a leadership group as seasoned as the Stars’, it makes sense that they would be included in vital decision making. Joe Pavelski was even part of the head coach process when it came to DeBoer specifically, according to Nill.

“There’s no agendas other than what’s best to help us win a game that night… as long as that message is consistent the players respond.” The weight given to doing what’s best to win a game that night appears again. It seems clear that he intends to optimize the team each game in what he determines is the best possible way.

Upon reflection of his exit from Vegas, DeBoer mused “there’s always things you can do better.” He has strong ideas on how he wants to improve this Stars team in every aspect. Only time will tell how that goes.