There’s a certain beauty to preseason hockey and Monday’s home tilt against the Colorado Avalanche was filled with a unique elegance that is rarely seen in something so chaotic and unpredictable.
While the 3-1 loss was a similar story to many frustrating Stars games last season – plenty of chances but no execution – it’s hard not to see the glamour in this season’s potential and that’s easy to do when the losses don’t actually count.
Everything is in front of Dallas right now. Every team is sitting at 0-0 and the majority of the league has realistic aspirations of reaching the holy mountaintop that is lifting the Stanley Cup.
While it might sound trite, there is no denying that if you can make the playoffs — half the league does — that anything can happen from there.
So despite Dallas ending the preseason 0-3 at home, the budding potential of some of the Stars’ emerging prospects was on full display.
Look no further than the 2018 first-round pick Nils Lundkvist.
Somehow, the New York Rangers were done experimenting and didn’t have room for him. It makes you wonder if the Rangers’ accelerated success the past couple of seasons truncated their patience with him.
The Stars do have the patience to see him develop and that is clear by what they gave up for him – a first-round pick in next year’s draft and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2025 that becomes a third-round pick if Lundkvist has 55 total points in the next two seasons.
Let’s start with what Lundkvist has shown in his handful of preseason games so far. The 22-year-old scored two goals on one-timer slapshots — both of which have come on power plays (technically not Monday as the power play had just ended.) The thirst for another power-play specialist to run the second unit while Miro Heiskanen takes his rightful place on the top unit is a major reason why Dallas traded for him in the first place.
Check out these two nukes:
And tonight’s goal was just a nasty one-timer from the blue line.
Longtime rearguard John Klingberg is gone. Dallas was hurting for a mobile, offensive-minded, and perhaps most importantly right-handed defenseman. With Klingberg departing for Anaheim, the Stars were left with a massive hole on the right side. Besides Lundkvist, Jani Hakanpaa was the only right-handed defender left on the roster. Dallas did add Colin Miller from Buffalo to also address that hole, but Lundkvist already looks like exactly what the Stars needed.
In his limited time with the Stars, his speed, mobility, and shot have been the headlines, but the decisive play he’s exhibited doesn’t reflect the perceived inexperience that the Rangers seemed to have seen.
He’s jumped into several rushes and counterattacks and hasn’t been caught out of position too many times on the defensive end. Obviously, his defense will be a tad harder to analyze as it’s typically the glaring mistakes that tend to sound the alarms. So far, he’s been sturdy on the back end and that brings us back to Klingberg.
An oversimplification of Lundkvist’s game is referring to him as John Klingberg-lite. As great as Klingberg was on offense, his defensive game suffered because of it sometimes and there were too many errors coming from a top-pair defenseman.
Klingberg has already made some comments about the defensive philosophy the Stars used to employ and Klingberg’s game is suited for a run-and-gun style team. While I wouldn’t categorize the Ducks as high-octane, they’re certainly more in his wheelhouse than the 2021-22 version of the defensive-minded Stars.
So that begs the question: what should the Stars be expecting from him? A nice foundation for him to start from would be a 10+ goal season and a plus player. That’s where Klingberg never seemed to fit with past iterations of the Stars. His offense never appeared to outweigh his defensive mistakes.
That was not always his problem though. Klingberg was tasked with playing top minutes against the opposition’s best players and while he held his own, it became clear that his risky ways did not sit well with management and fans.
Whether Lundkvist will suffer the same fate as Klingberg will be seen in due time, but what we have seen from him offensively in his short tenure puts a whole new shine on this year’s defensive corps.
- Wyatt Johnston showed a shoot-first mindset on the Stars’ first power play and the Stars were making a point to pass quickly and change the point of attack. Dallas is going to need all the playmakers and shot-takers they can get this season after ranking 21st in the NHL in goals scored.
- Fredrik Olofsson flashed some jump throughout the game but was tagged for a questionable holding penalty midway through the second period. If you’re getting 10 minutes a night, taking dumb penalties is not a way to earn one of the last few spots on the roster. I don’t think the Stars are considering keeping him up in the NHL, but this preseason experience is invaluable for him regardless.
- Jake Oettinger, who was spectacular all night with 27 saves of 29 Colorado shots, made a great glove save on Cale Makar late in the Olofsson penalty. He was patient and positionally sound all night and he plays and looks calm for someone that just signed a massive contract. The two goals he surrendered to Artturi Lehkonen came in a similar fashion as Lehkonen found a soft spot in the Stars’ defense in the slot and quickly ripped his shot on goal.
- Jacob Peterson has been outstanding this preseason. He made a great defensive play at end of the penalty to stifle a good scoring chance for the Avs. Peterson is going to play some crucial minutes in the Stars’ top nine. I say top nine because I think he’ll get some of the minutes Denis Gurianov was getting in the top six last season. Gurianov is at a very pivotal juncture in his career. Gurianov potted 11 goals last season, but we all know he’s capable of much more than that. Furthermore, he’s going to have to fix his defense this season. People thought it was former head coach Rick Bowness who didn’t like him, but it was more about his inability to make the sound defensive play when it mattered. Too many times Gurianov couldn’t get the puck out of the zone when the Stars were under duress and if he does that again this season, he will be seeing third and fourth-line minutes, especially if he continues to struggle to put the puck in the net.
- New addition Mason Marchment played on a line with Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski and Marchment showed some intoxicating play as the third period progressed. The Stars most likely won’t break up the line of Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, and Joe Pavelski, but it’s good to see Marchment fill in on the top line. He gives the Stars the flexibility to make tweaks to their line combinations, especially on the road when the Stars don’t have last change. Prime Milan Lucic with the Boston Bruins comes to mind as a power forward who could hit and score with the best of them and the Stars have missed another player like that (besides Jamie Benn of course) in their system for a long time. I noticed Marchment looking comfortable behind the net and the Avs had trouble getting the puck from him while he boxed them out and let his teammates cycle for a chance.
- Dallas fell to 2-3 in the preseason and despite registering 39 shots, the Stars could not find their groove on the power play as they officially went 0-for-5. They were at times too tentative and that need to find the perfect play plagued the Stars all last season. Sometimes peppering the goalie with shots is just as effective as the ideal play. That said, Colorado goalie Pavel Francouz was very sturdy for the Avs, stopping 38 of 39. The Stars got him into scramble mode several times, but they could never get the puck into the most dangerous positions or past the Colorado defensemen building a wall in front of him.
There are still two road preseason tilts left to play. Dallas will face Colorado again on Wednesday and Minnesota on Saturday. The last few roster spots still seem very much up for grabs, but one thing is for sure, Nils Lundkvist should have fans quickly forgetting about John Klingberg.