Only two more days until hockey writers can finally stop reminding the reader how close the start of the season is. The Dallas Stars will take to the ice on Thursday in Cedar Park to open training camp for the 2023-24 season.
In preparation, let’s highlight one question for each player entering this new season. We won’t hit on every player listed on the official 60-man camp roster the Stars put out on Monday — apologies in advance to the Solag Bakich fans — but we’ll get to those who are a lock, or known to be battling for a spot. We’ll begin with the forwards today and hit the defensemen and goaltenders later this week.
Jamie Benn: Can the production of last season be repeated/sustained?
Among last year’s collection of exciting storylines for the Stars, Benn’s resurgence — the Bennaissance, as it’s casually known in Dallas — was near the top of the list. After four consecutive subpar seasons, frustrating team ownership and Stars fans alike, the longtime Stars captain was a version of his vintage self. He scored 78 points in 82 games and helped solidify one middle-six line for the Stars.
The circumstances won’t be much different for Benn this season. He’s still expected to be paired with stud 20-year-old Wyatt Johnston, and likely Evgenii Dadonov at the other winger position. He’s still expected to be on the first power-play unit with a star-studded cast. But Benn is a power forward who will now be another year older. It will be interesting to see how much longer his body can hold up, and how much Pete DeBoer’s system can squeeze out of it.
Tyler Seguin: How high can he build the post-injury chapter of his career?
Seguin’s 2022-23 campaign is hard to judge definitively because, even though he was removed enough from the 2020 injury to finally be in good health, the Stars could never put the pieces around him. As much as the dialogue was about finding that third piece, the second piece, Mason Marchment, wasn’t exactly reliable either.
Matt Duchene’s arrival should help things significantly, as well as the eventual emergences of Logan Stankoven and Mavrik Bourque. There will be options to surround Seguin with better talent; it will be up to him to raise his game consistently for his part, similar to how he did when filling in for the top line a couple of times last season.
Tyler Seguin’s evolution has been key for the Stars and shows he’s still ‘got it’ https://t.co/lmmLSUQ6Zc
— Saad Yousuf (@SaadYousuf126) April 28, 2023
Roope Hintz: Is there another step or two left or is this his climax?
Age in sports is funny. Hintz turns 27 in a couple of months, which is young by life standards but starting to cross into the back end of a player’s prime in hockey. Since he fought through a major hip injury admirably in 2021, Hintz’s arrow has been going up. He scored 72 points in 80 games in 2021-22 and then followed it up with 75 points in 73 games last season, topped off by a blistering showing in the Stars’ deep playoff run.
If this is Hintz’s peak, there’s absolutely no shame in that. He’s already a superstar, one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL. But he hasn’t stopped improving yet so it will be interesting to see if he takes yet another step forward.
Jason Robertson: Will the transition to the postseason be smoother?
Life comes at you fast in the NHL, especially when you’re a face-of-the-franchise type of superstar player. Just ask the likes of Auston Matthews. Robertson has been electric every season of his young NHL career. He only just turned 24 years old a few months ago. He’s probably going to drop more jaws this season.
But Robertson’s last two regular seasons, in which he’s really bumped shoulders with the elite, didn’t translate smoothly to the playoffs. The 2022 postseason was short and tough while the 2023 postseason took a while before Robertson turned the corner in the conference finals. The Stars are in championship mode and will need their record-breaking goal scorer to lead them in the biggest moments.
Joe Pavelski: How long can he hold off Father Time?
Father Time is undefeated but Joe Pavelski is holding a sizable lead in that battle right now. Pavelski has played every game the past three seasons, set a new career high in points just two seasons ago followed by another top-five year last season, is a key component to arguably the best line in hockey, plays on the top power play and, to top it all off, is one hell of a landlord.
Pavelski turned 39 years old this past summer and is playing on perennial one-year deals. The end is near, but how near is the big question.
Wyatt Johnston: What does he add to his game?
You can’t say he’s only 19 years old anymore, but you can say Johnston is only 20 years old. His rookie season was quite ridiculous on a few levels, perhaps most evident by his playoff performances. The goal he scored in Game 7 against the Seattle Kraken will be remembered for the rest of his career.
That play also begs the question: What’s next? Johnston wouldn’t be making that play in Game 1 of the season but his skill and confidence grew throughout. He’s going to get stronger, too, and his game should continue to develop. It will be fascinating to see what he adds to his game this season.
Matt Duchene: Which linemates will be the best fit?
The easy answer for Duchene’s immediate fit would be to leave the Hintz and Johnston lines untouched and slot Duchene with Seguin and Marchment. Marchment may get the benefit of first option but he’s going to have to earn that spot next to two players who were established offensive threats in the league consistently and still seem to have something left in the tank.
Playing with Seguin almost seems like an inevitability for Duchene but it will be interesting to see who the third piece will be, and how it will affect where on the line Duchene and Seguin play.
Mason Marchment: Will the Florida Panthers Mason Marchment resurface in Dallas?
When the Stars signed Marchment last summer to a four-year deal at $4.5 million per year, they did so based on his most recent results. And when you look at what Marchment did, even if his career breakout came later than it does for most players, it’s hard to blame Dallas.
Here’s his last season in Florida, via HockeyViz:
Here’s how Marchment’s first season in Dallas went last season, via HockeyViz:
Marchment started last season strong but dropped off a cliff and never quite got back to form. Topping the season off with an injury didn’t help. But it was Marchment’s first year in a new city, playing for a new coach, and he was dealing with some tough personal circumstances. This season should provide some clearer answers.
Radek Faksa: Can he bring more value offensively?
Faksa’s contract may be a tad rich but he does bring value to the Stars with his play. He’s one of the key cogs to Dallas being the top faceoff team in the league last year and an important part of the NHL’s third-best penalty kill, too.
Faksa scored 11 goals last season and added nine assists, his most productive season in three years. There’s enough offense on the roster to where he doesn’t need to be pouring it on but the Stars do have a lot of depth and talent at forward. If he’s around better players and can at least facilitate at a higher level, it would be huge for the Stars.
Evgenii Dadonov: Could he play with a new cast of linemates?
Given the success of the Benn, Johnston, Dadonov line, one would assume DeBoer keeps them together. But what if circumstances call for a change? Injuries are always a possibility, but so is the reality of what options are on the table. If Stankoven is ready for the NHL at some point this season and DeBoer wants to play him with Benn and Johnston, as he did last preseason, can Dadonov fit in with Duchene and Seguin? Or perhaps any other combination?
Ty Dellandrea: Can he provide enough value consistently at five-on-five?
Dellandrea is a fierce competitor and a great penalty killer. He also finished last season on a high note with a storybook performance in Game 5 in Vegas. But earlier in the series, he was also the odd man out as a healthy scratch. The forward group got even deeper since then. Dellandrea is still young, so playing every night is the best formula for his development, and that can only happen in the NHL at this point in his career. He’s going to have to earn his spot.
You know of Joe Pavelski housing Wyatt Johnston. But in training camp, Ty Dellandrea lived with Jake Oettinger.
From golf courses to hometown visits to first accomplishments and now playoff glory, inside the deep bond between Oettinger and Dellandrea.
— Saad Yousuf (@SaadYousuf126) May 29, 2023
Craig Smith: Can he carve out a role for himself?
Luke Glendening was a faceoff specialist and a grinder who relentlessly killed penalties. Joel Kiviranta was another penalty killer who had an occasional offensive flare. Veteran depth players have to have a specialty about them that coaches can latch on to. What will Smith’s be?
Sam Steel: What’s the upside?
At one point, Sam Steel was a No. 1 centerman for the Minnesota Wild, a team that would make the playoffs, and his former teammates who knew him were “not surprised in the slightest.” That was the headline less than a year ago. Steel is only 25 years old so there’s still some meat left on the bone. DeBoer likes to roll his lines evenly, making this a prime opportunity for Steel. This signing has a chance to be a mutually beneficial move with high upside for Steel and the Stars.
Logan Stankoven and Mavrik Bourque: How much AHL seasoning is needed? What will the comfort level be as it pertains to positional flexibility?
Bourque, the Stars’ 2020 first-round pick, has a full year of AHL experience under his belt. It was a rough transition for him at the start but he caught on quickly and was one of the top remaining options on the cusp of getting ice time with the Stars toward the end of the postseason. Stankoven lit up junior hockey yet again last year but hasn’t tasted the pros yet. The Stars have enough forward depth that they won’t force either into NHL duties prematurely but will give both opportunities to win a job outright.
When it is NHL time for Stankoven and/or Bourque, where they play will be interesting. The Stars are deep down the middle but DeBoer fosters a system that encourages positional flexibility, with at least two players who can profile as a center or winger as needed. Stankoven and Bourque have both said they’re comfortable with that.
(Photo of Joe Pavelski, Jamie Benn and Jason Robertson: Steph Chambers / Getty Images)