The Dallas Stars took the eventual Stanley Cup champions to six games in the Western Conference Finals last season.
The team finished second to the Colorado Avalanche in the Central Division before beating the Minnesota Wild in the first round to go to the Western semifinals. The Seattle Kraken did them a favor by ousting Colorado in the first round, but nearly upset the Stars, taking the series to seven games. Dallas gave the Vegas Golden Knights everything they could handle in the Western Conference Finals, but their season ended after a 6-0 loss in Game 6.
Sloppy defense in the playoffs was the Stars' undoing, as even in wins, they couldn't keep the puck out of their net. Jake Oettinger couldn't build on his playoff success from 2021-2022, taking a step back when the games mattered most.
With training camp in full swing, let's look at what's ahead for the Dallas Stars in 2023-24.
Do the Stars have the NHL's deepest forward group?
The Stars were already in contention to have the most depth at the forward position last season. The emergence of Jason Robertson as a superstar and rookie Wyatt Johnston made their forward group tough to handle. Established stars Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski, Roope Hintz and Tyler Seguin were there to back them up. They also had depth down the lineup with players like Ty Dellandrea and Radek Faksa.
Many people believed Dallas needed to upgrade its defense over the offseason to reach the next level. Instead, the Stars enhanced their forwards by acquiring Matt Duchene, Craig Smith and Sam Steel. When looking down their lineup, a third line with Duchene and Seguin will be a mismatch for any team in the Western Conference.
There's a good chance Dallas will be in a lot of track meets in 2023-24, with plenty of goal-scoring to come. Jake Oettinger will be relied upon heavily this season, as it seems the Stars are going all-in on scoring to the detriment of their weakened defense.
A beaten-down defensive corps
Dallas' defense took major criticism after the team's playoff elimination. Many people questioned if Ryan Suter could be the defensive anchor for a true contender any longer.
Miro Heiskanen is the unquestioned superstar on the backend, but he is more of an attacking threat. Heiskanen needs a partner he can trust will be there when he takes chances at the offensive end, and Suter may not be that guy anymore. He was exposed in the playoffs for his lack of speed, and another season on his legs won't do anything to remedy that situation. Dallas may watch Suter's play in the regular season and not see an issue, but when the speed picks up in the playoffs, it could cause problems.
Bringing back the same defensive lineup that came under scrutiny in the playoffs is a risk, but one that Jim Nill seems willing to take. Another year under the tutelage of Peter DeBoer and another year of development for the younger players might be all they need. In their projected lineup to start the season, the Stars have three defenseman under the age of 24.
As of now, there are no other defensemen who seem like a viable option to replace anyone in the top-six, so the pairs will be:
Ryan Suter – Miro Heiskanen
Esa Lindell – Nils Lundqvist
Thomas Harley – Jani Hakanpaa
These pairs are what the Stars will roll with for the first part of the season. If their teams are out of playoff contention by the trade deadline, look for unrestricted free agents like Tyler Myers, Brenden Dillon, Marc Staal, and Troy Stecher to be on the Stars' radar.
Is there room on the Stars for Logan Stankoven?
There was considerable hype surrounding Logan Stankoven as he finished his Junior career.
The native of Kamloops, British Columbia proudly led his hometown team on their quest to win the Memorial Cup on home ice. Unfortunately, the Kamloops Blazers came up short in Canadian junior hockey's biggest tournament. Stankoven had 34 goals and 63 assists in 48 games with Kamloops in the regular season. He was also a major contributor on Connor Bedard's flank as Canada won the U20 World Junior Hockey Championship in January. In four games at the Memorial Cup in his junior hockey swansong, Stankoven totaled two goals and seven assists.
Any 20-year-old who pust up those numbers usually gets a look in the NHL the following season. However, that isn't how the Stars typically do business.
Current forwards Roope Hintz, Jason Robertson and Ty Dellandrea perfected their craft in the AHL before moving up to Dallas. Thomas Harley, a featured defenseman in the playoffs, played three years in the AHL.
“If you're ready, then we'll make room for you, but it doesn't hurt guys to go down and earn their stripes,” Rich Peverley, the Stars' director of player personnel, said this summer. “It's a big jump from the junior league to the American Hockey League, and you're talking a bigger jump to get from there to the NHL. It's a process, and earning it is very important.”
There's a possibility that Stankoven takes the Harley route and plays most of the year in the AHL before bringing a jolt to the Stars for a playoff run. Stankoven, sitting at 5'7″, 170 pounds, could use some time to get accustomed to the pro game before making his debut in Dallas.
Final projected roster
Forwards: Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, Joe Pavelski, Jamie Benn, Wyatt Johnston, Evgeni Dadonov, Mason Marchment, Matt Duchene, Tyler Seguin, Sam Steel, Radek Faksa, Craig Smith, Ty Dellandrea
Defensemen: Ryan Suter, Miro Heiskanen, Esa Lindell, Nils Lundqvist, Thomas Harley, Jani Hakanpaa
Goaltenders: Jake Oettinger, Scott Wedgewood