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You should be paying attention to the Dallas Stars.

I’m not going to yell at you for not paying attention to them before now. It would be kind of mean, for one thing, and mighty hypocritical, for another. Truthfully, I didn’t know a thing about the Dallas Stars until last summer, when I found out they were rebuilding.

Rebuilding has become a bit of a buzz term these days, thrown around when a team fires one coach and hires another, or changes their “team philosophy.” What you don’t see very often is any actual rebuilding.

But this past summer saw a lot of changes backstage within the Stars organization: a new coach, a new Captain, new uniforms, and practically a whole new team. If you look at the Stars roster right now, 9 players were acquired by the Stars as starters in 2011-2012, and 11 were acquired in 2013.

I was curious. And I was bored. I thought, either the Stars would start to come back, or they’d crash and burn, and either way I’d have something to watch when my first hockey love (the Penguins) weren’t playing.

That was then, and this is now, and the Stars have usurped the Penguins in my hockey heart.

I’m not sure how this happened, either.


New Stars Rising

If any star has been rising slowly but surely, it’s Jamie Benn. He’s been noteworthy for his consistently great play since he was drafted in 2007, but he’s really exploded this year. Benn doesn’t hold anything back. He throws himself at the goal with wild abandon and a blatant disregard for his own personal safety, that I think is bound to earn him a stern talking to by the GM one day. Benn’s ‘all or nothing’ approach to the game is thrilling, if also mildly heart-attack inducing, to watch.

Tyler Seguin’s move to the Stars was indisputably the biggest trade deal that went down over the summer. A lot of hay was made by the Bruins about Seguin just not living up to his potential. The Bruins’ loss has definitely been the Stars’ gain. Since Seguin’s come to Dallas, he’s become an asset for the team, on the ice and in the locker room.

Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn came into the season with something to prove. Both had been dealt a hard dose of rejection over the summer. The Bruins had expressed a lack of confidence in Seguin when they traded him, and Benn had been overlooked by the Canadian Olympic team. “Lets prove them wrong” became what united them and drove them, and it showed in their play. Their energy and aggressive pursuit of the puck set them apart from the rest of the team from the get-go. They also have something you just can’t force or predict—and that’s undeniable chemistry on the ice.

Valeri Nichushkin, the Stars’ rookie winger from Russia, is a real find. He’s not putting up numbers like his linemates Seguin and Benn yet—but ‘yet’ is the keyword there. He’s shown enough promise to earn himself a place on the Russian Olympic team, and has grown as player in a very short amount of time. He’s beginning to develop a real keen eye on the ice, and there’s something to be said for a guy who can not only score but also provide the key assist—able to see the entire field of play and make things happen for proven scorers like Benn and Seguin. With each day that Val comes into his skills, that top line on the Stars becomes increasingly potent.

Cody Eakin is another player to watch—he’s been line hopping this season, but I’d make an argument for keeping him with Roussel and Garbutt, considering that line made impressive moves during Dallas’ lastest road series.


Defensive Improvement

Defensively, the Stars struggled in the beginning of the season. Veteran Defenseman Stephane Robidas broke his tibia in November, and his partner Brenden Dillon’s play really suffered after. Dillon has lately come into his own, though, and proven himself to be an asset separate from Robidas. Partnered with Jordie Benn (brother of Jamie) the two have done a lot to help close the gaps in the Stars defense.

Goalie Kari Lehtohnen has been described as an unassuming kind of guy by his teammates. That descriptor is apt, and pretty much how everyone outside of Texas saw him–a talented guy, but not one worth remembering.This season Lehtonen has unassumed his way right onto the Finnish Olympic team. People have started to take note.


What’s Happening Now

The Stars had a hard battle against the Coyotes on Tuesday, both teams clambering for points that could secure them a spot in the Wild Card race in the West. The Stars came out on top, winning 3-1. The next day, the Stars wrapped up their West Coast trip with a game against the San Jose Sharks. Going into the game against San Jose, I didn’t have what I would call “high hopes” for the Stars. And sure enough, the Sharks defense was a wall, and much of the game—too much of the game—was played in the Stars’ defensive zone.The Stars fell, 2-1, to the Sharks, but gained a point for forcing the game into OT (I’ll call that a moral victory). The Stars took five out of six points on this last road game trip, which is a big improvement over their play on the road earlier in the season.

The Stars play one last game before the Olympic break. Tomorrow, Saturday, they face the Coyotes again on home ice. There is no love lost between these two teams, and a whole lot of fast, eager, young guys who want to earn their team those game points. It’s going to be brutal.

I’ll be watching.

You should too.


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