Free agent invites trying to make strong first impression at Texas Stars training camp

(Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

(Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

CEDAR PARK — First impressions can make all the difference.

And, in some cases, the cliché rings true — first impressions are the only impressions.

That was the message to free agent invitees during the first day of Texas Stars training camp Tuesday at Cedar Park Center.

“We had a meeting last night and we talked about first impressions to the staff,” Stars coach Derek Laxdal said. “First impressions make a lasting mark on us. Going forward, we know the schedule is such a grind. If you can break the lineup and stay and make name for yourself, great. If you end up going back to your ECHL club, we know what we’re looking for when we want to call a player up … you make that name for yourself, it’s an easy call.”

Colton Beck, Brandon Magee, Taylor Stefishen, Cole Martin, Anrew Panzarella, Mads Eller, and Jake Rutt are amongst the group on a tryout basis in camp. Cam Braes and Zack Kamrass are in similar situations, even with AHL contracts, since depth signals they could be headed to the ECHL.

There was more space to make a first impression Tuesday.

A handful of players that were recently sent to Texas from the Dallas Stars were given the day off after a “hectic schedule” the past two weeks.

“If you look at the players that have come from Traverse City and the Dallas camp, they’re obviously ahead of some of the free agent invites,” Laxdal said. “So first day is more of getting used to the equipment. And getting used to the ice (for the others).”

Laxdal also said it’s important to see fringe players in game situations to properly judge their ability.

That opportunity will present itself in a scrimmage tomorrow, while Laxdal said some of the free agent invites will play in one of the two preseason games this weekend against the San Antonio Rampage.

While Laxdal will be using the preseason game to scout organizational depth, Idaho Steelheads coach Neil Graham is looking at the groundwork for his team.

“It’s going to be good to see some of the guys (in the preseason game),” Graham said. “There’s potential of getting a few of them in Idaho. Right now, everyone’s goal and objective is to make the Texas Stars, and if guys get to sent to us we’ll talk to them then. But, I’m excited to see guys compete, work on both sides of the puck, battle, and play the game the right way.”

Dallas Stars will sort through defensive options during training camp

Jyrki Jokipakka with Texas last season. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Jyrki Jokipakka with Texas last season. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

You can read the full story in the Austin American-Statesman.

CEDAR PARK — Thanks to an influx of young defensemen, someone is going to be disappointed when the Dallas Stars open the season in fewer than three weeks.

A dozen defensemen have legitimate aspirations to make the NHL club, and the competition started Friday morning when Dallas’ training camp opened at Cedar Park Center.

“I think everyone senses the battle there,” Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “There’s some competition around those last couple of spots. I want to see them play well, and I want to see them defend well.”

While no one is promised a roster spot, Alex Goligoski, Johnny Oduya, John Klingberg, Patrik Nemeth and Jason Demers appear to be locks for the NHL team. That leaves Jyrki Jokipakka, Julius Honka, Esa Lindell, Jamie Oleksiak, Stephen Johns, Jordie Benn and Mattias Backman jockeying for the final two or three spots on the roster.

Stars win trade with Blackhawks by acquiring defenseman Stephen Johns

Stephen Johns against the Texas Stars in the Calder Cup playoffs. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars).

Stephen Johns against the Texas Stars in the Calder Cup playoffs. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars).

Yes, Patrick Sharp was the headliner.

But, Stephen Johns was the long-term prize in the Dallas Stars four-player trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night.

Of the four-players in the deal, three have plateaud or are on the decline in their careers.

Ryan Garbutt, a 29-year-old forward, brings a pesky spark to the Blackhawks. But he also brings a resumé filled with bad penalties, and questionable decisions.

Trevor Daley may thrive in Chicago. Perhaps, with players like Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook as defensive anchors, the 31-year-old’s run-and-gun style won’t result in negative #fancystats that hindered Daley in the eye of the advanced analytics community.

But, that wasn’t going to happen in Dallas.

And Sharp, while he’ll provide a spark on the Stars power play, is a depreciating asset. At 33, his point totals and skills are declining, and his $5.9 million contract is a bit high for a 33-year-old.

On the other hand, Johns is an asset on the rise.

While prospects are admittedly hit-or-miss (think Scott Glennie with Dallas), Johns has all indications of being a future NHL defenseman.

After a four-year career at Notre Dame he joined the Rockford IceHogs late in the 2013-14 season, and dazzled as a rookie during the 2014-15 campaign.

In 67 combined regular season and playoff games with Rockford the 23-year-old had 33 points (eight goals, 25 assists) and posted an eye-popping plus-36 (sorry, plus/minus is the closest thing we get to #fancystats in the AHL).

He also refined his game during that 13-month span.

When he finished his collegiate career, discipline had been a concern.

In 162 games at Notre Dame he accumulated 300 penalty minutes. Without the help of fighting majors in the NCAA’s fisticuff-free arenas.

But in his first year in Rockford, he registered 44 penalty minutes. If you take away the 20 minutes on four fighting majors, he averaged one minor penalty every four games.

He also quickly rose up the IceHogs defensive depth, out of necessity, and thrived.

Throughout the season, Chicago unloaded T.J. Brennan, Adam Clendening, and Klas Dahlbech via trade. The Blackhawks also had Kyle Cumiskey watch an inordinate amount of games from the United Center press box, hampering their AHL affiliate.

Johns stepped into that void and became Rockford’s best blue liner.

In the playoffs, when all four of those aforementioned players were gone, Johns was Rockford’s best player.

In eight playoff games — including a three-game sweep against Texas in the first-round — he scored three times, dished out four assists, and was plus-four.

It’s fair to say he had earned a shot and likely would have played for Chicago in the NHL at some point this coming season.

After the trade he adds to a stacked young defensive cupboard, and likely becomes the first call-up from Texas in case of an injury.

Dallas general manager Jim Nill has said that Esa Lindell, Mattias Backman, and Julius Honka are ready to play in the NHL — and I agree with that statement, to a degree.

Lindell and Backman need a little bit of North American seasoning in the AHL, while at 19-years-old it may be best to let Honka age a bit with Texas.

But if Dallas had a freak injury in training camp and needed to call-up a player for opening night (Oct. 8 against the Pittsburgh Penguins), Johns would be making his NHL debut in victory green.

With free agency on hold, Texas Stars set to have youthful defense core

Matt Mangene will be a key cog in the Texas Stars defense next season. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Matt Mangene will be a key cog in the Texas Stars defense next season. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

After signing five players Tuesday, including two offensive-minded defensemen, the Texas Stars are now in a holding pattern during free agency.

“I’m on hold for now,” Texas Stars general manager Scott White said. “I believe in our group of players we have now. Will I add a forward? A D? A goalie? You know, that depends on how the rest of the market plays out.”

That leaves Texas with a very young defensive core for next season.

Three of Texas’ projected defensemen will be 21 or younger on opening night. The group’s average age is 22 years, four months, with today’s signings — Matt Mangene and Jesse Blacker — bringing up the average.

Mangene will be the eldest member of the group at 26, while Blacker will be the games-played leader with 235 career AHL games.

Blacker also made his NHL debut last season with Anaheim, but couldn’t find an NHL contract this summer in free agency.

“He’s looking to re-establish himself,” White said. “We were in contact on July 1 and, after he didn’t get re-upped to an NHL deal, it turned out to be a good fit. He’s only 24, but he’s going to add some experience to the group.”

Texas got a first-hand look at Blacker last season after he was traded from the Anaheim Ducks to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Colby Robak. In 40 games with San Antonio he had 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) and impressed White with his ability to move the puck and push the play.

“He has the elements that will help our coaches,” White said. “It’s become a game where you have to be quick and move the puck with your defensemen.”

Mangene provides a similar set of skills.

Mangene had 17 points in 36 games with Texas last season. He also showed he could quarterback the power play and stepped in at forward when Texas was hampered by injuries.

“He had decent production in limited time,” White said. “He’s part of the group now. He won’t be waking up in the morning and having to worry about where he stands (next season).”

In the current holding pattern, Texas’ defense consists of Julius Honka, Esa Lindell, Ludwig Bystrom, Mattias Backman, Mangene, and Blacker.

White said defenseman Zack Kamrass, and forward Cam Braes, who signed a standard AHL contract last week, are depth players who have to “come into camp and impress. If they don’t they’ll go to Idaho.”

One year later: Dallas Stars reaping benefits of Texas’ Calder Cup victory

Patrik Nemeth celebrates the cup winning goal. (Photo by Colin Peddle).

Patrik Nemeth celebrates the cup winning goal. (Photo by Colin Peddle).

It’s been a year since Patrik Nemeth did his best Bobby Orr impression.

The Swedish defenseman skated the length of the ice at St. John’s Mile One Centre, toe dragged an IceCap defender, and lofted a silky backhand over Michael Hutchinson’s glove in overtime.

It was — by far — the biggest goal in franchise history and gave the Texas Stars a chance to hoist the Calder Cup.

One year later the Stars — both Texas and Dallas — are ready to reap the benefits from that champagne-soaked celebration on a rock in the Atlantic Ocean.

The well-known prospects grew up, while unknown assets were mined into potential future Stars.

Brett Ritchie morphed into a clutch goal scorer.

Shaking off an ankle injury, Ritchie scored in each of the final three games — all overtime victories in front of a hostile St. John’s crowd.

Radek Faksa laid the foundation to become a shut-down center in the NHL. Throughout the playoffs he frustrated opponents, giving Dallas’ brass a glimpse of his potential, which unfortunately was sidelined by a shoulder injury this past season.

On draft day Curtis McKenzie and Jyrki Jokipakka weren’t considered cornerstones of the Stars future.

McKenzie was a unheralded sixth-round pick in 2009. Jokipakka was a seventh-round pick in 2011 and his funny-sounding name grabbed more headlines than his potential.

But a championship run changed that.

Jokipakka recently signed a two-year, one-way contract with Dallas and will be a key cog in the NHL defense next season.

McKenzie split time between the NHL and AHL this season. It won’t be much of a split when the NHL season starts in October.

Both launched their stock skyward during the 2013-14 season and further earned an NHL opportunity during the Calder Cup run.

Even those undrafted, then AHL-contracted players parlayed the Calder Cup into organizational depth.

Brendan Ranford and Justin Dowling each seized NHL contracts. Ranford made his NHL debut this past season, while Dowling was on the cusp of an NHL opportunity.

While Dallas is salivating over the growth on offense and defense, the championship created a couple “what if?” story lines in the crease.

Jack Campbell was a spectator in the finals, a product of another injury suffered in a young career that’s been saddled with setbacks.

Cristopher Nilstorp’s play in the playoffs could have been worthy of an NHL backup job with Dallas — a clear position of need — if he wasn’t 30 years old.

However, no one from Dallas is losing sleep over a championship.

In fact, some new dreams were born as Texas hoisted the Calder Cup.