In the aftermath of their playoff elimination to Anaheim, the Dallas Stars seem to be focused on one specific area to improve next season — defense.
“Moving forward, it would be great to have a No. 1 or No. 2 defenseman, but there are 25 other teams that want the same thing,” [Stars GM Jim] Nill said. “That’s probably something we’ll have to draft and develop. It’s hard to find a true No. 1 defenseman.”
While [Lindy] Ruff added: “We came a long way from the start of the year to the end of the year on the defending front, on what we gave up, the shots we gave up and the quality of chances we gave up. We made good strides. I still believe we are a big defender away from being a harder team to play against. I think we have some young guys that could easily step in there. [Patrik] Nemeth got a little bit a taste of it. I have high hopes for other players in the organization as well that I’ve seen play.”
It was no huge secret Dallas’ Achilles heel in the postseason was its lack of blueline talent and depth. When Brenden Dillion — a good young d-man, but not an elite one — out for the first five games, Dallas rolled with a six-man unit comprised of Trevor Daley, Alex Goligoski, Sergei Gonchar, Jordie Benn, Kevin Connauton and Patrik Nemeth. The result? Dallas surrendered 20 goals over the six-game series, including seven on the power play — the most allowed by any team in the opening playoff round.
The Stars’ prospect cupboard has some intriguing stuff in it. The big one — literally — is Jamie Oleksiak, the 6-foot-7, 240-pounder taken 14th overall at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Still just 21, Oleksiak wasn’t NHL ready the past two years (only playing in 23 games) but could be the future of Dallas’ defense.
Even with Oleksiak on the way, it’ll be interesting to see what Nill does in free agency. He made a big splash last summer by signing Gonchar to a two-year, $10 million deal and, given the relative lack of age an experience on the current blueline, could go the veteran route again — though it’s worth noting that, based on pending UFA projections, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of top-two d-men available.