Stars coach Lindy Ruff is already thinking about how he’ll use Dallas’ latest additions and there’s no shortage of possibilities.
Dallas recently acquired Patrick Sharp from the Blackhawks and then inked unrestricted free agent and former Chicago defenseman Johnny Oduya to a two-year, $7.5 million deal. Combined with the earlier signing of goalie Antti Niemi and the Stars have added plenty of playoff experience.
“It’s really important for us to take that next step. These guys have been winners and know how to win. They should help us get there,” Ruff told the team’s website. “Ownership has really stepped up and said we can make this team better. I’ve got to give Tom [Gaglardi] and his family a lot of credit for making this team better with the last couple of pieces here. It’s been tremendous.”
Ruff could see Sharp being paired up with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on the top line, but he’s also considering going with more of a one-two punch with a top line that features Benn and Seguin followed by a second unit that includes Sharp and Jason Spezza.
Whichever route he decides to take, the potential is certainly there for the Stars to have two significantly more balanced lines than they did last season. Spezza meshed well with Benn and Seguin when the trio played together, but whenever Ruff opted to employ that star studded line, it came at the expense of the team’s offensive depth. That trio were the only Dallas players to record more than 40 points last season while just Benn and Seguin surpassed the 20-goal mark. The addition of Sharp could expand both of those lists.
As for Oduya, Ruff would like to see him play alongside Jason Demers, which would keep the John Klingberg and Alex Goligoski pairing from last season intact.
Dallas fell just short of making the playoffs last season, but even before these additions, there were reasons to believe that the Stars could do better in 2015-16. It certainly didn’t hurt that they finished with a 14-5-0 run.
Related: Lehtonen, Niemi see benefit in splitting goalie duties
With Paul Martin gone and current unrestricted free agent Christian Ehrhoff unlikely to return to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 21-year-old defenseman Derrick Pouliot has been presented with a golden opportunity.
The top-end blueline prospect got his first taste of NHL action last season, scoring two goals and seven points in 34 NHL contests. It made him realize that he needs to be in even better physical condition going forward, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
In order to do that he’s been training with fitness guru and former NHLer Gary Roberts. He’s also made substantial changes to his diet.
“It’s about getting my conditioning up so if I get caught out there I’m not dying trying to keep up,” Pouliot said. “It’s a little bit of a lifestyle change. I mean I’m not really a picky eater.”
Pouliot’s goal is to become a two-way defenseman and take on more, or at least “harder,” minutes after averaging 17:32 minutes per game last season.
Even with two veteran defensemen gone though, he will still be competing with Olli Maatta, Tim Erixon, and Brian Dumoulin for one of potentially two or three roster spots.
Dominik Uher will get a chance to crack the Pittsburgh Penguins’ roster again after signing a one-year, two-way deal, per the Penguins’ website.
He’ll come with a $575,000 annual cap hit if he plays in the NHL.
Taken with the 144th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the 22-year-old forward has spent the bulk of the last three campaigns with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. However, he did make his NHL debut on Dec. 23 and played again on Dec. 29. He was credited with two hits and one blocked shot while averaging 6:27 minutes of ice time per contest.
He also recorded 13 goals, 26 points, and 60 penalty minutes in 72 AHL contests in 2014-15. In total he has 57 points and 187 penalty minutes in 193 career AHL games.
Louis Leblanc was taken by the Montreal Canadiens with the 18th overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, but little has gone right for him since. He’ll get another shot though after signing a one-year, two-way deal with the New York Islanders, per the team’s website.
Prior to being drafted, the Quebec-native had 26 goals, 58 points, and 100 penalty minutes in 51 contests with the QMJHL’s Montreal Juniors.
He had five goals and 10 points in 50 career NHL games with Montreal over the course of his three-year, entry-level contract, but 42 of those contests were played during 2011-12. When his opening deal with the Canadiens expired they decided to trade him to the Anaheim Ducks for nothing more than a conditional pick. Montreal would have received a 2015 fifth round selection if Leblanc had participated in at least 15 games with Anaheim, but the 24-year-old forward spent the full campaign in the minors where he recorded 14 goals and 11 assists in 71 contests with AHL Norfolk.
The Ducks decided not to present him with a qualifying offer after that, which is what allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent.
With Eric Fehr an unrestricted free agent and Nicklas Backstrom’s availability for the start of the season “up in the air” after undergoing arthroscopic hip surgery, the Washington Capitals’ situation at center is far from certain.
Washington has stated that Evgeny Kuznetsov will serve as the number two center and when Backstrom is healthy, he is the clear number one, but that still leaves the third line role undetermined.
“I think we’re going to let it play out,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan told the Washington Post. “We could address it internally, the third-line center spot, and also depending on how the contract situation plays itself out, there’s a couple options in the free agency market that we see, and we’ll explore the trade market up until training camp. There might be something in that venue.”
Andre Burakovsky, 20, is among their internal options, but they also have veteran alternatives like 29-year-old Jay Beagle.
If they do decide to sign a center to help fill the void, then their options include Stephen Weiss, Matt Cullen, Derek Roy and, of course, Fehr.
Washington does have some cap considerations though. They have a little more than $10 million in space, but still have to re-sign restricted free agents Marcus Johansson and Braden Holtby, per General Fanager.