Dallas Stars

Looking to make the leap: Stephen Johns

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To some Dallas Stars fans, the Patrick Sharp trade was as much about grabbing Stephen Johns as anything else.

(Granted, that might be a small sampling, but there was such chatter.)

Following the move, Stars GM Jim Nill probably summarized the most exciting takes: he’s the sort of defenseman the franchise might just be lacking.

“Stephen was a big part of that trade,” Nill said. “We’re trying to change a little bit of the dimension of our back end … he’s 6-foot-4, 220 lbs. and can skate.”

That’s what makes the 23-year-old especially interesting: while he packs some punch and snarl – relevant factors on a blueline that leans more toward finesse – it sounds like he’s swift enough that he won’t bring the Stars’ high-octane attack to a crawl.

Of course, it’s a big assumption that Johns can make the roster.

The Stars currently have eight defensemen under contract, and while some seem like they could be trade fodder if needed (Jason Demers?), Johns would need to impress to force the Stars’ hand.

Johns thinks he has what it takes, at least.

“Personally, I think I’m ready but it’s not up to me,” Johns said in July, according to the Dallas Morning News. “I’m going to do the best that I can, play the best hockey I can, and try to impress them.”

If you’re looking at young players who have the highest odds of making the team, Johns isn’t that guy.

One would think that Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak and Jyrki Jokipakka would have a significant head start after playing quite a few NHL games in 2014-15. To some extent, they made their leaps – or steps up – already, however.

Johns is a more interesting story to follow during training camp. There’s a good chance that he’s not even the prospect with the highest ceiling hoping to make an impression – Julius Honka fits that bill – but Johns is at the age where he must be getting awfully antsy for a longer look.

For all we know, he may prove that he’s just too useful to send to the AHL.

It’s Dallas Stars day at PHT

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Whether you like the moves he’s made since becoming Dallas Stars GM or not, you really can’t accuse Jim Nill of being lazy.

Every summer, the Stars seem to be one of the “winners” of the off-season, yet they’re still searching for their first playoff series win since that surprisingly deep run in 2007-08.

The 2014-15 season might just be the last one where they were able to play the “scrappy upstart” role, even if they seem to carry somewhat similar strengths and weaknesses into next season. Broadly speaking, at least.

Off-season recap

Expectations are rising each year, and with good reason.

The Stars nabbed Antti Niemi’s rights from the San Jose Sharks and then handed him a three-year, $13.5 million contract. Backup goaltending – and let’s be honest, goaltending in general – was a big sore spot for Dallas last season. Now Nill is spending $10.4 million on “two No. 1 goalies.”

That was a big enough change in itself, yet Nill had another trick up his sleeve, sending Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt to the Chicago Blackhawks for Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns.

Each summer, the Stars have landed a big-name forward in a trade:

2013: Tyler Seguin
2014: Jason Spezza
2015: Sharp

You can’t do that forever and also retain a ton of cap space, even with bargains for Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, so now Dallas is close to the ceiling. Especially after blowing much of their remaining budget on Johnny Oduya.

There weren’t many subtractions beyond assets handed over in trades and the departure of Shawn Horcoff, so the Stars look imposing on paper. Now it’s up to Lindy Ruff to make it all work.

PHT Morning Skate: Seguin says it was ‘real tough’ to ‘keep my mouth shut’ after Boston trade

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

“I think the real tough thing was being able to keep my mouth shut. That was real difficult after the trade happened, seeing all the things that were going on.” That’s Tyler Seguin, talking about the days following his blockbuster move out of Boston two years ago. He said watching Behind the B was especially rough. (TSN 1050)

Remember ex-NHLer Chris Kontos? Well, someone tried to steal his Olympic silver medal, won while representing Canada at the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer. (CTV)

Marcus Kruger and Johnny Oduya gave the ‘Hawks some international flair by bringing the Stanley Cup to Sweden. Of course, the former is still without a contract… and the latter now plays for Dallas. (ESPN)

Jets captain Andrew Ladd is back skating after offseason sports hernia surgery. (Winnipeg Free Press)

Coyotes prospect Max Domi speaks about playing hockey with diabetes. (Howlin’ Hockey)

Kruger wants to sign with Chicago, but isn’t panicking (yet)

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It’s already mid-August, and Marcus Kruger still lacks a new contract from the Chicago Blackhawks.

The team’s salary cap bind remains, so the restricted free agent is still in limbo. He admitted to ESPN Chicago that he wants to get a deal done soon, yet he’s not agonizing over it.

“I want to have it done. I think that’s for everyone,” Kruger said. “But I don’t feel too stressed out about it, yet at least. We have another month until training camp.”

The 25-year-old has professed his patience and flexibility toward the Blackhawks’ situation more than once, and he stood by that, stating “whatever happens, it’s going to be good for me and them.”

It’s plausible that the Blackhawks may ask a little more from the Swede in 2015-16 after some significant departures in the likes of Brad Richards and Patrick Sharp.

His last contract carried a $1.325 million cap hit, while General Fanager pegs the Blackhawks’ cap space at just $231,540 right now.

As Kruger said, the Blackhawks still have time to figure things out, but it’s also true that the clock is ticking.

Blackhawks sign Bowling Green d-man Nolan Valleau

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The Chicago Blackhawks have agreed to terms with defenseman Nolan Valleau on a two-year contract, the club announced today.

From the press release:

Valleau, 22, recorded 19 points (2G, 17A) in 39 regular-season games with Bowling Green of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association during his freshman campaign; he shared the team lead in assists and seventh among league defensemen in scoring. The Novi, Mich., native shared second on the team with seven power-play points (7A) and registered 37 blocked shots and a +3 plus/minus rating. He was named to the 2014-15 WCHA All-Rookie team.

As noted by CSN Chicago, Valleau will add “organizational depth” to the Blackhawks’ “blue line after trading away prospects Klas Dahlbeck and Stephen Johns.”

According to ESPN, Valleau was “among the unsigned invitees who caught people’s eyes” at Blackhawks prospect camp.