FRISCO — In a way, the Stars find themselves in a similar position as five months ago.
As the Stars entered the postseason in April, they were searching for a sixth forward to fill out their top two lines. One of the best lines in hockey (Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov) was bolstered by the rise of Roope Hintz and the acquisition of Mats Zuccarello. But there was that one spot available.
Now in the preseason, Dallas has to figure out that puzzle again. Zuccarello is gone, but Joe Pavelski is in. That spot is back on the market, let’s take a look at who could fill it for the Stars, including reasons why they will or won’t.
Why he will: It’s his spot to lose. Gurianov is clearly being afforded an opportunity the other candidates aren’t by playing with skilled linemates in nearly every practice. The Stars have had seven days of practice so far, and Gurianov has been on a line with Pavelski four times, Hintz twice and Justin Dowling once. No other top-six hopeful has been given a week with that kind of talent outside the obvious players like Seguin, Benn and Radulov.
During Thursday afternoon’s scrimmage in Frisco, he was part of a top-six group that looked like this:
Stars coach Jim Montgomery said he’s noticed a more confident Gurianov while playing with more talented players.
“He’s [got] the same skillset and power,” Montgomery said. “The ability is there, now it’s got to transfer into the games. We’re excited about what he can add to our lineup on a nightly basis.”
Gurianov had a strong training camp last year and followed it up with his best season since coming to North America, with 48 points in 57 games in the AHL. His speed is top-end and he carries a first-round pedigree. It doesn’t hurt that Roope Hintz showed last season that young speedy players can blossom in Dallas.
Why he won’t: When Gurianov isn’t scoring, he’s not doing much else. That was the criticism of him last year by the Stars coaching staff, when he played 21 games, but only scored one goal. (And that goal was a fluky one where a point shot bounced off his knee.) In the defensive zone, Gurianov isn’t active. He doesn’t kill penalties.
In the preseason so far, Gurianov has had moments, setting up teammates for chances against St. Louis or speeding through the neutral zone in Minnesota, but still has little to show for it. In 20 minutes of 5-on-5 play this preseason, Gurianov has two shot attempts and one shot on goal.
The Stars need more out of Gurianov to trust him with a top-six position, and perhaps maybe that production comes when the top-six talent finally plays in an exhibition game.
Why he will: He is one of the most prolific goal-scorers of this era. When general manager Jim Nill signed Perry in the offseason, he pointed to Perry’s past as a Rocket Richard winner as a reason for hopeful optimism entering this season. Maybe Perry’s season last year was a one-off because of knee surgery that robbed him of the first four months, and he’s able to be another legitimate scoring option for the Stars.
Why he won’t: Perry still hasn’t skated with the Stars during preseason after fracturing his foot two days before training camp was supposed to start. He’s now one week into an absence that Nill said would last at least two weeks, and he might not play in any preseason games. When asked if he would be ready for opening night, Perry said yes, but maybe the Stars would be hesitant to throw Perry immediately to the top six in his first game action in a Dallas uniform.
Add in that Perry is coming off the worst season of his career (six goals and four assists in 31 games), is a year removed from knee surgery and his contributions this season are a mystery. At the very least, Perry can be a power play specialist and another veteran voice in the dressing room.
Why he will: Dickinson’s already done it. Last year in the playoffs, Dickinson was the choice to fill out the top-six group and responded with three goals and two assists in 13 postseason games. Playing mostly on the opposite wing of Mats Zuccarello, Dickinson was pivotal in helping the Stars beat Nashville in Game 5 and finished the playoffs fourth on the team in both expected goals and scoring chances at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Montgomery likes what Dickinson brings to the ice (skating, defensive dependability) and he’s a player that can be a complementary piece on a No. 1 or 2 line.
Why he won’t: His offensive ceiling is limited and he could be better used on the fourth line instead. Dickinson doesn’t play on the power play, which gives you an idea how the Stars feel about his offensive ability. Plus, Dickinson centering the fourth line allows Montgomery another center that can match up well enough with top centers should he draw those assignments on the road.
As far as other candidates go, Joel Kiviranta was never a goal-scorer in Finland before signing with the Stars (0.44 points per game in Liiga) and when asked if Kiviranta profiled as a top-six forward, Montgomery flatly said no. Jason Robertson hasn’t been noticeable in preseason, and Mattias Janmark has work to do if he wants another shot at a top-six job.