Stars Preseason Wrap-Up, 2001-2002
Preseason is officially over now, the roster has been pared down, and it looks like the Stars will begin the season with only
one new face — Finnish playmaker Niko Kapanen. The past few seasons, Stars fans have witnessed the development of
around one new player per season. Niko will be the first player to attempt that path this season.
Following preseason, among the last players to be returned to AHL affiliate Utah were John Erskine, Cameron
Mann, Marcus Kristofferson, Roman Lyashenko and Jon Sim. With final cuts, the Stars will begin the
season with the following roster of 23 players:
Centers: Mike Modano, Pierre Turgeon, Joe Nieuwendyk, Niko Kapanen, Kirk Muller (also LW), Shaun Van Allen
Right wingers: Jere Lehtinen (also LW), Donald Audette, Jamie Lagenbrunner, Pat Verbeek (also LW), Rob DiMaio
Left Wingers: Brenden Morrow, Jere Lehtinen (also RW), Pat Verbeek (also RW), Valeri Kamensky, Kirk Muller (also C), Benoit
Defensemen: Sergei Zubov, Darryl Sydor, Derian Hatcher, Richard Matvichuk, Jyrki Lumme, Brad Lukowich, Sami Helenius
Goalies: Ed Belfour, Marty Turco
Fans of this site were nonplussed that more promising greenhorns like Kristofferson (RW), Mann (RW), Erskine (D), and
MacMillan (D) didn’t make the team. Another disappointment: it seems players on the cusp with some NHL experience (like
Roman Lyashenko (C) and Jon Sim (LW)) missed another great opportunity. But, the Stars defense appears intractable this season,
and Gainey’s hands are surely tied with players that have one-way contracts like Hogue and Van Allen. He’d have to spend an
inordinate amount of green for Hogue and Van Allen just to play in Utah. More likely, Gainey will evaluate these two in the coming
months, see how they fit into this new, very changed team, and make a decision from there. If Hogue, Van Allen, and Kamensky don’t seem to fit the Stars’ plans (probably quite likely for at least one of them), expect movement or placement of players on waivers followed by call-ups for the above mentioned prospects. In
particular, Lyashenko, Mann, and Kristofferson seemed closest to making the team. One or more of this cadre should see time with the Stars this year. At the very least, injuries should give us all another glimpse of one of them.
With forward being a more transitory
position on the Stars, it’s doubtful we’ll see nearly as many defensive prospects this season. Fans waiting to catch a
glimpse of Erskine or Macmillan will probably have to wait a long time or hope for a trade.
It isn’t that Roman Lyashenko was that bad in preseason. He was smart, persistent defensively, and competent offensively.
The problem was that savvy Niko Kapanen was just better. Kapanen didn’t earn his keep with flashy play alone (all
though he did have a few passes that made Stars fans want to compose Shakespearian sonnets on the spot). Kapanen earned the
spot with steady, responsible play, and the ability to jive almost immediately with quite a few sets of forwards. He
showcased that stellar playmaking ability he’s known for in several games, but he also demonstrated the responsibly he
learned playing for defensive-minded TPS Turku last season. Kapanen fits into that “interchangeable parts” motif that
characterizes so many of the Stars past draft picks. Like Lagenbrunner, like Lehtinen, like Verbeek, like Audette… Kapanen
is a hard-working, verstaile component that clicks well with a variety of linemates. And so, he has quietly earned the
respect of the coaching staff and players.
Unfortunately, Kapanen is not a goal scorer (a potential weakness of the Stars this year). Most of Niko’s goals are scored
within close proximity to the net, and he’s never been accused of having a killer wrist shot. When given the choice, he
often prefers to pass rather than shoot. So, if Kamensky, a very questionable winger acquired as an experiment, and Benoit
Hogue (who should in my opinion but tarred, feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail) don’t pan out, I give Cameron
Mann and Marcus Kristofferson a solid chance of being called up to the NHL. Gainey has stated to the press a
number of times that the element he is still looking for the most is “size and speed” at the wing position. Both of these
prospects have it. The former probably has more natural goal scoring ability (which he showcased by scoring two preseason
goals). The latter is more of a crease-crasher in the mold of a Scott Thornton or Brenden Morrow (though perhaps not as
talented). Both came within an inch of making the big club this season, and might have if the team weren’t stocked with an
overabundance of spare veterans.
And, of course, we may see more of Roman Lyashenko. Lyashenko got the royal ice time shaft last season, which made
him seem remarkably unproductive and invisible. This has caused some fans to immediately dismiss him as a “bust” or a
perpetual minor leaguer. In truth, he was invisible primarily because he wasn’t really playing. Sure, he was wearing a
uniform and listed in the line-up, but he actually only a few minutes per game and almost never in important situations. Roman is still thought highly of by the Dallas Stars, and — still very young — will likely get many more opportunities to show himself in the near future.
Jon Sim‘s career as an NHL’er may rapidly be nearing its end. Sim bulked up this summer with some form of weight
gainer hoping to make a special impression in camp, but in the end he was overshadowed by quite a few players. He didn’t
make the team, and he really didn’t come that close. In the end, he was exposed in the waiver draft but there were no takers. Sim is the proverbial long shot this year. Expect him to likely remain a minor leaguer or get traded this season.
If any defenseman is called up, it will probably be John Erskine. After recovering from injury, Erskine came back to make quite an impression in camp, and he finally showed up competitor Jeff MacMillan. Erskine’s probably the #8 defenseman on the Stars ahead of either Hawgood or MacMillan.