CEDAR PARK, Texas – The identity of the Stars organization over the last few years has been their defense. And with moves to fortify their blue line, there is reason to believe this will continue to be the primary focal point of the organization going forward.
Similar to the goaltending situation we visited a couple of weeks ago, the defense of the Texas Stars will be influenced by the decisions made in Dallas by General Manager Jim Nill. There are exciting prospects in the pipeline we will see quite a bit of in Austin, and several veterans have been brought in to fortify the top four of Texas and the bottom six of Dallas. This season will be one to watch as it will show how the organization intends to develop its young prospects. In particular, I am focusing on 2019 first-round pick Thomas Harley, who is a smooth-skating, offensive-minded left defenseman that played 38 games in Austin last season. In those 38 games, Harley netted eight goals and assisted on another 17 for 25 points. These are very good totals for someone who was only 19. I anticipate him spending most of the season in Austin as there are solid options on the third pairing for Dallas.
Dallas’ Effect on Texas
The Stars’ defense has been the envy of the Western Conference for the past three seasons, but that did not stop the team from going out and fortifying the backend with veterans like Ryan Suter and Jani Hakanpaa. Suter was bought out by the Minnesota Wild, so he is determined to prove the doubters wrong and showing his effectiveness on the back-end at the age of 36. The Stars committed to Suter for the next four years, so it looks like both sides are buying into Suter’s abilities.
Hakanpaa, on the other hand, was signed as a free agent from Carolina where he was a rental for their 2021 Stanley Cup Playoff run. He is a serviceable right-side defenseman and will eat up several minutes every night. I note these two additions because they have a profound effect on who will be filling the lineup in Austin. With the second pairing left side taken by Suter and the third pairing right side taken by Hakanpaa, there is only one spot I would even consider labeling “available”.
Currently, the third pairing left defenseman is Andrej Sekera, but that spot may soon be Harley’s depending on performance. Another year in the AHL may be the best thing for Harley and the Stars can definitely afford to let him develop a little bit longer.
Outlining Texas’ Top Six
We already noted who our top pairing left defenseman will be this season in Harley. But who will be holding down the blue line for Texas this season? I foresee Harley’s partner for this season to be Alexander Petrovic, a 29-year-old right-shot defenseman who has spent a lot of time in the NHL throughout his career. But, in the last few seasons, he has played solely in the AHL, spending time between the Bruins and Flames organizations. He isn’t known for his offensive prowess, but can jump up into the play every now and then. Expect to see him operating as a ‘stay-at-home’ defenseman when he plays with Harley.
Filling out the top four, I anticipate we’re going to see Ben Gleason paired with either Dawson Barteaux or Joseph Cecconi. Gleason is a 23-year-old left defenseman who is strong on the defensive side of the puck with a little bit of offense thrown in.
Barteaux was a 2018 sixth-round pick and appeared in 25 games for Texas last season. In his first professional season, Barteaux’s point totals (1G-1A-2P) were less than stellar, but he was solid defensively and had an even plus/minus for the season.
Conversely, Cecconi is a 24-year-old, big-bodied presence who can solidify the top four. This is a similar crossroads situation to the one we see with Harley. Does the team want to be certain of what they are getting in their defenseman? Or are we looking at the kids getting an expanded role and giving them the opportunity to showcase their talent? Regardless, both Barteaux and Cecconi will see time in the AHL this season.
Rounding out the top six will be 22-year-old Max Martin, who was fantastic in the WHL during the 2019-20 season. He was due for a promotion to the AHL, but his point production lagged and was slightly disappointing. I’m not reading too deep into his first professional season as he is certainly a promising prospect who was probably just having some growing pains in sheltered minutes.
The Texas Stars defense is very formidable and it will be exciting to see how they utilize their veterans and prospects. The kids need the chance to develop and it looks like the organization agrees. The organization as a whole is in a very good spot. The top six in the NHL are tremendously talented and the same goes for Texas. The depth throughout is enviable and the Stars may utilize their embarrassment of riches for other pieces, but there is certainly no pressure to find other options.
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