With a majority of its roster set, the only real competition for the Dallas Stars this pre-season features seven players looking to fill the final five forward spots.
Devin Shore, Brett Ritchie, Jason Dickinson, Gemel Smith, Remi Elie, Roope Hintz, and Denis Gurianov are the lucky seven fighting for a spot in the Stars lineup. Three of those players will occupy the fourth line and two would be the Stars healthy scratches heading into the season.
Shore and Ritchie looked to be locks given their NHL experience and higher-dollar contracts. Dickinson also appeared to have an inside track on one of the five spots. That left Smith, Elie, Hintz, and Gurianov fighting for two spots.
Barring injury, conventional thinking suggested the Stars would send Hintz and Gurianov to the club’s AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, to start the season because they are both exempt from league waivers. If any of Smith, Elie, Shore, Ritchie, or Dickinson were sent down to the AHL they would have to clear waivers (meaning any other NHL could claim them and acquire them at no cost).
Remember the waivers process impacted the Stars just before last season when the Colorado Avalanche claimed defenseman Patrick Nemeth off waivers. After spending years developing the former second round pick, Dallas got nothing in return for losing Nemeth while Colorado got a player who scored 15 points and posted a plus-27 in 68 games on a team who finished ahead of the Stars in the standings.
It may be a good problem to have, but right now Roope Hintz is outplaying everyone else in this group. You could argue Gurianov is ahead of the others too. I think Gurianov is a lock to return to the AHL, but it certainly appears Hintz is ready to play in the NHL right now.
Hintz looked like he belonged in last night’s pre-season game centering the top line alongside Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov. The 21-year-old scored a goal, set up another with an impressive no-look drop pass, and won nine of 14 faceoffs.
Having prospects develop into legitimate NHL players is never a problem. The problem is this: whose spot does Hintz take and what does Dallas do with said player?
You could try to send one of Ritchie, Elie, or Smith to the AHL and hope no one claims them on league waivers. But you risk losing a young player for nothing and negatively affecting the club’s forward depth. You could also look to trade one of the three, but it’s unlikely you get much in return this time of the year.
The Stars have three more pre-season games to evaluate the roster and make a decision, but it certainly seems Roope Hintz is forcing a change in the Stars original roster plans heading into Opening Night next week.
Brian Roe is the founder and lead writer at The Roe Report. He spent five years working for the Dallas Stars and was a contributor at Hockey’s Future, The Hockey Writers, and NHL Intel. Follow Brian on Twitter @brianproe.