The Stars entered this season aware that things were going to change. New Head Coach Pete DeBoer urges his teams to push the pace, activate the D, and transition the puck up the ice in a hurry. On the first couple of days of training camp, the transitions were visible.
“We’re trying to play fast and get that puck moving up the ice as quick as possible,” Jamie Benn said. “Just some of their sayings, it all kind of means the same thing, but just different wording. … It seems very familiar to a few years back, which is exciting personally. Just trying to keep building here and see what happens.”
The Stars veterans have some experience playing fast and offensively dangerous hockey. During the 2015-16 run that led to a Central Division title and the first seed in the postseason, Lindy Ruff insisted on some similar tactics. The difference this season and under DeBoer in general though is to find the balance that makes them a true contender rather than a fun regular-season club destined for an early playoff exit.
“I think just an understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Joe Pavelski said. “It’s not just one or two guys going. It’s all five guys on the ice, playing a little bit quicker in certain areas, stretching areas of the game out. Certain little areas and details that we’re trying to accomplish out there that he sets up for us. I think that understanding allows you to be a little bit quicker and allows better support, at times.”
In order to play fast, Dallas will need to retrieve pucks, get their heads turned, and break out of their own zone or the neutral zone quickly. On day one, that was the primary focus as DeBoer had his team working breakouts and neutral zone puck retrievals for nearly the entire session.
“We spent a lot of time on breakouts today,” DeBoer said. “It starts there for us. If we can get out of our own zone cleaner, more often, with better spacing, more possession, I think it sets up the rest of our game. That’s typically how it works.”
"Quick ups are huge," Thomas Harley said. "If you can catch the other team not in their defensive structure, it's huge. They are running around, they make some poor reads, and that opens up rush chances and hopefully leads to some rush goals."
For most of the team, this system should be an easy transition. Dallas has a host of young core players in Roope Hintz, Jason Robertson, Miro Heiskanen, Jacob Peterson, Denis Gurianov, etc… along with a few teenagers looking to make the team. Their minds should be open and their speed and skill should not be a problem. The challenge will lie within the veterans that have established their styles and maybe are not the speed skaters they used to be.
“Just tried to get faster,” Benn laughed when asked if he changed anything in his training this summer. “All of these young guys are coming in and they can skate, and I am not getting any younger.”
The key for these veterans will be to find their role. Not every player in a fast system needs to be moving at high speeds all over the ice. Pavelski has made a living on being in the right spot and making the correct decisions around the net. If each player, despite their age or skill, can find their role and style within the DeBoer system, Dallas should be an exciting team to watch.