You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Cliché, yes. But for the Dallas Stars, last night’s 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators showcased several impressive debuts. It’s the type of grand entrance that should make fans very happy as the team gets ready for the home opener on Saturday night.
First of all, let me proceed with the mandatory precaution: A first impression is not the same as a lasting impression. Please Google the name “Fabian Brunnstrom” if you are unclear on the concept.
Speed in hockey is a wonderful thing. First impression of the Dallas Stars under new Head Coach Pete DeBoer is welcome to the era of faster, younger, and quicker. Most notable was the difference on the forecheck and the blue line. Playing Colin Miller with Miro Heiskanen allows the Finnish superstar to play on his natural side. People may not know that in 2015, Miller won the fastest skater competition at the AHL All-Star game. (He also won the hardest shot contest too). Miller’s wheels allow him to keep up with Miro and backtrack quickly into the defensive zone. Miller has battled injury issues and a difficult stint in Buffalo. In Dallas, Miller is getting the chance to play with one of the best rearguards in the NHL. Keeping pace with Heiskanen is not an option—it’s a job requirement.
As far as forwards making an immediate impact, it would be hard to beat the debut of Mason Marchment. When signing the 27-year-old forward, Dallas loved his speed, size, and puck possession numbers. Marchment displayed all those attributes against the Predators. The first goal he sprinted up ice leaving two Predators in his wake, dangled a Norris Trophy Finalist at the blue line, and beat a Vezina Trophy finalist with a snipe to the top shelf. When was the last time a Stars 2nd liner pulled off that combination?
Maybe the most encouraging flash of speed came from someone who many believe can’t play as fast a game as he once did—Tyler Seguin. His linemates, Marchment and 22-year-old Ty Dellandrea can absolutely buzz in the offensive zone. Seguin not only kept up; in some ways he led the charge. Seguin killed penalties and his work on the power play was light years ahead of last year at this time. The lethal one-timer rarely seen last season led to Marchment’s second goal. On the Stars final power-play goal, Seguin beat his defender, causing a coverage breakdown which allowed a crisp cross-ice pass to Wyatt Johnston for the kid’s first NHL goal. That extra step of quickness created the separation that made the play possible.
As long as we’re on the topic of first impressions, let’s talk about the kid. Wyatt Johnston set a Dallas Stars record as the youngest player to score a goal in his first NHL game, (19 years, 151 days). Just as important, Johnston looked like he belonged…solid play in the defensive zone, did not get manhandled in the corners, and easily kept up with the speed and mental quickness needed to contribute. Some seem to think the rookie is here on a nine-game audition. If that is the case, tonight earned him a callback, not too shabby a way to start the career. His parents, Margot and Chuck watching in person, should be very proud.
For one night, there is nothing but joy in Starsville. The moves General Manager Jim Nill made in the off-season look brilliant. Pete DeBoer’s system is exciting to watch, and the younger, faster team feeds off the energy of playing up-tempo hockey. However…a hockey season is a marathon and no one ever won the long race in the first 100 yards. There is much still to be determined. But for a team that has had only one exceptional beginning to a regular season over the past decade, a great first impression is a nice way to start things off, along with the hope it will lead to bigger things ahead.