Last Word on Hockey’s Puck Drop Previews are back for the 2023-24 season! As the regular season approaches, Last Word will preview each team’s current outlook and stories to watch for the upcoming year. We’ll also do our best to project how things will go for each team over the course of the campaign. Today, we’re previewing the 2023-24 Dallas Stars.
2023-24 Dallas Stars
This was a year to remember if you are the Dallas Stars. After removing Rich Bowness from his duties and hiring Pete DeBoer, Dallas looked like a more potent team offensively, and it showed. As a team, they finished seventh in goals scored and allowed the third-fewest goals against. It was a unique blend of offence and defence, and it helped propel the team to the Eastern Conference Final.
Unfortunately, Dallas fell short of their ultimate goal, but the future in Texas is bright. The core group is locked up for the foreseeable future, so a championship is not far away.
The salary cap was not in plenty for General Manager Jim Nill, but that does not mean he did not bring any players in. Nill brought back Evgenii Dadonov on a two-year deal, as it was a strong acquisition reuniting with DeBoer. Furthermore, the offence got a boost by bringing in Matt Duchene, who the Nashville Predators bought out. It is a massive boost to the top two lines and gives the team depth going forward.
Bringing back Max Domi was a pipeline dream, but also leaving the team was defencemen Colin Miller in a trade with the New Jersey Devils. It was not about saving money but about giving younger guys opportunities who are NHL-ready. The team that reached the Eastern Conference final is bringing back the same team for the most part and should be among the top teams in the conference.
The Dallas Stars top six is arguably one of the best in the conference and the league. For starters, the top line is the best in hockey. It is a trio that perfectly complements one another, and they have great chemistry. In addition, they are a powerhouse in generating offence and, as a line, score goals in bunches. During the 2022-23 season, the top line generated the second most expected goals (41) and scored the most of any line combination (52). This line is their driving force and a large part of the teams’ success.
The second line gets a boost, a blessing for centre Tyler Seguin. Seguin’s days of driving a line himself seem to be over, but incoming is Duchene. Duchene still had a good season last year (56 points) but is one year removed from a career season where he scored 43 goals and 86 points. Given the Stars’ offensively driven team, Duchene fits in perfectly and will be a massive boost in taking pressure off the top line.
The depth on the Stars’ roster was noticeable and a bright spot compared to the season prior. The fans and the organization saw multiple players hit the 20-goal mark (6). However, one significant impact was the third line for the team. Jamie Benn, Ty Dellandrea, and Wyatt Johnston played a huge role and had the second-highest goals as a line on the team (26). Dadonov will be a massive boost to that line and a tough matchup for teams to go against. The fourth line is not a bad unit as well and is a group that will bring energy and light production to the group. The Dallas Stars 2023-24 season will be fun offensively as the unit gets better.
The top four is the anchor of this team and will be entering the season. It is a mix of seasoned veterans and a player who is coming off a career year. Miro Heiskanen is an elite two-way defenceman who will challenge for the Norris Trophy. He is coming off a career season (73 points) and will likely be paired alongside Suter. The pair was good for the team, and they spent almost 400 minutes of ice time together. Together, the duo averaged 2.35 expected goals against per 60 minutes while generating 2.79 expected goals for. They defied the expected rate and averaged 1.85 goals against per game together. Heiskanen can play alongside anybody and spent most of the year with Miller, where defensively they shined brightly.
Harley is another young player ready to make the jump. He only skated in six games for the Stars last season, and being paired with the big and physical Hakanpaa will make for an interesting pair. Pairing Harley and Lundkvist (down below) could be tricky, given they are both rookies essentially, so adding a veteran to help stabilize the pairs and provide balance.
Esa Lindell is a more proven commodity, but Nils Lundkvist has barely scratched the surface. Lindell focuses more on his shutdown ability, which should allow Lundqvist to show his flashes of offence. The most significant factor here is giving him a chance and letting him play. Having him paired alongside Lindell could help his game thrive, and he could be one of the better third pairs in the league.
The Dallas Stars goaltending situation for the 2023-24 season is set. Jake Oettinger proved his playoff performance against the Calgary Flames the season prior was no fluke, as he faced his most extensive workload and thrived with it. He started 61 games and finished with a record of 37-11-11. His numbers were substantial, as he ended with a 2.37 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. In addition, he finished with 12.8 goals saved above expected and is cemented as the number one goaltender.
Wedgewood is a solid backup and looked sharp when he tended the crease. He finished with a 2.72 GAA and a .915 save percentage. His sample size was much smaller, but he finished with 4.5 goals saved above expected. The main goal will be giving Oettinger more rest so he is not out of gas during the playoffs. Overall, the position is solid as both goalies give the team a chance to win on any given night.
Players to Watch
As Wyatt Johnston enters his sophomore season, he is a player to watch for the Stars in 2023-24. Johnston was a bright spot for the club and challenged for the Calder Trophy. He scored 24 goals and 41 points and helped anchor the third line, which was impactful to the club. He managed six points in 19 playoff games, but one of his goals was a highlight reel. There is so much potential in his game, and he should only get better going forward. All eyes will be on him after his flashes of brilliance during the 2022-23 season.
As mentioned above, the top two lines got a boost, with Duchene entering the fold. He is a proven player and can produce offensively. It was a night-and-day thing for the Stars going from a defensive-minded system to an offensive one, so he should fit right in. Taking pressure off the top line is significant to the teams’ success, and it will be great to see how he meshes with Seguin. If Duchene can reach his career-high production from a season ago or come close to his 70-point production, this will be a dangerous team that will create matchup nightmares.
Prediction for the 2023-24 Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars are a team capable of winning the Stanley Cup. During the 2022-23 season, they reached the conference finals and ultimately lost to the Vegas Golden Knights. After reinforcing their top two lines and becoming a force offensively under Pete DeBoer, there is no reason to think this team cannot go further. They have arguably the best top line in hockey, a Norris calibre defencemen, and a young star in the crease. The Western Conference will be competitive, but Dallas is ready for the challenge.
Prediction: Reaches the Stanley Cup Final
Main Photo: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports