CEDAR PARK, Texas – The Texas Stars return to the ice this weekend for the first time since game seven of the Calder Cup Final, facing in-state rival San Antonio in a preseason home-and-home.
The Stars will be without some key names from last year’s playoff run, but change is always expected in the AHL offseason. Despite losing names such as Mike McKenna and Curtis McKenzie, the Stars look set to contend once again going into the 2018-19 campaign.
Several familiar names will be back as well, most notably longtime-Star Travis Morin, who enters his ninth year in Texas. The training camp roster that started with 29 names now has 30, with John Nyberg being assigned to Texas on Thursday. To help get a clearer picture, let’s take a look at some names to watch, as well players still in Dallas camp who I think will start the year in Cedar Park.
The forwards were hit hardest this summer, with McKenzie, Sheldon Dries, and Brian Flynn all departing. The three combined for 27 playoff goals for Texas last season. The Stars have some weapons still with Dallas, though, as well as some new names to watch.
Players such as Roope Hintz, Denis Gurianov, Jason Dickinson, and Justin Dowling are still with the big club in Dallas. I think Hintz (3G, 1A NHL preseason), has a very good shot of making the NHL out of camp. While all four have played well for Dallas this preseason, I believe Dowling, and at least one between Dickinson and Gurianov will start the year in Cedar Park.
Another name currently in Dallas that should see time in Cedar Park is newcomer Michael Mersch. Mersch comes to Texas after three years with the Ontario Reign and is coming off a season in which he tallied 49 points (21G, 28A) in 65 games. Colton Hargrove also comes to Cedar Park with AHL experience, posting 87 total points (38G, 49A) over three seasons with the Providence Bruins.
Two rookies to keep an eye on are Adam Mascherin and Nick Caamano. Mascherin was a force offensively for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, with impressive point totals of 81 (35G, 46A), 100 (35G, 65A), and 86 (40G, 46A) over the past three years. Caamano also had good numbers in the OHL, tallying 64 points (35G, 29A) for the Flint Firebirds in 2016-17, and a total of 57 points (25G, 32A) between Flint and the Hamilton Bulldogs last season.
The defense will see some familiar faces returning, but also feature a few new ones. Nyberg is a bit of both, having played in eight playoff games (0G, 2A) for the Stars last year. He played most of the last two years in Sweden, however, accumulating 28 points (9G, 19A) while posting a plus-8 over that time.
Two familiar names that are still with Dallas are Gavin Bayreuther and Reece Scarlett. Bayreuther has impressed the Dallas staff during the preseason and may see significant time at both the NHL and AHL levels. Bayreuther had 32 points (7G, 25A) last season, and added eight more (3G, 5A) in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Scarlett should return for his first full season in Texas, he played in 44 games for the Stars last year after coming over from the Springfield Thunderbirds.
A couple younger players to watch would be Ben Gleason and Ondrej Vala. Gleason can provide an offensive punch from the blueline, scoring 30 or more points in each of the past three seasons for OHL Hamilton. He was a plus-21 and had 48 points (9G, 39A) over 63 games in 2017-18. Vala was a plus-17 and had 28 points (7G, 21A) in 59 total games split between the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers and Everett Silvertips last year.
McKenna was the backbone of the run to the Finals this past spring and will be tough to replace. The drop-off shouldn’t be severe, though, as the Stars have depth between the pipes in the minors.
Landon Bow is in Dallas at the moment, but looks the likely starter for opening night in Cedar Park. He was 20-15-5 (2.86 GAA, .903 SV%) in 44 appearances for Texas last season. Philippe Desrosiers is coming off a stellar 23-9-1 (2.51 GAA, .913 SV%) campaign for the Stars ECHL affiliate Idaho Steelheads last season, and was 1-0 (0.86 GAA, .962 SV%) in two appearances for Texas. Look for him to pair with Bow as the Texas tandem to start the year.
That said, you should keep a close eye on Colton Point during this weekend’s action. He will likely start in Idaho but should see time this year in Cedar Park. He comes to the Stars organization with a lot of hype after a standout collegiate season for Colgate University. He was just 16-12-5 but posted a stingy 1.74 goals against average and .944 save percentage.
The preseason is only two games in the AHL, giving the players limited time to make an impression on the coaches and staff. The first of those chances come tonight as the Stars travel to San Antonio to face the Rampage at 7:00 p.m. The teams will then head north for the return game inside the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, with faceoff set for 5:00 p.m. Saturday.