The Dallas Stars hosted their training camp for the third straight season at the HEB Center this weekend, welcoming players from both the Dallas and Texas rosters as well as new additions to the team.
Some players already have their NHL spot locked up, while others hoped to impress the coaching staff over the three days of practice and an intrasquad scrimmage on Sunday afternoon.
“The last month, those hockey thoughts have been creeping in and it’s great to be back,” defenseman John Klingberg said. “Starting off here in Austin again is great and with all the moves we did this summer, it’s going to be a good year.”
Ken Hitchcock was hired by the Stars for the second time in the offseason. He began his NHL coaching with Dallas in 1996 and lifted the Stanley Cup with the team in 1999. He also spent time in charge of the Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and St. Louis Blues.
Dallas was one of the most active teams in free agency having acquired 11 new players since Hitchcock took over in April. The Stars traded a fourth-round pick to Los Angeles for goalie Ben Bishop and signed a pair of forwards in Tyler Pitlick and Martin Hanzal on the first day of free agency on July 1.
But the biggest pickup was Russian winger Alexander Radulov, who spent the last four seasons playing in the KHL in Russia. He returned to NHL last season and scored 18 goals with 36 assists for the Montreal Canadians.
“He’s an electric player, you could even tell in the first practice,” Forward Jamie Benn said. “He’s a fun guy to be around and he brings a lot of energy. I tried to give him the puck all practice because it’s fun to watch him play.”
Dallas was one of the worst defensive teams in the league last season, allowing more than three goals per game. They hope Bishop helps with that statistic. He had a 2.54 goals against average and .910 save percentage.
Julius Honka spent most of last season in Cedar Park with the AHL team but made 16 appearances in the NHL last season. Hitchcock said the 21-year-old Finland native is pushing hard to make the big team this season.
“He’s an elite player with the puck,” he said. “Whether he can adjust and become competitive without the puck is what exhibition games are for. We already know how good he is offensively. Now how can he compete when the other team has the puck.”
The team had an intrasquad prospect scrimmage on Sunday afternoon. Team Green beat Team White 5-2 with Texas regulars Justin Dowling and Nick Caamano.
Dowling scored eight goals and had 20 assists in 49 games for Texas last season, while Caamano had three assists in six games after being promoted from the Flint Firebirds of the Ontario Hockey League late last season.
“The tempo and effort were excellent,” Hitchcock said. “Everybody was equal footing and some guys really emerged. Some people that weren’t on the radar. It’s not like they weren’t good players, you just want to see when the competition goes up if they still can be.”
Preseason play has already started as Dallas travels to face Hitchcock’s old team in St. Louis on Saturday at 7 p.m. and return to the American Airlines Center for games against the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild on Monday and Tuesday night.
The AHL season in Cedar Park begins at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 6 with the first of a two-game set against the Chicago Wolves.
Dowling has been through some adversity in his hockey career. He went undrafted in the junior Western Hockey League draft and again didn’t hear his name called in the NHL draft. He’s been a mainstay on the AHL roster for five seasons before making his NHL debut last year.
“You should take every training camp with the same focus that you’re fighting for a job,” Dowling said. “It doesn’t matter where you are in the pecking order, you go out there and play your game to give yourself the best chance. You’ve always got to be working hard.”