Smith: Things looking up for hockey in Texas after successful training camp, preseason

NHL, AHL teams both missed the playoffs last year


Last year didn’t end how any Texas hockey fan wanted. Dallas missed the playoffs and didn’t renew their head coach’s contract and the AHL team in Cedar Park missed out on the postseason for just the second time in the team’s history. 

Everything will change this season. 

At both levels, the teams have reloaded and shifted its focus towards the postseason. The results don’t always matter at the minor league level, but a good team in the AHL means the NHL team is doing well. 

Dallas added depth at both ends in the offseason, having one of theist free agency periods of any team in the NHL. 

Meanwhile, the minor league Stars continued to develop. Texas ended last season by signing quite a few young players to their roster and ended the season on a hot streak led by a core of young, new faces. 

Ken Hitchcock is precisely the man the Stars needed at the NHL level. He’s a familiar face that won a Stanley Cup with the team before and has a focus on what Dallas needs to improve on the most headed into the season. 

Last season, Dallas gave up the second most goals in the league with 260. The last full season Hitchcock had in the NHL, with the Blues in 2015-16, his St. Louis team had the fourth-best defense in the league. 

The Stars also went from having one of the worst goaltending duos to one of the best. Ben Bishop was acquired via trade with the Los Angeles Kings. He boasts a career 2.32 goals against average. Dallas gave up more than three goals a game last year. 

The biggest offensive addition for Dallas has been Alexander Radulov, who signed as a free agent after spending one year in Montreal. 

He returned to the NHL last season after spending four years in the KHL in his native Russia. The 31-year-old award has split time between the United States and Russia since he was picked 15th overall in 2004. 

If his past is any indication, Stars fans should expect a constant performance, at least for the time being. Radulov has signed three professional contracts and on all three instances, he hasn’t re-signed.

The four-year, $31 million contract he signed with Dallas is a necessary risk and a good way for the team to transition to the next generation still growing in Cedar Park. 

Chief among them is another Russian, 20-year-old winger Denis Gurianov, the team’s 12th overall pick in 2015. 

In 57 games in his first professional season in America last year, he scored 12 goals with 15 assists in the AHL. He was assigned to Texas to start this season early this week after impressing during Dallas training camp. 

Gurianov’s offense will be helped by a boosted Texas defense. Much like their parent club, the Stars were one of the worst defensive teams in the league last season, ranking 28th of 30 teams after allowing 265 goals. 

Dallas loanees Andrew Bodnarchuk and Ludwig Bystrom join enforcer Matt Mangene and former second-round pick Dillon Heatherington, who was accrued at the trade deadline last season, in the defensive zone in Cedar Park to start the season.

The main focus of the team that will be helped with a more consistent defense is special teams. Texas had the league’s worst penalty kill (74.7 percent) and ranked 27 out of 30 teams on the power play (14.7 percent). The Stars gave up 83 power play goals, eight more than any other team in the AHL.

Dallas has one more preseason game, traveling to meet the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night before beginning the regular season at home against the Las Vegas Golden Knights, who will be playing its first regular season game on Oct. 6 at 7:30 p.m.

Texas has just a pair of preseason games, both against the San Antonio Rampage. The first game will be in San Antonio on Friday night and the two teams will wrap up the preseason Saturday night at the HEB Center. 

The regular season begins Oct. 6 at 7:30 p.m. when Texas hosts the Chicago Wolves.

A good start is key to a good season. When Texas fell behind early in the season last year, they could never catch up despite a much stronger second half. 

This will be a year of redemption for hockey in the Lone Star State.