Central Division 2014-15 Preview: Dallas Stars
COACH: Lindy Ruff
2013-14 RECORD: 40-31-11, 91 points (fifth in Central, wild card; lost to Ducks, 4-2, in first round)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.82 goals per game (10th); 2.72 goals-against per game (17th); 15.9 power play pct. (23rd); 81.4 penalty kill pct. (21st); shootout record: 4-5 (24th)
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
OUTLOOK: The Stars went out and got themselves a second line, and it comes with some built-in chemistry. They traded for Jason Spezza and inked free agent Ales Hemsky, who played together in Ottawa during the Senators' final 20-game stretch of 2013-14. They'll team with Erik Cole to form a line that can prevent teams from concentrating on the Benn-Seguin-Nichushkin trio and provide enough to depth to compete in a very deep division. The third line won't draw a lot of attention, but it could make a significant contribution now that GM Jim Nill has gotten RFA Cody Eakin signed to a new two-year, $3.8 million deal. The trio combined for a solid 47 goals last season while playing terrific possession hockey. The blueline remains a work-in-progress, but could be much improved if Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley start the season the way they finished last season ... and if Nill can get RFA Brenden Dillon under contract. Dillon plays the type of hard defensive minutes that would overwhelm top prospects like Patrik Nemeth and Jyrki Jokipakka at this point in their development. Also of consequence: Goaltender Kari Lehtonen is sure to make some of the season's most spectacular stops, but he needs to be more consistent if the Stars are to return to the playoffs.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Valeri Nichushkin
The tenth overall pick in the 2013 draft had his share of highlights during his rookie season, scoring 14 goals and 24 points in 79 games, but he struggled to adapt to North American-sized ice, players and life. With a full season on his resumé and plenty of veteran forwards to help speed up Nichushkin's adjustment, Ruff has high hopes for the big Russian, who could hit his stride early on and never look back.
PREDICTION: 100 points; third in Central