Watching the Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks go toe-to-toe through three complete overtime periods and into a fourth, it was hard to take your eyes off of star performers like Marty Turco, Brenden Morrow, Evgeni Nabokov and Jonathan Cheechoo.
But as the game dragged on into the wee hours of the morning, it was the lesser lights on the Dallas blueline who began to catch my eye. So while most people were wondering who would score the winner, I couldn’t help but be blown away by the poise being displayed by the likes of Mark Fistric, Nicklas Grossman and Trevor Daley. Those kids had as much to do with Dallas making it to the Western Conference final as any of the team’s veterans.
Who the heck are these guys, you ask?
Fistric was the Stars’ first pick, 28th overall, in the 2004 entry draft. In 37 games with the Stars in the regular season - his first taste of big league play - Fistric had two assists. So you know he wasn’t brought to town to add offense.
Grossman was chosen the same year – 56th overall – and has a similar offensive upside to Fistric, which is to say hardly any at all. In 70 NHL games prior to this year’s playoffs, he had seven assists.
Daley, meanwhile, is a scoring defenseman, but like the other two, it was his stellar defensive play in Game 6 that was most notable.
Throw Matt Niskanen - who didn’t play in Game 6, but has three assists in 11 playoff games this year - into the mix and you can see the Stars have a bright future when it comes to young defensemen.
Grossman played 56 shifts for 42:42 of ice time in the deciding game against the Sharks, while Daley played 42 shifts (29:37) and Fistric 39 shifts (28:26). What makes this group even more intriguing is the fact those young studs are decidedly affordable.
Fistric ($788,889), Daley ($787,500), Grossman ($600,000) and Niskanen ($850,000) combined to earn less than what Brian Campbell will demand on the open market this summer. Who would you rather have?
Now, if they only had these four youngsters on D, you wouldn’t give the Stars much of a chance against Detroit in Round 3. But when you toss veterans Sergei Zubov, Mattias Norstrom and Stephane Robidas into the mix, all of a sudden you get the feeling the Stars just might be capable of pulling off an upset. And imagine if hard-shooting Philippe Boucher, who is out with a sore hip, was available?
Who knows how the Stars will fare against the Red Wings. Detroit is a deserving Presidents’ Trophy winner and has looked extremely good in the playoffs.
One thing is certain, though. Regardless of how the Stars make out this year, they have no worries about their defense for years to come.
Mike Brophy, the co-author of the book Walking with Legends, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor on THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and his column, Double OT, appears Wednesday.
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