The Dallas Stars 2021-22 season will guide the franchise on future decisions. While still considered a “win-now” team, Stars management has elected to give solid ice time to younger players. Stars coach Rick Bowness isn’t afraid to move players around the lineup if a line has trouble producing points.
Winger Jason Robertson saw his average ice time increase from around 12 minutes at the beginning of last season to about 18 by its end. Not every player to come out of the minors will be a 40-point scorer, but the Stars are embracing the young talent that can produce. The five players listed in this article are players that are on the radar of the coaching staff and have a chance to crack the lineup in 2021-22
The top member of this list is a player who had expectations of a breakout year last season. Dellandrea was somewhat overshadowed by the emergence of Robertson but was given a sufficient amount of ice time early in the season. He averaged around 16 minutes through his first five games, including logging 19 minutes in just his third NHL game. Dellandrea did not shoot a lot, and that cost him a more prominent role with the team.
The good news for Dellandrea this season is that he has equal opportunity to gain a roster spot. A hole became available during the offseason when Jason Dickinson was traded to Vancouver. Additionally, Joel Kiviranta hasn’t been super impressive since his 2019-20 Game 7 goal. There is an opening as a third-line winger for Dellandrea. He has a reputation as a goal scorer in the Ontario Hockey League, so he needs to show that his talent can translate into the NHL.
“I thought that Ty really stepped in at a young age, and we got a chance to see that he’s a 200-foot player, he’s got some offense, he’s got some bite to his game, he skates well, and he thinks about the game well,” Texas Stars head coach Derek Laxdal said. “For him, it’s just experience and getting more games under his belt so he can build that base, and we can build that book on him. You could see why he got drafted as a first-round pick because he’s a well-rounded player.”
L’Esperance has rarely been used on the Stars NHL roster, only logging 33 games over the past three seasons. He is more focused on the physical game, as he has 39 career hits in the NHL. L’Esperance would be a good fit for a bottom-six-grind line role, but previous Stars’ players were better suited for it. Corey Perry and Andrew Cogliano held those roles previously, with Blake Comeau and Luke Glendening poised to take those same roles this year. What holds L’Esperance back from impacting the NHL roster is his lack of time playing in the NHL.
However, the Stars are coming into the 2021-22 season with the mentality of a contender. While Glendening and Comeau are consistent players, if management feels that the bottom six aren’t performing well as lock-down defenders, L’Esperance can find his way into the lineup. The Stars also had a long list of injuries last season, forcing some of the youth players to step up. L’Esperance has two 40+ point seasons under his belt in the American Hockey League. If he can find his footing in the NHL, he could be the versatile bottom-six winger they cherish to have.
“He’s a good player, strong and protects the puck well,” Stars assistant general manager Scott White said. “He’s a proven goal-scorer at the AHL level, and he’s had his cup of coffee in NHL, playing  games. It’s just finding his path to the NHL and sticking. He just has to find his way to add elements to his game to stick. He knows what he has to do, and now it’s up to him to go do it.”
The 18th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, Harley ranked second amongst defensemen in points in the AHL last season. He was promoted to the AHL due to covid wiping the OHL’s entire season last year. While Harley is young, he played one NHL game during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Round Robin. This shows that the Stars management is confident that Harley has the skills to crack the lineup. Dellandrea and L’Esperance have an advantage in having limited NHL experience. Harley doesn’t have that experience but has impressive stats in the OHL and AHL.
There is an open spot for Harley in the Dallas Stars defensive unit. The Stars will fill that unit based on whether they want points or hits from the third-pairing defensemen. With John Klingberg, Miro Heiskanen, Esa Lindell, and Ryan Suter filling the top 4, the thrid pair is yet to be determined. Jani Hakanpaa and Andreas Borgman were both acquired this offseason and are overwhelmingly skilled at hits. Harley is more offensive-minded and his likelihood of seeing NHL time depends on if the Stars need an offensive boost to their blue line.
“He’s a smooth-skating, big defender,” White said. “He’s not overly physical. He’s very mobile, and he can skate it out of trouble when he needs to. He can take on defenders 1-on-1 and walks the blue line well offensively as well.”
Caamano is another member of the young Stars’ core that has seen inconsistent time in the NHL. He struggled with scoring and discipline, similar to his stats in the AHL. Caamano also runs into the same problem as L’Esperance. He is skilled at hitting, but the current grind-line are much better versions of Caamano.
He played 24 games in 2020-21, amassing one point, 41 hits, and 17 penalty minutes. To Caamano’s credit, he was thrust into a position he was not ready for last season due to many injuries. He didn’t play many minutes on the ice either, averaging just over 9 minutes a night.
Caamano fought Chicago Blackhawks winger Reese Johnson during the first period of a game in March of 2021. He will most likely be called up if Comeau or Glendening are absent from the lineup. Of course, L’Esperance is an option there as well, but Caamano’s lack of scoring ability will anchor him to the fourth line.
Probably the person on this list who is farthest away from appearing in the NHL next season is Damiani. That’s not his fault. Many things would need to go wrong before he saw any playing time. Damiani was a menace in the OHL in 2019-20, scoring a total of 78 points in 61 games. He took his talents to the AHL last season, posting 36 points in 36 games. Damiani’s performance in the AHL won him, rookie of the year honors, as he placed third overall in scoring. Damiani will be a perfect fit in Dallas when he makes the team, as he is skilled in offense and defense.
“The initial impressions were that he had great vision, good speed, and he’s a relentless worker,” Rich Peverley, the Stars’ director of player personnel, said. “We were impressed right away, and that’s why we drafted him.”
Perverly went on to praise all aspects of Damiani’s game. What surprised Peverly the most was the Ontario native’s ability on the powerplay.
“He makes plays crisp on the tape, and his shot from distance on the power play has gotten better,” Peverly said. “And his polish around the net – he does these shootout moves, and he finds a way to get the puck up – he’s got a lot of skill. It’s something he has worked at, and he’s vastly improved.”
What hold Damiani back is his size. Peverly still wants the young defenseman to gain some muscle before he gets called up. Damiani also would battle against numerous depth players whose games are focused on heavy hitting. He is not fit for the physicality that the third defensive pairing will dish out. Damiani will likely see time towards the end of the season when the playoffs are a formality. Even if that third pairing becomes rotational, the Stars will choose to let him develop in the AHL for a little longer.Embed from Getty Images