With The Playoffs Here, Let’s Give Grades To Each Of The Dallas Stars.

“From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April dress’d in all his trim
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laugh’d and leap’d with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew;
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,
Lord Stanley, your Dallas Stars have come to play.”

–William Shakespeare & LehtMoJoe, Sonnet 98 (2016 Remix)

Oh, what a wonderful time of year! There’s nothing in professional sports quite like playoff hockey, and to have your absolute favorite team in the mix is exciting as a Mr. Falcon! But, before we drop the puck and commence the march to Lord Stanley’s Cup, let me introduce to you to Forechecking’s Official 2015-2016 Dallas Stars Player Grades.

I based the scores below based on a mixture of expectations we had for each player heading into the season, how they stacked up against other players at their position and their place in the lineup — but not entirely, though, as coach Lindy Ruff has shuffled his lines more than a meth’d out WinStar Blackjack dealer. Disagree with the end of year report card? Have your parents send angry and threatening tweets to @central_track.

Forwards.
Perhaps the biggest strength of the franchise is at the forward position. GM Jim Nill has expertly maneuvered free agency and the trade market to fill voids throughout the lineup as the boys in the minors were given time to “over-ripen,” and when called upon, provide excellent play in the NHL. Coach Ruff has had the enviable problem of finding reasons to scratch a player, rather than finding reasons to put a player in the lineup. A solid class, no doubt — but did they all pass?

Jamie Benn: What more could you possibly ask for in a franchise player? Jamie plays in all situations, is a threat on special teams, fights all who dare challenge and carries a swagger that would make Lil Boosie blush. He is universally respected, highly decorated, in his prime and he is your Captain. Jamie followed his Art Ross season of 2015 with 89 points, second only to Patrick “Something to Prove So People Will Forget About My Off-Ice Behavior” Kane’s 106. Another fantastic year for the fifth-round draft pick, who was clearly the Stars’ MVP this season. When in doubt, put Jamie on the ice, it’s the best time. Grade: A+

Cody Eakin: It was a tale of two Eakins. The Ginger Ninja struggled mightily for a good portion of the year — rule changes may have affected his face-off performance, while turnovers and odd play choices in the offensive zone had many fans wondering why Ruff kept leaning on him during pivotal situations in the game. But Cody was able to finally turn his play around and has had a solid stretch of play of late that has seen him bounce between first line and checking line center duties. He’s rolling into the playoffs on a bit of a cold streak points-wise, but Eakin’s real value is creating space for his more talented linemates. Grade: C+

Patrick Eaves: When he’s in the lineup, Eaves is a dependable all-purpose winger (with a wicked wrist shot) that takes punishment in front of the opposition’s net to create scoring chances. His fearless play and propensity to get injured, however, often collide, leaving the impressively-bearded Eaves on the shelf for long stretches of time. He is a solid veteran and contributor when available, and the Stars are better when he’s in the lineup.Grade: C+

Radek Faksa: The 2012 draftee plays with the poise and quiet confidence of a person who has matured through some difficult situations in his young life. After some up and down seasons in the minors, Faksa has taken his opportunity with the big club and run with it like a fox. (Forgiveness, please.) He’s big, fast, physical, plays the game honestly and the opponent always seems to be annoyed with his tenacity. Correlation or causation: The Stars’ penalty kill unit jumped from 24th to 10th after Faksa joined the crew. I’m buying lots of stock in Faksa. Grade: A-

Vernon Fiddler: Vern had the chance to test the free agent waters a couple season’s ago, and surely would have gotten more money had he chosen to sign elsewhere. But he chose to stay in Dallas because he believed that the Stars were on the verge of something special. Vern is getting a bit older and a bit slower, and is being used less frequently, but he is exactly the kind of cagey vet every team needs. He is the cumin in the Stars’ spice rack; you don’t want to use too much, but without it, the soup ain’t quite right. Grade: B-

Ales Hemsky: What really is the expectation for Hemsky? When he was brought in by Jim Nill last year, Hemsky was slotted to play alongside Jason Spezza on the second line and continue their brief, but productive time together in Ottawa. But a nagging hip injury and uninspired play left a sour taste among the Stars fan internet bullies. This year? He turned in overall solid play, often finding himself on the third line, adding a puck-handling and offensive dimension that is often lacking from a checking line. He also ended the season with 15 points in 15 games. You’re lucky he even performed for you bastards. LEAVE ALES ALONE! Grade: B-

Mattias Janmark: I love Janmark. I love that we got him for dirt cheap (Erik Cole rental to DET). I love his smart defense-first mentality. I love his understated yet effective play in the offensive zone. I don’t love that he has been knocked out of the lineup twice with injuries. Health is worth noting in professional sports. I also like that he has this “I’ve been seeing ghosts since I was a child, and I’m no longer terrified by them, but am always on the lookout for them” kind of face. Great rookie year for this Louis Eriksson starter kit. Grade: A-

Travis Moen: A tough, gritty vet that hasn’t been able to crack the lineup regularly. He has experience and a work ethic that keeps him in the NHL, but his best days are far behind him. On the plus side, he has won a cup, scored in the finals and owns his own pizzeria, all of which will be called upon at some point during the playoffs. Grade: C+

Valeri Nichushkin: Much internet ink has been spilt over Val this year. He gives you glimpses of greatness through stretches of mediocrity. The problem? He is slow to make decisions with the puck and can get tunnel vision near the net. His defensive game, however, has greatly improved. He backchecks harder than most Russian “super stars,” and can muck up the opposition’s attack with his large frame and positioning. I tend to keep my eyes glued to Val both when he’s on the ice and when they show shots of him on the bench, and I’ve noticed he seems more like a part of the team than he has before, initiating daps to teammates and looking more engaged overall, so there’s that. He still has time to develop into a full-time threat (once he signs a new contact this summer), but the success from other youngins in the system is starting to add to the pressure. Grade: C+

Brett Ritchie: The guy looks the part, that’s for sure. The 6-foot-3-inch power-forward-in-the-making has all the tools to be an effective scoring line winger in the coming years, I just hate that Brett seems to be battling injuries more than the Drew Doughty’s of the world. He has the coveted combination of physicality and offensive awareness, and expect him to battle for time in the top six next year, as his net presence will be greatly welcomed. Grade: B

Antoinne Roussel: This guy should be the NHL Agitator of the Year award winner, easy. Rooster drives the opposition crazy, and when he’s at his best, has them looking for No. 21 instead of the puck. He brings energy and a fiery element that can boil a pot of water in one aggressive ass shift. He’s a human smelling salt. The key for Roussel in the playoffs is to play with control and not be a habitual line stepper. I personally don’t think he will get too familiar. Grade: A-

Colton Sceviour: Colt 22 is a solid depth player no doubt. He has a great shot and understands the game well for a younger player, although I can’t help but feel that Sceviour will be overshadowed by his classmates graduating from the Texas Stars to Big D. He’s played well when called upon, battled back from injury and sticks up for his teammates. Will he earn a regular spot on next year’s roster, though? Hell if I know. A lot of people are high on Colton — as in, they think he will turn into a really good player, and not in the “they are intravenously shooting up with his blood behind a middle school dumpster” kind of way. Shout out to my homies from Lee Middle School, R.I.P. Grade: B-

Tyler Seguin: At times, Seguin is the most electrifying man in sports entertainment. At others, he’s just really doggone good. Tyler, like Jamie, had a real womp-womp stretch during the dog days of hockey that caused Lindy to bump him down to second line winger. But overall, the Belieber put in another piss cutter of a year. Ladies love him, girls adore him — I mean, like, even the ones that never saw him. Tyler is constantly among league leaders in points, entering his prime, and is locked up until 2019 on a helluva deal because “he’s undisciplined, parties too much, doesn’t fit the system,” LMAO. Thanks, Boston! Hope you are enjoying another summer off! How do you like them apples? Grade: A-

Patrick Sharp: “He’s old, he sucks, he’s a bad dude.” That’s what Chicago Blackhawks fans were saying after losing Sharp for Garbutt and Daley over the summer, LMAO. The guy has three Stanley Cups, and it’s easy to see why; he competes hard, creates scoring chances, has a bona fide sniper’s shot and is surprisingly good on defense. Yeah, he struggled late in the year, but so what? All the cool kids do it. He’s a perfect fit on this particular squad, which doesn’t necessarily need Sharp to net 30 in a season as much as they need him to show all these greenhorns how to win. He has provided a calming presence in the locker room — from what I’ve heard, I’m not actually there, ever — and will be looked to throughout the playoffs for his Yoda-like guidance. Grade: B-

Jason Spezza: Speaking of 30-goal scorers, got damn it’s nice to have a legitimate No. 2 center on the team! Looking much more comfortable after adjusting to a new city and role last year, Jason has benefited from no longer having to go head to head with the opposition’s best defenders. He’s a true playmaker that makes anyone on his line a threat, and yet somehow pots 30 himself. Marvelous! His high-risk, high-reward power play manuevering is a large part why Dallas finished with the 4th best PP at a dangerous 22.1 percent clip. When he does miss playing time, the rest does wonders, and he always returns refreshed and in high gear. Perhaps Lindy can take a page from the San Antonio Spurs book and give some of the older players a game or two off next season? Expect some salty goals from him this postseason. Grade: A

The Defense.
Perhaps the biggest cause for concern going into the 2014-2015 season, Dallas has had a rotating cast of defensemen suit up in Victory Green™ in search of a competitive combination. Just how many backwards-skating jabronis saw ice time this year? Prolly like a million or something. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the current crop looks much more promising and has played significantly better than in the recent and not so recent past. Let’s see how the back of the class fared this school year.

Jordie Benn: Ya know, Jordie has done some good things for Dallas this year. He’s been a contributor on the penalty kill, and has cleaned up many of the unnecessary penalties he was prone to take the last two seasons. For an undrafted player, he’s done very well himself. Here’s the but — which we all knew was coming — he has such a low ceiling and, at 28, is just now shaping his game into where he’s capable of being a dependable third pairing defender. He has every opportunity to become the shutdown defenseman the Stars have been desperately needing, but is now on the outside looking in. Barring injuries to his classmates, Jordie won’t be a regular at recess next year. Grade: C+

Jason Demers: Is Demers better than the player Dallas traded for him in Brenden Dillion? No doubt. Is “Dadd” good enough to bring back next season as he tests free agency? Boy, that’s, uh, a tough thing to say. He has been part of the underachieving crew that sunk the team last year, yet there is a noticeable sag when he’s absent. His teammates seem to love him, so that’s cool and all. Come to think of it, he’s taken some really crappy penalties the last two months and hasn’t really made a positive impact in too many games. I was going to give him a straight B — but, naw, I just changed my mind. Grade: B-

Alex Goligowski: He gets a lot of grief from internet bullies, but “Goose” really is the Stars’ best all-around defensemen. Though still not a true No. 1, he is tasked with the toughest assignments night in and night out. It’s not easy chasing Jonathan Toews, Vladimir Tarasenko or the dragon all night, but Alex is quite competent. Being paired with John Klingberg has freed up his offensive responsibilities, and has made him a better player for it. Another unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, this may be Goligowski’s last hurrah as a Dallas Star. In the very least, let’s all thank Alex for getting dirty diving James Neal out of town. Grade: B+

Jyrki Jokipakka: R.I.P.

Stephen Johns: For his letter grade, I’m giving Johns an F — for fantastic! A call-up from the minors, I doted on Johns shortly after he made his debut with the big club, and awarded him the prestigious Unofficial Sega Genesis NHL 94 Player of the Week honors. He is a throwback to the days when hitting was allowed in hockey, and forwards had to keep their head up as they entered the opposition’s zone. Johns’ outlet passes are crisp and purposeful, he uses his slap shot wisely and he is positionally sound. Every team wants a defender of his ilk, but few have one. Hugs and kisses to our friends in Chicago for throwing him in the Sharp trade (or was he Nill’s intended target ALL ALONG?!?) There may be growing pains in the near future, but this dude is for real. Real grade: A

John Klingberg: No sophomore slump for Klinger as he finished top five in defensemen scoring for the year. He’s hot to trot and slicker than grease, and a big reason why the power play has been lethal. His ability to dance along the blue line and befuddle the penalty killers’ forwards is a thing of beauty, as is his no-look pass repertoire. Nill was wise to lockup Klingberg ’til the next Willenium at a great price. Klingberg is not without his faults, however; he still has room to improve on dialing back the JFK magic bullet passes and handling the constant forechecking with a bit more tact and grace. He can be bumped off the puck and prone to turnovers as a result. Overall, it’s been a massively net-positive campaign when most players of his age regress under the newfound pressure. Grade: A-

Patrick Nemeth: Nemeth had a great opportunity to force his way into the lineup and be the shutdown defenseman the Stars auditioned everyone and their grandma for. Granted, it’s hard to make your case when you average six games a month, but Stephen Johns was given a two-year contract on the sample size of four games, so… We were expecting more from Nemeth, who is by no means a bad player, but lacks the confidence to show the coaching staff the skills he frequently displayed in the minors. Afraid to make mistakes equals afraid to get scratched again equals a player in development hell. Grade: C-

Johnny Oduya: Goligowski and Oduya are the only Dallas defenders to appear in all 82 games of this season, and it’s Oduya’s calming veteran presence that was constantly called upon to help whatever rookie he was paired with. Johnny’s game is limited — there is little offensive upside and he will rarely level anyone in open ice — but his real bread and butter is being the mistake-free defender. Simple, short passes out of the zone, intelligent positioning and staying out of the penalty box. His experience helps with economy of motion, and rarely dumps his mistakes along the boards for his teammates to deal with. He’s a good second pairing defender and a great third pairing defender with an Adonis level bod.Grade: B

Jamie Oleksiak: Hey, I’ve never been to Pluto, or won the Kentucky Derby, but I can tell you about Dallas Stars hockey. I’m just keeping it real. Don’t judge me before you know me, just give me a chance. If Oleksiak wasn’t 6 feet 7 inches, he wouldn’t have seen this much time at the NHL yet. Yes, Zdeno Chara and other behemoth defensemen take longer to develop than their average height brethren and, yes, he skates very well for his size, but he wasn’t very good this season. He should stay in the AHL and develop instead of sitting in the press box eating popcorn most nights. Grade: C

Kris Russell: A trade deadline acquisition, Russell blocks shots, eats up minutes and gets injured. He only played 11 games in Victory Green™. He’s set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. His playoff performance will determine whether he’s back next year. I like him, but seeing as he transferred from another country and is ESL, I can’t stamp his report card yet. Grade: Incomplete

Goaltenders.
Match maker match maker make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch.

Kari Lehtonen: After a disappointing 2014-2015 season, Stars brass hedged their bets on a bounce-back year by creating internal competition and instituting split crease time with a competent backup. The Finnish native performed at an overall average level and was able to elevate his game after a prolonged stretch of, “Oh crap, here we go again.” When on his A game, Kari can compete with the best of them, bailing out miscues by his offensively aggressive teammates with timely saves. ‘Twas a good year, and he will mos def be seeing ice time during the playoffs. Grade: B

Antti Niemi: After a disappointing 2014-2015 season, Stars brass hedged their bets on a bounce-back year by creating internal competition and instituting split crease time with a competent backup. The Finnish native performed at an overall average level and was able to elevate his game after a prolonged stretch of, “Oh crap, here we go again.” When on his A game, Kari can compete with the best of them, bailing out miscues by his offensively aggressive teammates with timely saves. ‘Twas a good year, and he will mos def be seeing ice time during the playoffs. Grade: B

Dallas Stars keys to victory in the playoffs.
Don’t be afraid to lose. Yes, the Stars have much to prove and are vastly more talented than the Wild, but give any NHL team a glimmer of hope, and the underdog can win a series. The Wild have done so twice recently against top seed Avalanche and Blues.
Light ’em up. To borrow from the 2004 Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning squad, “Safe is Death.” You didn’t achieve the best record in the West with timid, low-event hockey. So light ’em up like those 2004 Lightnings did.
Help your defense. Backcheck, find open space for Klingberg & Co. to pass and mop up Kari and Niemi’s rebounds. Second-chance goals are a killer.

Minnesota Wild keys to victory in the playoffs.
Like Mike & the Mechanics, they gonna need a miracle.

Cover photo via the Dallas Stars Facebook page
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