Ruff, Stars defensemen like where group is at heading into season

FRISCO, Texas — With all of the changes made to the Dallas Stars on and off the ice during the offseason one area where many changes weren’t made was at the blue line. The Stars added just one new defenseman in veteran Sergei Gonchar, who was acquired in a trade with the Ottawa Senators on June 7.

Gonchar then signed a two-year deal with the Stars one day later. But other than that, this is a cast of characters that Dallas fans are more than a little familiar with. Alex Goligoski figures to be paired with Gonchar as the Stars’ No. 1 defensive pairing and the man known as “Goose” is looking forward to playing alongside such an experienced d-man going forward.

“He’s great to play with, very easy to play with,” Goligoski said. “He likes to slow things down, control the puck. That’s kind of the way I like to play as well. Hopefully we can have a lot of puck possession when we’re out there and create some stuff offensively.”

Stars fixture Stephane Robidas, no longer the club’s oldest defenseman at 36 as Gonchar is three years older, will comprise half of Dallas’ No. 2 pairing alongside second-year man Brenden Dillon, who really came into his own last season as a rookie and even spent part of the season living at Robidas’ house before later getting his own place.

And at least for now, it appears that another regular in the back for the Stars, Trevor Daley, will make up half of the club’s No. 3 d pair, a role which he will share at least for now with Jordie Benn, older brother of current Stars captain Jamie Benn.

Daley has fully recovered from off-season neck surgery and is ready to go on yet another season of Stars hockey. And like Goligoski, he feels the addition of Gonchar is one change that can only make them better collectively on D.

“Gonch’s obviously a veteran and a power play guy that can settle things down. Just bringing in a name like Sergei Gonchar kind of obviously changes the dynamics of our defense core, opposing teams coming up they see a Sergei Gonchar on the other time I’m sure their game plan maybe changes a little bit in how they play against him,” Daley said. “He’s a guy that’s going to eat up a ton of minutes for us. He’s been doing it his whole career. He’s a great addition.”

For Goligoski, the entrance of Gonchar into what is largely the same defensive core that played last season under former Stars coach Glen Gulutzan, who is now an assistant in Vancouver under John Tortorella, gives them another quality that every effective group of d-men must have.

“Obviously, he’s played a lot. He’s a veteran and he knows what it takes to win. Anytime you can add anyone like that to a team it helps. He’s kind of a calming presence. You see he’s not going to get flustered,” Goligoski said. “He’s a guy that everyone knows and looks up to.”

And once Aaron Rome is fully recovered from off-season hip surgery, which figures to come in 7-10 days, he and Kevin Connauton, acquired in the trade that sent former Stars center Derek Roy to Vancouver before last season’s trade deadline, figure to give Dallas some defensive depth. Although it’s unlikely new head coach Lindy Ruff would carry eight defensemen so Jordie Benn or Connauton could he headed to the Stars’ American Hockey League affiliate in Cedar Park once Rome returns to full health since given the veteran’s contract it’s unlikely he’d head back to the minors.

But Ruff admits he’s seen plenty of good things from his defensemen in preseason and feels good about where this group currently is and also about where he feels they will be headed throughout the course of an 82-game regular season and hopefully beyond into the playoffs.

“I like what we’ve done through the preseason with the group. They get a lot of support from the forwards coming back and they’re getting help on some of the coverage down low with our forwards coming in and backing up some of their play,” Ruff said.

He added: “Their puck moving has been real good. I think we started off a little shaky at the start of camp but in the last two games our puck movement leaving the zone, our neutral zone attack has been good. Part of that responsibility lies in forwards being available quicker, but the group on a whole through the preseason has done a good job.”

And someone else who is relatively new to the Dallas organization, at least this time around is current Stars backup goaltender Dan Ellis, who was signed over the summer to provide depth behind starter Kari Lehtonen. And while Ellis has only been playing alongside this current group of D for a short period of time, like Ruff, he too is impressed with what this collection of d-men brings to the table for his new club.

“I think we have a really good mix of everything. All of our defensemen can move the puck and that’s probably one of the No. 1 things that people underestimate. Getting the puck into the forwards’ hands is one of the biggest keys to giving your team a chance to have offense and to get out of the zone cleanly,” Ellis said.

“They can all skate. They all play defensively really well. I really like the group. We’ve got a mix toughness but we’ve got a mix of finesse as well, so it’s a nice balance. You can have any of them on the ice and you really don’t notice a major difference from any one d pairing to the next. I think they all complement each other really well and all in all, I think it’s got a bright future for the core that we have here.”