Dallas Stars: Matt Niskanen

Matt Niskanen thriving with Pittsburgh

February, 29, 2012
DALLAS -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are in town tonight and that means that former Stars James Neal and Matt Niskanen will be playing at the American Airlines Center for the first time since last season's trade that brought defenseman Alex Goligoski to the Stars.

Goligoski and Neal were the big names in the trade, and that means Niskanen often gets overlooked. But Niskanen is having a solid season with the Penguins, registering 18 points (3 goals, 15 assists) and a plus-8 rating in 61 games.

“A lot of confidence in the way he’s played and defended for our team this year," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of Niskanen after this morning's skate. "He’s been in a lot of different roles - first power play, second power play. He’s been in our top four given our injuries, maybe our best and most improved player from the start of the season. He’s been playing well, he’s been defending and has been good with the puck. He’s added to our power play in the absence of Kris Letang when he was out for numerous games. Matt’s done a real good job for us this year, been a strong performer to us.”

Niskanen played three-and-a-half seasons with the Stars. He had an impressive rookie season in 20o7-08 but by the time he was traded last season he was having a hard time getting into the lineup.

"Those are hard lessons, I think. It stinks being in and out of the lineup and not playing well," said Niskanen. "I had success early here and some of that because I was playing well and some of that was because I was playing with good guys and on a good team. A lot of things went right for me early and then all of a sudden things went south. I think that in the long run is going to make me a better player. I think it already has this year.

"I needed to get out when I did. That was a welcome change for me. Whether it was good times or bad times, I learned a lot here and and it's going to help me moving forward."

Niskanen has been with the Pittsburgh a little more than a year now, and said his comfort level has started to grow, especially this season.

"It's been a really good change for me. Last spring just opened my eyes to a fresh start," said Niskanen. "I welcomed the change and I think starting this year is when I really started to feel comfortable and started to get the confidence back and started playing a little better. It's been a good year for me. It's really going well and the team is doing well. It's been a blast."

James Neal expendable for Stars to improve

February, 21, 2011
I know that fans have grown to like James Neal. I have, too. He's got upside and can be a solid scorer in the NHL.

But the Stars needed help on the blue line. That's clear. This team is struggling, dropping from first in the Pacific Division (and, consequently third in the Western Conference) to tied with four other teams for one of the final playoff spots. And Neal was expendable. The team can't trade Jamie Benn. But with the forward depth, it could afford to trade Neal. I agree with GM Joe Nieuwendyk: You have to give up something to get something.

Alex Goligoski gives them a puck-moving defenseman and someone who can pair with Stephane Robidas right now to help give that blueline corps some punch. He's got another year remaining on his contract and becomes a restricted free agent after that. He frees up some money should Nieuwendyk find another move he'd like to make.

The move makes sense for the Penguins, too. Neal gives them a winger they need. Maybe a change of scenery will help Matt Niskanen.

But the Stars can shift Benn to left wing on Brad Richards' line (when everybody is healthy) and add a defenseman to the mix who is at least somewhat in the mold of Sergei Zubov. While Goligoski is certainly not at Zubov's level, he is the closest thing this club has had since Zubov left. He can also play the point on the power play.

I know many of you don't like this trade because you feel the Stars gave up too much. We'll know more about that in the coming months. But Nieuwendyk had to do something. A good start to the 2010-11 season is evaporating and now the Stars are in a major fight just to get into the playoffs. Goligoski helps them get there more than Neal would have.

Matt Niskanen talks about collision

January, 6, 2011
Matt Niskanen said he didn’t see Karlis Skrastins coming until the last second -- and by that time it was too late.

The two Stars defensemen collided during warm-ups prior to the third period of Wednesday’s game in Chicago, knocking them out of action for the rest of the night and beyond.

“He was skating backwards, and I was making a turn,” Niskanen said Thursday afternoon at the team’s practice facility in Frisco. “By the time I got my head up and saw who was coming, he was already coming 100 miles an hour and hit me with the back of his helmet.

“It was kind of a weird -- a really, really weird situation.”

Initial reports had the collision leaving Niskanen with a broken nose and chipped teeth. There was no broken nose for Niskanen, just a bloody one.

“A cut hand, that’s the worst of it,” said Niskanen, who was slashed during the collision. “I didn’t lose any teeth. My mouth is cut up a little bit.”

That cut on his hand, which is on his left palm, is the injury that the Stars say will keep him out of at least one game.

“By far [it was the strangest injury situation I’ve been involved in], not even in the course of a game,” said Niskanen.

As for Skrastins, Stars coach Marc Crawford said the veteran blue-liner was the one who had a broken nose and a chipped tooth. Skrastins is being evaluated by doctors.

Both players are expected to miss at least Friday’s game with the New York Rangers.