Stars coach Marc Crawford doesn’t like to put numbers on his lines as in first, second, third and fourth, but he does know you need a total of four good lines these days if you are going to compete for a playoff spot.
“Your top guys end up playing a lot of minutes because of power play and penalty killing situations, but you need to be able to roll four lines in the Western Conference or you won’t last the rigors of the season,” Crawford said.
The process of putting together those four good lines will start at training camp in Prince Edward Island in a little more than a week. Nothing’s definite yet and it will be a process. There are prospects that need to be evaluated and players need to be given a chance to show their stuff, but eventually those lines will start to take shape.
“When we get into games three, four and five that’s when you start looking at guys in their actual roles. That’s when you’ll see it unfold a little bit more,” Crawford said. “For the first week to ten days we want to see the other people and give them good opportunities to show us what they’ve got.”
Crawford has some ideas on what he wants to try with his lines in camp and the preseason. One of them involves right wing Jonathan Cheechoo, who will attend camp on a tryout basis. The former 56-goal scorer will be given an opportunity to play on line with left wing Brenden Morrow and center Mike Ribeiro.
“We’re hopeful that he finds lightning in a bottle and that he finds some instant chemistry with who we are going to play him with in training camp,” Crawford said. “We can give him a pretty good center to play with and he’s a scorer, so initially we are going to try him with Ribeiro and Morrow.
“You want to give a guy like that a great opportunity. Let’s see if he can come in and do what he’s done in the past. A good way to do that is to give him a good opportunity.”
The opportunity given to Cheechoo on the Morrow-Ribeiro line will give the Stars another opportunity to line up Jamie Benn at center, where he played a lot last season when Ribeiro and Tom Wandell went down with injuries.
“Nothing is written in stone. We know that Jamie Benn with Morrow and Ribeiro works and we can quickly move to that, but we wanted to give Jonathan a good opportunity and we wanted to continue to see Jamie Benn at center. It allows us to do both those things, in training camp anyways. “
Benn is one option on the Morrow-Ribeiro line if Cheechoo doesn’t work out. Brandon Segal is another, said Crawford.
The plan for now, however, is for Benn to play center and to be paired with Steve Ott on a line. And when it comes to his lines, Crawford is thinking pairs and then will try to see which of the remaining forwards will round out the trio.
“We’re pretty committed to Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson. James Neal would certainly be there should he be there. If he’s not, there’s an opportunity for someone,” said Crawford, referring to Neal not being signed to a contract yet. “We’re committed to Ribby and Morrow. Otter and Benner is an experiment. It’s training camp. We like [Adam] Burish and Wandell because we want more edge and determination.
And Crawford said he expects some of the team’s minor league forwards, such as Aaron Gagnon, to push for spots as well.