Returning to the Stanley Cup playoffs after missing out the past five seasons has put a smile back on the faces of Dallas Stars fans. While a deep postseason run would be unexpected, it does not mean this playoff appearance is not going to bring huge future dividends.
Over the past few seasons, Dallas became an active player during the trade deadline. Caught up with a roster that was not good enough to be a legitimate contender and with aging talents, Dallas turned several veteran assets into young talents and picks. These trades helped to replenish the farm system and set the stage for a brighter future.
The trades combined with some solid drafting has seen the Stars build a talented young nucleus. With team headliners like Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn in their early 20s, and 19-year-old Valeri Nichushkin already showing his vast potential, Dallas is putting together a strong offensive unit that is far from reaching its prime.
Defensively, Jordie Benn and Brenden Dillon are helping to form a steady group of blue-liners. The defensive pairings are backstopped by Kari Lehtonen who has shown he is a top-tier goalie. With a solid core in each area to continue adding to, the Stars are setup to become a complete roster.
A good roster is necessary for competing night in and night out in the NHL, but without playoff experience a good roster can wilt under the intensity of the Stanley Cup chase. The playoff series against Anaheim may not end the way Stars fans want it to, but the lessons learned from battling in a series with an experienced playoff team will move Dallas' players further along the in their growth.
Getting some of the playoff growing pains out of the way will help Dallas deepen their understanding of what it takes to be successful in the playoffs. While there are several players on the Stars roster who have tasted success in the playoffs, their effect is limited by the inexperience of the rest of the roster.
When the Stars return to the playoffs in future seasons, there will be no discussion about Lehtonen getting his first playoff win or Nichushkin getting his first playoff goal or the other storylines associated with young teams. Those obstacles will no longer be in the way, allowing players to focus on the playoff games and the effort and intensity required to win them.
They will better understand the importance of every shift and capitalizing on every chance. They will also be better prepared to control their emotions reducing the amount of unnecessary penalties.
A deep run into this postseason would be great for the fans and the players, but even a first-round exit will greatly benefit the Stars going forward. This is a process all teams must go through in order to be a contender. It is another step in the right direction for the Dallas Stars.