The Dallas Stars are hoping a new coach can get the most out of a young roster and turn their fortunes around.
Jim Montgomery, who was coach the past five seasons at the University of Denver, winning the NCAA Division I championship in 2017, was hired as coach May 4, three weeks after Ken Hitchcock retired.
Montgomery is the fourth coach to go directly from college to his first NHL job, joining Philadelphia Flyers coach Dave Hakstol, who came from the University of North Dakota in 2015; Bob Johnson, who went to the Calgary Flames from the University of Wisconsin in 1982; and Ned Harkness, who took over the Detroit Red Wings in 1970 after coaching at Cornell University.
"For the last five years, we've had the fifth-youngest team in the NHL, and that's a stat people don't understand sometimes," Dallas general manager Jim Nill said when Montgomery was hired. "When I interviewed [Montgomery] here, I knew he'd been through that route. It's dealing with younger players, and on top of it winning, and he's done that."
Montgomery said the roster is already in place. It will be his job to make sure the Stars get results after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons.
"When I look at this lineup, I really get excited," Montgomery said. "It has everything you want. It has star power. [Forward Jamie] Benn, [center Tyler] Seguin; you have [forward Alexander] Radulov, you have [defenseman John] Klingberg, you have [goaltender Ben] Bishop. You have depth, you have skill, you have size, and you have speed at every position."
Dallas signed forward Valeri Nichushkin to a two-year contract July 1. The 23-year-old spent the past two seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League after playing three seasons with the Stars from 2013-16.
"He played in the NHL when he was 18 and was a very effective player," Nill said. "We're getting a better player back. He's excited about coming back. He's a bull on the puck, so we are looking forward to his addition."
Defenseman Miro Heiskanen, 19, the No. 3 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, also is likely to make a big impact this season.
"This year, we are lucky to have Nichushkin coming back, who is entering the prime of his career, and Heiskanen coming in, who is one of the best young players in the world not in the NHL," Nill said.
The Stars bolstered their depth by signing forward Blake Comeau (three-year contract), defenseman Roman Polak (one-year contract) and backup goalie Anton Khudobin (two-year contract) on July 1.
"To be honest, I was really surprised they didn't make the playoffs last year," Comeau, who played for the Colorado Avalanche the past three seasons, told the Stars website. "It was really appealing to go there, and I hope I can fit in there, help where I can and get back in the playoffs with them. I can play up and down the lineup. I can play both wings and don't have a preference in that sense. Hopefully I can add to the penalty kill."
Though there is plenty of young talent on the Stars, Benn is hopeful he and the other veterans can help them compete in the tough Central Division, which had four teams qualify for the playoffs last season and six teams with at least 92 points, including Dallas (42-32-8, 92).
"It starts with the leadership group and the core players that we have here," the captain said after Dallas cleaned out its lockers in April. "It's trying to build something and playing the right way and playing winning hockey. ... I've been through many coaches and systems and you try to find a balance between all of them and set a good example for the new guys that are coming in here."
Next up for the Stars is a long-term contract for Seguin, who can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. The 26-year-old, who has been eligible to sign an extension with Dallas since July 1, has been first or tied for first in goals on the Stars four of the past five seasons.
"I don't want people to panic if he is not signed when the season starts (Oct. 4)," Nill said. "I think the biggest thing is we need to have a good season, get off to a good start. I hope he is signed by then, but I know if he isn't, we'll get a good year out of him and go from there. ... I am hopeful we can get it done."