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30 in 30: Gonchar's arrival X-factor for Stars

Saturday, 08.10.2013 / 11:49 AM / News
By Tal Pinchevsky
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30 in 30: Gonchar\'s arrival X-factor for Stars
Dallas Stars acquired the rights to defenseman Sergei Gonchar this offseason in exchange for a conditional pick. He could be their X factor.

In a busy offseason marked by wholesale changes on and off the ice, it's easy to forget the move that kicked off the summer free-agency season in earnest.

About a month before the start of free agency, the Dallas Stars acquired the rights to veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a conditional sixth-round draft pick. Three days later, the Stars announced they signed the Russian to a two-year contract.

More moves would follow, most notably the trade that brought centers Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley to Dallas from the Boston Bruins. But it's Gonchar who potentially could have the greatest influence this season on a young Stars team.

"Another piece to the puzzle, and he's kind of the forgotten man, is Sergei Gonchar," Dallas general manager Jim Nill told NHL.com. "I think he's really going to solidify our defense. He gives us a dimension we don't have a lot of. We have a couple of power-play guys, but not as high-end as Sergei."

Gonchar's arrival surely will give a necessary bump to a Stars power play that ranked 18th in the NHL last season. After all, the 39-year-old has been among the League's top power-play quarterbacks for almost two decades. Last season, when many predicted he would start slowing down, Gonchar showed there was plenty left in the tank.

An Achilles injury to defenseman Erik Karlsson appeared to put the Senators' season in peril last February, but Ottawa thrived without their star, due in large part to the poise and leadership shown by Gonchar, who tied for 12th in scoring among NHL defenseman with 27 points in 45 games.

Gonchar's world-class puck skills will prove useful on a Stars team that, with the exception of Alex Goligoski, does not boast much firepower on its back end. But it's Gonchar's experience, gained from a Stanley Cup victory with the Pittsburgh Penguins and loads of international competition, which should most benefit a club likely to have one of the League's youngest rosters this season.

"That was the other thing I wanted to add to this team," Nill said. "The young kids need a veteran presence. Now you have that presence in the dressing room that you need. I come from a situation in Detroit where you can never have enough veterans. They know how to win. It's a lifestyle every day of what you have to do to win. I know these veterans are going to bring that to the young kids that we have, which down the road will pay dividends for us."

There's one young player in particular whom Nill hopes can learn from Gonchar: Russian right wing Valeri Nichushkin, a first-round pick (No. 10) at the 2013 NHL Draft. Nichushkin has all the tools to someday become a force in the League. At 6-foot-4 and 202 pounds, he's already big enough to compete in the NHL, and his skills were prominent enough that he was named top rookie last season in the Kontinental Hockey League.

Having expressed his desire to play in Dallas, Nichushkin could learn a lot from Gonchar, who hails from the 18-year-old's hometown of Chelyabinsk. It's a mentor-protégé relationship that worked well for Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, who was taken under Gonchar's wing when the pair played together in Pittsburgh. When Malkin was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy as NHL MVP in 2012, he made a point to thank Gonchar for his guidance and friendship.

The Stars would love to hear Nichushkin give a similar speech someday.

"It was never planned this way, but Gonchar mentored Malkin, so we're looking for that same mentorship now with Nichushkin. That's another exciting piece to the puzzle," Nill said. "I think Sergei is really going to help Nichushkin. We're just going to monitor [Nichushkin] real close and let him come in and see where he fits in. We've added enough depth where he doesn't have to be a go-to guy. He can just come in and play and that's going to be key to his development."

It's a lot to take on for one player, but the Stars have no doubt that with Gonchar, they've picked the right person to assume all these responsibilities. He has played that role for some time now and, as the active leader among defensemen in goals, assists and points, the five-time All-Star commands League-wide respect.

He'll need to utilize all those skills and all that veteran savvy if the Stars hope to take the next step and qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2008.

For all 30 in 30 stories go to NHL.com/30in30stories and for the full 30 in 30 schedule visit NHL.com/30in30.

Author: Tal Pinchevsky | NHL.com Staff Writer

SCHEDULE

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STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 ANA 66 42 17 7 196 179 91
2 NSH 65 41 17 7 193 158 89
3 STL 63 40 18 5 197 159 85
4 CHI 64 38 21 5 188 152 81
5 WPG 65 32 21 12 180 175 76
6 VAN 63 36 24 3 182 173 75
7 MIN 63 34 22 7 179 163 75
8 CGY 63 34 25 4 178 162 72
9 LAK 63 30 21 12 171 164 72
10 SJS 65 32 25 8 185 183 72
11 COL 64 28 25 11 170 183 67
12 DAL 64 28 26 10 199 212 66
13 ARI 64 20 37 7 139 218 47
14 EDM 64 18 36 10 145 213 46

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Benn 64 23 38 -4 61
T. Seguin 55 29 30 0 59
J. Spezza 64 15 37 -5 52
J. Klingberg 50 10 24 2 34
T. Daley 61 16 17 -10 33
C. Eakin 61 15 15 0 30
A. Hemsky 58 9 17 -9 26
A. Goligoski 64 2 24 2 26
A. Roussel 62 12 12 -10 24
S. Horcoff 60 8 13 3 21
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
K. Lehtonen 26 13 10 .906 2.95
J. Enroth 13 25 2 .900 3.30
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