One of the major challenges the Stars faced last year was finding anyone able to shoulder the tough defensive minutes. The challenge in the modern NHL is finding defensemen capable of moving the puck away from their own net as opposed to focusing on guys with a solid defensive reputation and nothing else.
That isn t to say that those players don t have value. They do. Defensively-oriented defensemen fill a very valuable role as minute eaters on the penalty kill. They can also be used in conjunction with possession players in a match up game. But when a team has too many guys incapable of moving the puck from their own end, or doesn t focus enough on transition, the goals are going to pour into their own net and not go in at the other end of the rink.
The Stars have increased their focus on transition, and worked to purge guys who offer limited transition ability. On the back end, no one epitomizes this new approach more than Brenden Dillon. He has all of the physical qualities teams seek in a defenseman. He s big, he can skate, and he s very strong. What sets him apart so far from the Stars crop of defense prospects is his offensive instincts.
Watch any Stars game and you re likely to see Dillon lead at least a couple of rushes up the ice. He knows when to join the play. He knows when to pinch in to continue an offensive possession. And, most importantly, he employs these skills without giving up defensive footing.
As a result of his play the Stars are already relying on him as a top pairing defenseman. He has filled the hole the Stars desperately needed to fill last year. He more often than not starts with the puck in his own end, and is increasingly facing more and more difficult competition.
As a 21 year old, he s succeeding in that role. His future is bright, and even if he never develops further the Stars will still have a very good player on their hands. Considering that he s 21, the Stars have every reason to hope that he can be the #1 defenseman they ve been searching for since Sergei Zubov retired.
Follow Josh Lile on Twitter at @JoshL1220.
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