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Texas Stars’ surplus of defensemen creating logjam for playing time



Texas – Suddenly, the Texas Stars blue line is a very crowded place.

Dallas’ AHL affiliate now has seven defensemen under NHL contracts on its roster, a logjam that will take away some playing time in the minors. Surely, playing Thomas Harley is the biggest priority in Cedar Park, but the pecking order after that could change from game to game.

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Defensive defensemen Joseph Cecconi and Jerad Rosburg should be lineup staples given their ability to play against top lines and kill penalties, with Dawson Barteaux also in the same category. Then you have offensive defensemen Julius Honka and Ben Gleason, plus two-way defenseman Ryan Shea.

The combination adds means that one player a game will be missing valuable development time. On Friday, it was Gleason. On Saturday, it was Shea. These were the defensive pairs Texas used Saturday against San Jose: Harley-Cecconi, Rosburg-Honka and Gleason-Barteaux.

Texas coach Neil Graham said he had no issue perhaps dressing 11 forwards and seven defensemen, but did not have any immediate plans to do so.

“We did it quite a bit last year,” Graham said. “At times and under certain circumstances, I actually really like it. I don’t have plans immediately to go to 11 and 7. I like the way we’re rolling four lines over very evenly.”

The Kitchener Connection: It’s not often professional teammates come from the same junior team. It’s even less common that they were linemates in juniors. But when that situation arises, you can be sure Graham will capitalize on it.

Forwards Adam Mascherin and Riley Damiani both played for Kitchener in the Ontario Hockey League before being drafted by the Stars, and have played together this season in Texas.

Mascherin was in Kitchener from 2014-18 while Damiani was there from 2017-20. This season is Mascherin’s third with Texas, while Damiani is just turning pro this season.

Graham told 100 Degree Hockey that Mascherin was day to day with an injury.

Both players are short — each is listed at 5-10 — but Mascherin is much thicker at 205 pounds compared to Damiani at 170. Damiani is a play-making center that has good vision, and the Stars have asked him to gain some weight to help ease the transition to pro hockey. Mascherin is a left-wing sniper who burst onto the scene with 18 goals as an AHL rookie in 2018-19 before taking a step back last year (four goals in 30 games).

“Those two together have been a nice tandem, and we’ve liked what we’ve seen so far,” Graham said.

Fitting in the teens: 2020 fourth-round draft pick Antonio Stranges made his AHL debut on Saturday night after he was a healthy scratch for the first four games of the season. He had one assist and played on a line with Josh Melnick and Schneider.

Texas has a pair of 19-year-olds on its roster: Stranges and Nick Porco. Both players were drafted by the Stars (Porco in the fifth round in 2019) but have not signed NHL contracts with the Stars, so they are technically on amateur try-outs in the AHL.

In normal times, Stranges and Porco would not be allowed to play in the AHL, as part of the OHL’s deal with the league that mandates only 20-year-olds from the OHL are allowed to make the jump to pros. But with the OHL not playing, they have a chance to be in Cedar Park.

Graham said both players have been practicing with the team, but Porco has not played yet.

“I think their youthful energy has been a big part of the way we’ve been able to practice, working so hard,” Graham said. “They’re helping push the energy and enthusiasm day to day and they’re doing exactly what has been asked of them.”