Inside The Box: Three Storylines as the Dallas Stars finally return

Anton Khudobin #35 of the Dallas Stars (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Anton Khudobin #35 of the Dallas Stars (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Inside The Box is Puck Prose’s daily bulletin, covering all the latest news in the NHL and providing unique analysis and insight, while highlighting the content you need in your lives.

Rejoice, Dallas Stars fans because, after one hell of a long wait, tonight is the night you will finally get to see your team drop the puck for the very first time in 2020-21.

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Months after losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2019-20 Stanley Cup Final inside The Bubble in Edmonton, the Dallas Stars will finally start their 2020-21 NHL season tonight after being forced to wait due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

The Stars had six players and two staff members test positive for COVID-19 during Training Camp and, as a result, their Training Facility was immediately shut down while the NHL postponed Dallas’ first batch of games of the 2020-21 season. In total, 17 players tested positive for the virus and it was the first real big outbreak the NHL had to deal with.

Of course, the Carolina Hurricanes have been shut down with the Central Division facing the majority of COVID issues, and the Nashville Predators, who play Dallas tonight, haven’t been in action since Monday due to the Canes having their games postponed through at least Saturday due to COVID-19 related issues.

But, today is a big day for the Dallas Stars and it is believed that they won’t have any absentees due to COVID-19, although they will be without goaltender Ben Bishop (knee) and forward Tyler Seguin (hip), who both underwent surgery during the offseason.

Being without two of their biggest stars to open the 2020-21 season is a big blow for the Dallas Stars, although they will just be relieved to finally get to hit a puck in competitive anger against the Nashville Predators tonight at American Airlines Center.

Three Storylines for the Dallas Stars ahead of 2020-21 NHL Season Opener

Joe Pavelski (16)
Dallas Stars forward Joe Pavelski (16). Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports /

1. Will the Dallas Stars be slow out of the gate?

One of the early concerns facing the Dallas Stars in tonight’s season opener and over the course of the next week or two will be whether they suffer from rust or not. After all, they haven’t played since the summer and they were unable to practice for a considerable amount of time due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Granted, they have staged 60-minute scrimmages and extra skating sessions this week in order to catch up, but nothing can replicate playing actual games and you have to wonder if those players who tested positive for COVID-19 will also struggle to find their legs in the opening couple of weeks. After all, we’ve seen athletes in other sports struggle after coming back from COVID, Quarterback Cam Newton of the New England Patriots springs to mind, and it could well be that the Dallas Stars struggle for the first couple of weeks of the season while they knock off any rust and get back into the swing of things.

Anton Khudobin (35)
Anton Khudobin #35 of the Dallas Stars (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

2. Can Anton Khudobin carry this team again?

Anton Khudobin earned hero status in Dallas after carrying the Stars to the 2019-20 Stanley Cup Final, carrying his team on his back and taking on the bulk of the workload with No. 1 starter Ben Bishop ruled unfit to play. Traditionally a career backup, Khudobin was sensational inside The Bubble, going 14-10-0 with a 2.69 Goals Against Average and a .917 Save Percentage.

Can Khudobin carry the Dallas Stars again? He will have to with Bishop likely out for the majority of the regular-season, so the Stars will need Khudobin to continue to play at an elite level if they are to make the postseason again, let alone make another deep run. It will be a hard task given how good he was last year, coupled with the fact that he hardly had much of a Training Camp, but Anton Khudobin certainly has the talent to be able to get the job done and win games on his own if needed to.

Miro Heiskanen (4)
Miro Heiskanen #4 of the Dallas Stars. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

3. Is this the year Miro Heiskanen wins the Norris?

Miro Heiskanen is an absolute stud and he carved out a career-year in 2019-20 with 35 points (8 G, 27 A) in 68 games, while logging an average of 23:46 of ice time per night. The defenseman was even better inside The Bubble in Edmonton, putting up six goals and 20 assists for 26 points in 27 games, while seeing his ATOI jump up to 25:58.

Heiskanen’s stellar year earned votes for the Norris Trophy, so can he take that next giant leap and win the award to be crowned the best defenseman in the National Hockey League in 2020-21? It is certainly feasible and the talent and the upside is there. With two seasons under his belt and playing a real mature game, you would have to think that the 21-year-old is only going to continue to develop and get better and, if that’s the case, then don’t be surprised if he puts together a monster year. It may not be enough to win the Norris in 2020-21 given the competition he’ll face but, if Miro Heiskanen can take that next step in his development and continues to establish himself as one of the best young defensemen in the NHL, then that will be huge for the Dallas Stars who are hoping to make another deep postseason run.

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