Mark Fistric is a lot like The Karate Kid.
The Stars have asked him to wax the cars, he has waxed the cars. The Stars have asked him to paint the fence, he has painted the fence. The Stars have asked him to sand the deck...and, doggone it, he has sanded that darn deck.
And now he wants to know what all of that was for.
I think Fistric finds out this year.
At age 23, with three seasons of minor league hockey behind him, Mark Fistric is ready to become an NHL regular.
He was probably ready two years ago, but Matt Niskanen had a surprisingly strong training camp and took his spot on the team. He fought back to get on the NHL roster, but another interesting twist happened that season. Niskanen played enough NHL games to become a player who needed waivers. Fistric did not. Thus, when Fistric was probably the better defenseman to start last season, he was sent to the minors because he could clear waivers and not be exposed to another team. Niskanen probably could have benefited from time in the minors, but because he required waivers he would have been plucked by another team (the same way that B.J. Crombeen was).
So Fistric battled through and eventually earned his way back on the roster. In the final 25 games, Fistric played well and was ``even'' at a time when the Stars were struggling as a team. He felt he had proved that he belonged in the NHL, but then-GM Les Jackson asked him to make a playoff run with the Manitoba Moose.
Fistric could have declined, but it was probably one of the best experiences of his life. The Moose went to the Calder Cup Finals, and Fistric was a key component of the run. He got 22 games of high-level playoff experience, and he became a better player. It's similar to what happened for Niskanen when he played nine playoff games with Iowa back in 2006. Jamie Langenbrunner took a huge step forward back in 1996 when he led the Michigan K-Wings on a nice run.
A big minor league playoff season can do wonders for a player.
But now Fistric has to go in and make it mean something. Dallas still has four veteran defensemen on one-way contracts in Stephane Robidas, Karlis Skrastins, Jeff Woywitka and Andrew Hutchinson. They have another four youngsters in Trevor Daley, Nicklas Grossman, Niskanen and Fistric. Not only will one of those players not be on the roster, one will probably not be a lineup regular.
So it's up to Fistric to earn his spot.
That said, the waxing and painting and sanding have led him to a place where he's much more secure. Fistric signed a three-year, one-way contract in the summer that pays him $750,000, $1 million and $1.25 million. He must clear waivers to go to the minors, and he clearly is an important part of the Stars' going forward. So it appears he will either make it here or get a chance with another NHL team. His days in the minors appear to be over.
At 6-2, 232, he is the most physical of Stars defensemen, and with his minor league experience, he appears ready to tackle the toughest of tasks.
He's not much of a scorer (with six points in 73 NHL games), but he definitely could help a scorer excel. It will be interesting to see where he might fit. As a left-handed shot, he could play well off of Niskanen. As a stay-at-home guy, he could allow Daley to do some skating.
If we're sticking to the Karate Kid analogy, Fistric is entering the All-Valley karate tournament about now and looking to win a few rounds. It should be an interesting challenge.