I draw a lot of comparisons between Stu Barnes and Toby Petersen, and for good reason.
Like Barnes, Petersen has this magic ability to draw the attention and respect of the younger players on the team. They absolutely flock around him and listen to every word he says. He served as the captain of the Iowa Stars a few years back and helped lead players such as Loui Eriksson, James Neal, Mark Fistric and Nicklas Grossman.
They respect him for his leadership and knowledge, and they respect him for his ability to be a very good player.
And that is the key to Toby Petersen's season.
To be a real leader, you have to be an important person on the ice. Barnes always was in Dallas. He missed just seven games in his last three seasons and averaged 15 minutes of ice time per game. He was a 20-30 point guy, and he was a key player at key moments in the game. Petersen has to find that place again where he is a key player.
In the playoffs in 2008, Petersen was a big part of several Stars victories. He helped shut down Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, and he frustrated Detroit enough that he became a target of the Red Wings at one point. Last season, he was a versatile forward who helped in lots of ways until he broke his foot in February. At that point, he sort of lost his voice in the room, and the Stars struggled because of it.
This season, Petersen is going to have to push to find a spot in the lineup and a way to keep his voice strong. He is a great story at age 30, having overcome diabetes and a long run through the minors to earn a one-way contract. And players respond well to that.
But now he has to impress a new coaching staff and find a way to fit into a lineup where there probably isn't a natural spot for him. He has been a center for most of his life, but the Stars appear to have their four center spots filled. He can play left wing, but they also seem heavy on left wings. So Petersen will have to be a jack-of-all-trades, jumping to fill in wherever new coach Marc Crawford needs him.
If Jere Lehtinen is hurt, he might have to move up and play right wing. If Brian Sutherby or Mike Modano is out, he might have to anchor the checking line. If Mike Ribeiro or Brad Richards gets dinged, Petersen may have to draw on play-making skills that are actually pretty strong. You are likely never going to see big numbers out of Petersen (unless it is at the AHL level). After all, he went through the 2008 playoffs without a point. But what you can see is some great checking, some intelligent play, and some great leadership.
If the Stars can keep him on the ice, and if Petersen can continue to carve a niche on a team in which every player is looking for a spot, he will definitely be a valuable role-player.