Tom Wandell's NHL opportunity might still be a year away.
When the Stars were forced to spread their prospects to several AHL teams last season, Wandell was sent back to Sweden to play for Timra.
When centers started to get hurt, the Stars decided to acquire Brian Sutherby from Anaheim.
So, now, when Wandell is back in North America and ready to compete for an NHL job, the Stars seem to have too many centers. With Mike Ribeiro, Brad Richards, Mike Modano, Brian Sutherby and Toby Petersen (and Steve Ott in a pinch), there just doesn't seem to be room for Wandell on the roster right now.
He could indeed prove to be versatile and talented, and he could be a nice fill-in at times, but I just have a tough time drawing up a roster where he is a regular. Sutherby and Petersen will battle for fourth line time with Krys Barch and Ray Sawada. Because the Stars will have a couple of left-handed centers already playing the left wing, Wandell doesn't seem to be the best choice there, either.
Now, with a new coaching staff and new GM, Wandell can force some changes with an outstanding training camp and preseason. He also could raise an eyebrow or two if he goes to the AHL and is one of the best players there.
But, looking at things logically, Wandell's big chance will come next season. With Petersen and Modano set to become unrestricted free agents, Wandell seems like a perfect replacement for the third or fourth line center spot.
At 22, he has a season apiece in the Swedish and Finnish elite leagues, and already has an AHL season under his belt in Iowa (10 goals, 9 assists in 53 games in 2007-08). Last season, he had 15 goals and 26 assists for 41 points in 51 games with Timra in Sweden. He also played 14 games in the NHL as an emergency call-up.
So Wandell clearly is a big part of the Stars plans for the future, and may even have the ability to someday play as a second line center on the big squad. He is skilled and yet defensively responsible, so he can fill a lot of roles for the Stars. Expect him to battle with Perttu Lindgren and Aaron Gagnon for top minutes, and that could mean a spot on a line with some very good wingers.
That might actually be the best thing for Wandell at this point in his career. We'll see.