TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Derek Laxdal was a rare presence in the NHL press box last May in the playoffs.
The head coach for the Texas Stars typically is coaching his own team, so getting a view of the parent club doesn’t happen much. But with the Dallas Stars deep in the second round of the playoffs, Laxdal was able to catch a couple of games and see some of the players he had worked with.
Among the best players on the ice for the Stars were Esa Lindell, Roope Hintz and Jason Dickinson. The trio had recently spent seasons with Laxdal in Cedar Park — Hintz as recently as last season — and the pride from Laxdal was evident.
“You feel like a proud father,” Laxdal said. “Any time you see players move up to the Dallas Stars that are contributing, and especially contributing in the playoffs, that’s a great feeling. Over the years, we have players like Radek Faksa, Stephen Johns, Esa Lindell. If you can have an effect on getting those players to take the next step, you feel like you have helped the organization and you’ve done your job.”
Laxdal has been front and center in development.
He is starting his sixth season as leader of the Stars’ AHL affiliate and has helped the Texas Stars take three trips to the playoffs, including making the AHL Finals in 2018. Dallas assistant general manager Scott White, who is also the GM of the Texas Stars, said he feels Laxdal has one of the most important jobs in the entire organization.
“We had 11 Texas Stars play in the NHL last season, and that’s a great testament to what he does,” White said. “On the first day that Derek came on board, we told him his primary job is to develop players who can play for the Dallas Stars, and he’s done a great job in that department.”
Laxdal is familiar with the Dallas ways.
He coached the Idaho Steelheads, which serves as the ECHL affiliate for the Stars, from 2005-10 and led the team to the ECHL championship in 2007. In 2010, he moved on to the Edmonton Oil Kings in Major Junior hockey. He won two WHL championships and the Memorial Cup in four seasons with Edmonton, and then was hired to be head coach of the Texas Stars in 2014.
Laxdal is coaching the Dallas entry at the NHL Prospect Tournament at Centre ICE Arena for the sixth time, and said he’s impressed with the Stars’ players. While several prospects will head back to different teams and one or two might make the NHL roster, most will be on Laxdal’s AHL team.
That’s exciting, he said.
“It’s the first year I think we’ll have a very different team,” Laxdal said. “Travis Morin has retired, and I think we’re moving into a new leadership group, so that’s a great challenge. It’s change, but it’s a refreshing change.”
Especially when there are young forwards with speed who could be trending toward the NHL. Players like Jason Robertson, Tye Felhaber, Joel Kiviranta and Nicholas Caamano are hoping to take a giant leap ahead whether they are in the NHL or the AHL.
“I really think the cupboards are full,” Laxdal said. “We’ve got scorers, we’ve got shutdown defensemen, we’ve got offensive defensemen, we’ve got good goalies. Now, we just have to make sure these players are ready when they get called upon.”
Added White: “It’s the most guys we’ve had coming in at one time, especially up front, so that makes it exciting. Our forward group is intriguing and I think they could make an impact as soon as the start of the season. We’re in a good spot.”
And so is Laxdal, who could see his name come up in NHL coaching searches soon. White said looking back on the playoffs and what the young players contributed for Dallas, that he had a sense of pride for his coach.
“It was great to see him in the press box during the playoffs. He means a lot to this organization,” White said. “He’s a good coach, and we’re lucky to still have him where he is.
“His time will come.”
Game 3: Dallas Stars (1-1) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (2-0)
Today, 1 p.m. CT
Where: Centre ICE Arena, Traverse City, Mich.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.