FORT WORTH, Texas – Jamie Benn and the young Dallas Stars are definitely a more confident group, though it took the captain a long time to get over how last season ended.
In the first year under general manager Jim Nill and veteran coach Lindy Ruff, the Stars made it to the playoffs to snap the longest postseason drought in franchise history.
And they were only minutes from taking their first-round series against top-seeded Anaheim to Game 7 before the Ducks scored twice in the final 2:10 of regulation, and then won on the only shot in overtime.
"It was a tough way to lose in Game 6 there, but I guess looking back now, we did have a pretty good year," Benn said Friday after the Stars opened training camp. "We got a little more confidence now, and we want to definitely improve on last year."
Benn, the second-year captain, is among a large group of 20-something players who learned how to play Ruff's system and earned the coach's trust.
Nill, the second-year GM, keeps making moves to give Dallas a mixture of talented youngsters and veteran players.
While several of the young Stars got new deals, the team also added a pair of 31-year-old Ottawa teammates. They acquired high-scoring forward Jason Speeza in a trade before signing Ales Hemsky to a three-year deal in free agency.
There are a lot fewer unknowns for the Stars going into this season.
"Last year was just a big blur. We didn't know the team, Lindy and I. Lindy and I didn't know each other," Nill said. "We put a staff together, we put this team together, we knew the players but you didn't know them. We've had a chance now after one season, got a good feel for guys, Lindy and his staff have done a great job putting the pieces together. We've made some additions this summer, so there's a little bit of freshness again."
The Stars practice again Saturday in downtown Fort Worth and have an intrasquad scrimmage Sunday. They play their preseason opener Monday night.
Forward Rich Peverley is doing off-ice workouts, but still is unable to skate with the team six months after an irregular heartbeat led to him collapsing on the bench during a game.
Peverley was with the team for the start of camp, but will need clearance from other doctors before he can take the next step and get back on the ice. Nill expects the situation to be week to week, and said the team isn't going to rush the player.
Peverley's irregular heartbeat was diagnosed during training camp last year. He collapsed during a game March 10, and had surgery the following week to correct an abnormal heart rhythm.
Missing at the start of camp were unsigned restricted free agents Cody Eakin and Brenden Dillon, who have been working out at home in Canada. Benn was an unsigned RFA when he missed camp and the first five games of the 2012-13 season.