Ty Dellandrea will spend the 2019-20 season playing in either the NHL or OHL. And after making his pro debut in the AHL this past season, there’s reason to believe that the young forward is ready to challenge for a Dallas Stars roster spot in the season ahead.

When you walk into the Dallas Stars locker room facility at the Comerica Center in Frisco, there’s a lot for the eye to take in.

From pictures of the greatest players to ever put on a Dallas Stars uniform, to a display of the six jersey numbers retired by the organization, to floor-to-ceiling highlights of some of the greatest moments in franchise history, there’s plenty of historical nuggets that appeal to even the most casual Stars fan.

But when you enter through the double doors, one of the first things that will catch your attention is a quote etched into a silver background on the main wall. It reads:

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“I want to be out there on the ice when the game is on the line. I want to be the one who decides the game.”

That’s a quote from former Dallas Stars superstar and captain Mike Modano.

As you likely already know, Modano was the most influential hockey player to ever put on a Dallas Stars uniform. As the No. 1 overall pick in the 1988 NHL Draft, Modano was selected by the Minnesota North Stars franchise and played there until the team moved to Dallas. Upon arriving in Big D, Modano took it upon himself to build the foundation for hockey fandom in Texas. He played 16 seasons in Dallas, helped the Stars win their only Stanley Cup in 1999, was an offensive machine that Stars fans rallied around, and helped put hockey on the map in Texas.

He was a strong influencer of Dallas Stars hockey, but also became one of the greatest hockey players ever born in the United States with 561 career goals and 1374 career points in 1499 career NHL games. Shortly after his retirement, the Stars retired his No. 9 into the rafters at the American Airlines Center and Modano was selected to the National Hockey Hall of Fame.

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The quote perfectly embodies Modano. He never shied away from a challenge and was always prepared to take the game into his own hands at a moment’s notice. His levels of skill and determination were hard to find in a typical hockey player, and they were a large part of what made him so admired in the Dallas sports community.

It’s a quote that reminds us of Modano’s greatness and persistence in the great game. And when I was reading it during Stars development camp in June, I couldn’t help but think of Ty Dellandrea.

That’s not to say that I’m comparing a 19-year-old prospect to one of the greatest hockey players of all-time. Then again, it’s also not to say that it reminded me of Dellandrea for the mere fact that he was at development camp.

Instead, it reminded me of Dellandrea because he seems to own a similar drive. It’s one that cannot be taught, but instead must be adopted internally by the player himself. Dellandrea seems to already possess that mindset, and it could help him take a big stride in the 2019-20 season.

When Dallas drafted Dellandrea with the 13th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, it was greeted by some mixed reviews. Most draft analysts had the center going somewhere in the late part of the first round, pinning him around the 25th pick. And so, the question arose about whether or not he was considered a “stretch.”

Dellandrea had just finished his second season with the Flint Firebirds, a team that finished second-to-last in the OHL standings in 2017-18. And while that can be a demotivating factor for some, the center didn’t let it hold him back from putting up 27 goals and 59 points in 67 games.

Shortly after he was drafted, he took part in his first Dallas Stars media scrum and threw out one particular answer that gave a detailed look at his mindset and priorities as a player.

“I think Dallas is getting an all-around forward who is extremely competitive and takes care of his own end and plays a strong offensive game,” Dellandrea said of his own game in June 2018. “I’ve built a lot of character and a lot of passion and I think that comes first and my abilities follow that up. I leave it all out there.”

What was known about Dellandrea at that point (and has since been reconfirmed) is that he’s a natural competitor. Whenever he’s on the ice, he’ll do anything he can to help his team. He’s got impressive speed and agility and a “never quit” attitude that pushes him to stay aggressive on the forecheck, extend offensive possessions using his skating and puck-handling abilities, and use his excellent vision to create opportunities out of nothing. He’s a natural grinder that doesn’t quit on a play (regardless of what zone he’s in) and knows how to win puck battles while wearing down the opponent.

“It’s how he competes. We like how he improved during the season. It was his attitude. He went to a team that was a mess and said, ‘I want to be part of this and help to change the culture and everything else.’ That was a big part. And then to watch him when he did go to the tournaments, he played with better players and he was an elite player and really showed his skill at prospects games and under-18’s. He really got to flourish in those situations.” –GM Jim Nill on the decision to draft Dellandrea

His attributes are impressive for any hockey player, but are all the more commendable when considering the sincere lack of talent surrounding him.

After an impressive debut at development camp and training camp in 2018, Dellandrea headed back to Flint for the 2018-19 regular season. And while Flint once again underwhelmed with a second-to-last finish in the standings, Dellandrea came up big yet again with 22 goals and 63 points in 60 games.

“It was a tough year as a team and I really wanted to get some more team wins and be a good leader,” Dellandrea said at Stars development camp in June. “Personally, I learned a lot again that in a tough year, all you can do is take a lot from it and learn from it. I learned a lot about myself and I learned a lot about my teammates. There was a lot that you could take away from it.”

Following the conclusion of the OHL season, Dellandrea was called up to the Texas Stars (AHL) to make his professional hockey debut. He had two goals and three points in 11 games with Texas and impressed head coach Derek Laxdal with his attitude and effort.

“When you bring the kids in at the end of the season like that, it’s a chance to start building the book on them from the organization’s perspective in a pro atmosphere. I thought that Ty really stepped in at a young age and we got a chance to see that he’s a 200-foot player, he’s got some offense, he’s got some bite to his game, he skates well, and he thinks about the game well. For him, it’s just experience and getting more games under his belt so he can build that base and we can build that book on him. You could see why he got drafted as a first-round pick because he’s a well-rounded player.” –Derek Laxdal on Dellandrea’s pro debut

“It was a great experience being able to go up there, learn from those guys, and play a bit of pro hockey,” Dellandrea said of his time in Cedar Park. “I felt like I fit right in and felt like I could handle it. It was great. It was cool to be able to go up there, hang with the guys, and learn a lot from those veteran players.”

Dellandrea has taken significant strides in his own development since starting with Flint in 2016-17 and is building a strong case for a full-time roster spot at the pro hockey level.

But that’s where his interesting situation comes into play.

Due to an agreement between the NHL and CHL, Dellandrea is unable to play in the AHL this season because he is under the age of 20. That means that he will play either with the Dallas Stars or Flint Firebirds for the 2019-20 season. While sending him to the AHL to further develop his skills with a team that should be deep and talented in the coming year would be ideal, it’s not an option.

And so, there is an important decision that has to be made regarding the center. Dellandrea proved in the 2018-19 season that he not only took a major step forward as a leader and player in another difficult season for Flint, but also that he looks prepared and ready for pro hockey.

“I think I still need to work on all areas, but it was cool to be able to go up to Texas at the end of the year and see the pro level,” Dellandrea said. “I learned a lot from that and I think need to get stronger and faster. I worked a lot on my speed last year and I think that will show this year.”

So, where will the 19-year-old end up? That’s yet to be determined.

What we do know is that he will be at training camp and should be able to compete at his highest possible level after missing development camp due to a groin injury that hindered him for most of the 2018-19 season. And while that’s a further testament to his determination and drive, it’s also a reason to give Dellandrea a strong look going into the new season.

The 19-year-old center will be at Dallas Stars training camp next month and will begin making his case for an NHL spot. There’s reason to believe that he will also be given an extended role in the preseason as the Stars try to come up with a definite answer for his immediate future. And if he impresses the coaching staff in that window of time, he might get the chance to make his NHL debut.

Dellandrea signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Stars back in September 2018 and used the entry-level slide for the 2018-19 season. With that being said, he still has all three years left on his deal. He’s also allowed to play up to nine NHL games this season before Dallas must make a decision. If he plays 10 or more games, the slide rule cannot apply and he will use up the first year of his contract.

While Dellandrea’s abilities are proven and his “never give up” attitude are unique and could benefit the Dallas Stars greatly in the coming season, the next question that must be faced is whether there is space for him.

The Stars will hold a maximum of 14 forwards on their roster at one time, so there seems to be an opening. There’s likely only 11 spots already guaranteed to forwards on the Dallas roster, so three spots could be up for grabs. That’s where Dellandrea comes in.

Can he beat out some of the other young forwards in the Dallas system and secure a starting spot for himself? There’s a pretty significant group of young forwards (including Jason Robertson, Joel L’Esperance, and Joel Kiviranta, among others) competing for playing time alongside Dellandrea, so there will be plenty of competition. And if so, can he maintain the spot and turn it into a full-time position?

There are a lot of questions surrounding the 2018 first-round pick as the 2019-20 season quickly approaches, and he seems to be in for an uphill battle. But if there’s anything that he’s learned in a handful of disappointing seasons in Flint, it’s how to handle an uphill battle and make the most of it.

Ty Dellandrea will be a significant person of interest to watch as training camp and the preseason unfold around the Dallas Stars. His skills, grit, and persistence would greatly benefit the bottom six of a Dallas lineup looking to score more and be more aggressive on offense in the season ahead. He’s got the character and the drive. But can he capitalize and make the jump for the long haul? We’ll find out soon enough.

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“I think I just want to come in and give myself the best opportunity to make this team,” Dellandrea said. “I’ve got to work extremely hard and take the stuff I learned from a bit of pro experience. I’ve got to come in, do everything I can, and give myself the best shot to make the team.”

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