Stars AHL 2008-09 season preview

By Mike Farkas

The Dallas Stars find themselves in the middle of a transition period regarding their American Hockey League affiliate.  Iowa was home to many of Dallas’ youngsters in 2007-08.  The Stars, however, cut ties with their Midwestern minor league club with plans to establish a more local, similarly-named team in Texas.  The former Iowa Stars are now the Iowa Chops and house the Anaheim Ducks‘ youngsters.  Dallas will distribute their prospects to multiple AHL teams until the Texas Stars commence operations in 2009-10 in Austin.  The Manitoba Moose will accept the bulk of the Stars’ prospects for the time being, but players will be sent all over the map, including Peoria, Grand Rapids, Houston, Hamilton and even their former affiliate in Iowa. 

Forwards


Chris Conner, the diminutive forward who has worked his way through the ranks, was one of the two final cuts that the Stars needed to make before their season begins.  The Michigan Tech grad has been largely successful at the AHL level over the last two-plus seasons.  Conner will turn 25 in December and is likely to be one of the first call-ups for the Stars from Peoria.  He set career highs in assists (26) and points (39) in a career-best 55 AHL games last season for Iowa. 

Former QMJHL walk-on, Francis Wathier, outlasted many forwards in his most recent campaign with Dallas’ training camp.  The soon-to-be 24-year-old industrious forward has yet to make his NHL debut but between being the final cut from Dallas’ roster this year and being on call as an emergency player for Dallas’ playoff run last season, he may finally catch his big break sooner rather than later.  Wathier missed a good chunk of the 2007-08 season with a shoulder injury, but he will be given every opportunity to impress his organization as he will be the lone Star returning to Iowa for the 2008-09 season.

Undrafted free agent Tyler Shelast was assigned to the minors after attending his first training camp with the club.  Shelast played 11 games at the tail end of last season for Iowa.  He will embark on his first full professional season with the Hamilton Bulldogs.  Shelast led Michigan Tech in goals the past two seasons. 

Another collegiate product will play his first full professional season this year.  Former Cornell University standout, Raymond Sawada, will play for the Manitoba Moose to start the season.  Sawada got off to a hot start in his professional debut scoring nine points in ten games last year for Iowa.  He was impressive during the Traverse City Prospects Tournament, frequently throwing his weight around and winning board battles.

Former Phoenix Coyote draft pick and long time Seattle Thunderbird (WHL), Aaron Gagnon, hopes to stick in the AHL for a full season for the first time in his professional career.  Last year, Gagnon found himself in 22 games for the Idaho Steelheads (ECHL) scoring 21 points; additionally, he appeared in 25 games for the Iowa Stars where he gathered a solitary assist.  Gagnon will look to increase his offensive production in the AHL this year in order to keep him from sliding down the organizational depth chart.

Veteran Landon Wilson was loaned to the Grand Rapids Griffins and John Lammers was sent to Idaho of the ECHL, should he be recalled to the AHL it will likely be to the Houston Aeros.  The Stars relinquished the rights to restricted free agent Konstantin Pushkarev

Defensemen

Recently signed blueliners Maxime Fortunus and Trevor Ludwig will both play for the Manitoba Moose this year.  Fortunus, 25, has played three full seasons for the Moose and parts of two others.  Ludwig, fresh out of Providence College, is a sizeable defensive defenseman who participated in the Traverse City tournament.  The 23-year-old is the son of former Dallas Star Craig Ludwig and hopes to impress enough to make a late push at an NHL future.

Former first rounder and top prospect Ivan Vishnevskiy will see time with Peoria this season as he makes his professional debut.  The 27th overall selection in 2006 had a point per game in 45 games last year for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL).  Already displaying exceptional offensive skills and skating ability, the Russian rearguard will get a strong chance to adjust to the speed, power and skill of the pro game while he hones his offensive abilities.

Meanwhile, veteran Dan Jancevski will join Shelast in Hamilton.  Jancevski is 1999 draft pick of the Stars and has played in six NHL games between Dallas and Tampa Bay.  Fellow vet Garrett Stafford will rejoin the Grand Rapids Griffins, a team he played for last year as a member of the Detroit Red Wings.  The 28-year-old was given his introduction to the NHL last year with the Wings. 

Goaltenders

The Stars have assigned Matt Climie to the ECHL’s Steelheads after he played in six uneventful games for Iowa at the closing stages of last season.  A quarter-century’s worth of age but limited professional experience has led the Stars to ship him to their "AA" affiliate. 

The Stars signed former Calgary Flame Brent Krahn in the offseason, but his status remains uncertain for medical reasons.  Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Tobias Stephan will spend a full season as Marty Turco’s backup.