The third edition of the Dallas Stars prospect awards highlights the terrific depth and high-end skill that is housed by the organization. As evidenced below, the spoils of prior drafts have created a proliferation of talent at all positions.
Hulking winger Branden Troock had his healthiest season in his junior career to date. He appeared in 67 regular season and playoff games, scoring 28 goals and 65 points in that span before joining the Texas Stars (AHL) for their playoff push. Troock established himself as one of the premier power forwards in the West after an injury-riddled junior career. The fifth round pick of the Dallas Stars in 2012 has a heavy shot and a lot of skill for a big man. His skating is smoother than many would guess based on his attributes. At 6’4” and more than 200 pounds, Troock is a tough play for many junior defensemen. He can beat defenders multiple ways. If he can find his way open a little more and increase the quickness of his release, he has a future as a professional scorer, even if it is just as a complementary or glue guy.
John Klingberg was also considered for this award.
Best Defensive Prospect: Jamie Oleksiak, D, Texas Stars (AHL)
Once again, Jamie Oleksiak tops the blue line prospect list for Dallas. Though the point totals were down this season, his play was not. He is a sturdy defender who plays a strong positional game and handles one-on-one defense exceedingly well. At 6’7”, it is tough to stay out of Oleksiak’s mammoth reach. While he is not a real consistent body throttler, he can lay some lumber from time to time. The former first round pick has an impressive shot and can move the puck adequately. Oleksiak is something of a mold breaker. He skates well and can carry the puck through three zones, though it is a display not seen often enough. The NHL game has still been a little overwhelming for him and he looks borderline lost at times, but with maturity, confidence and the right partner, Oleksiak should round out into a fine defensive-minded, two-way defenseman.
Patrik Nemeth is beginning to give Oleksiak a serious run for his money with this award.
Despite a sluggish start to his season, Desrosiers turned in a terrific performance as he firmly established himself as one of the QMJHL’s finest netminders. He finished tied for sixth in save percentage among starters at .907 and fourth in goals against average at 2.65. He was one of the just five goalies in the Q who can make claim to a 30-win, 5-shutout season as well. The Oceanic would ultimately fall in overtime of the seventh game of their second round series against the Armada. And despite a wild game seven, Desrosiers still led all goalies in playoff save percentage at .917 (minimum 7 games played). In February, Desrosiers broke the QMJHL shutout streak record by hermetically-sealing his cage for nearly 250 consecutive minutes.
Desrosiers is such a good learner and he is receptive to improving his game in any way possible. Athletic, yet composed, Desrosiers will be tough to turn away from Team Canada for the 2015 World Junior Championships.
Fastest Skater: John Klingberg, D, Vasta Frolunda (SHL)
The smooth skating defenseman has been a revelation in the Swedish League. Klingberg is one of the top offensive defensemen in Sweden and will soon try his hand at the North American game full time. Klingberg is a terrific skater with a great stride. He works well on his edges and he is very elusive. His puck skills and rushing ability are reminiscent of Erik Karlsson, to a lesser degree. The Dallas fifth round pick in 2010 loves to join the rush and does some of his best work with the man advantage. How he adjusts to the physical rigors of the North American game are yet to be determined, but he should be able to skate his way out of most troubles.
Hardest Shot: Kevin Connauton, D, Dallas Stars (NHL)
Though used sparingly in the 2013-14, Kevin Connauton spent most of the year as a sixth/seventh defender for Dallas as he is no longer waiver exempt. Connauton scored just once in 36 contests for Dallas but he does possess a howitzer. As of yet, he just does not quite bring enough to the NHL lineup to be an effective player. He needs to improve his defensive game and urgency on the ice. As he begins to establish himself, Connauton will end up in situations where he can show off his finest asset.
Jamie Oleksiak and Dmitry Sinitsyn were also closely considered for this award.
Overachiever: Curtis McKenzie, LW, Texas Stars (AHL)
Curtis McKenzie spent four years at Miami University and scored 29 goals in his collegiate career. As a rookie in the AHL in 2013-14, he potted 25 markers and 62 points. He earned some top line minutes with some of the finest scorers in the AHL and did not flub his chances. The Dallas sixth round pick in 2009 is in the process of establishing himself as a fine complementary scorer – a tough thing to scout in the NHL today. The near-point-per-game pace as a pro rookie might be a touch over-zealous in terms of his NHL prospects, but the Stars will be more than satisfied if he can become a Matt Moulson or Mike Knuble type of player down the line. In the meantime, McKenzie was the AHL Rookie of the Year.
His collegiate career marred by mental warts, Alex Guptill could bring much more to the table on his own accord. His final season in college, as a junior, produced the lowest outcome in goals, assists and points. Though raw statistics rarely tell the story, in this case, the lack of progression shown on the stat sheet reflects accurately to the progression seen on the rink. Guptill may very well be just about the same player today as he was as a freshman three years ago. He earned his entry-level contract on skill and upside. The Stars have been down this road before with a much higher draft pick and hopefully they can whip Guptill into shape in time for him to be the top-six forward he could potentially be.
Highest Risk/Reward: Cole Ully, LW, Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
Though John Klingberg would be ripe for this award again – and his on-ice play is summed up nicely by the award’s title – Cole Ully of the lowly Kamloops Blazers deserves recognition. Wins were hard to come by this year for the Blazers, but their top line, headed by winger Cole Ully, was a rare bright spot. Ully was a driver of possession; he can carry the puck and he does participate well enough in the defensive zone to be an asset. He is small and slippery, but he is tough to lay a lick on. Even if you can get a paw on him, his 20/20 vision will spot a teammate open somewhere on the ice. Ully had more than twice as many points as any other Blazer forward and had a point on over 41 percent of the club’s goals for the season. While he was a minus-7 on the year after 69 games, it should be noted that his club surrendered 130 more goals than it scored. The next highest scorer on the club was minus-35.
Hardest Worker: Taylor Peters, C/LW, Texas Stars (AHL)
Taylor Peters knows that he has to earn everything that he gets from his professional hockey career. No buzz, no praise, no draft pick even. Peters was signed by the Stars after finishing a long, successful career with the Portland Winterhawks. He does a lot of grunt work on the lower lines for the Texas Stars in the AHL now and is adapting to his new surroundings quite well. Checking lines in the AHL rarely stick together for too long, it is the nature of the league. Peters has been a constant. With the rush of talent that fills the AHL towards the end of the year, and Peters was knocked aside in the deluge. Once again, he worked his way into the lineup and the physical fourth liner should be in for the duration. Peters worked well with Radek Faksa and Matej Stransky in the Western Conference Final, and they are hoping to parlay that success into a Calder Cup championship.
Curtis McKenzie and Gemel Smith were also considered for this award.
Breakout for 2014-15: Patrik Nemeth, D, Texas Stars (AHL)
The behemoth and rangy Texas Stars blueliner has caught the eye of many on-lookers with his play since turning pro in North America. Though he was limited by injury (and call-up) to just 36 AHL games (plus eight NHL contests, not including playing nearly all of the first round series against Anaheim), Nemeth has shown that he may be ready for a new challenge sooner rather than later. The big Swede moves well, he is sturdy defensively, has great reach, great timing and can surprise opponents with a timely joining of the rush. Nemeth will not bowl anyone over with his goal totals, but at a plus-19 in 36 AHL games despite only registering nine points, he is on the positive end of red lights a little too often to ignore. Given his size, skill set and the defensive depth in front of him, Nemeth makes for a great dark horse candidate to be an NHL regular right out of the gate in 2014-15.
Cole Ully was also considered for this award.
Follow Mike Farkas on Twitter: @MichaelFarkasHF