There is a changing of the guard for the Dallas Stars Top 20 list. James Neal takes over the top spot just before he graduates from prospect status. While WHL standouts Jamie Benn, Ondrej Roman and Colton Sceviour make some upward progress, the biggest mover is defenseman Philip Larsen who slides up to No. 7 because of his performances against high-end opposition. Meanwhile, there are three newcomers on the list now that Konstantin Pushkarev (rights relinquished), Lauri Tukonen (traded) and Drew McIntyre (traded) are gone.
Top 20 at a glance
1. (2) James Neal, LW
2. (1) Ivan Vishnevskiy, D
3. (5) Jamie Benn, LW
4. (4) Fabian Brunnstrom, LW
5. (3) Mark Fistric, D
6. (8) Ondrej Roman, C/LW
7. (16) Philip Larsen, D
8. (7) Perttu Lindgren, C
9. (9) Richard Bachman, G
10. (10) Raymond Sawada, RW
11. (12) Sergei Korostin, RW
12. (19) Colton Sceviour, RW
13. (NR) Matt Tassone, C
14. (NR) Tom Wandell, C
15. (17) Scott Winkler, C
16. (11) Nico Sacchetti, C
17. (13) Tobias Stephan, G
18. (18) Tyler Beskorowany, G
19. (14) Chris Conner, LW
20. (NR) Guillaume Monast, D
Current Rank (Old Rank) Name, Pos – Grade (Old Grade)
After a very short stint in the minors to start the season (salary cap issues being the leading cause), Neal has burst onto the scene this year with Dallas. He has very quietly put together an impressive rookie campaign. He’s been seeing borderline second/third line minutes this year, getting work on the power play and some on the penalty kill. To go along with his 18 goals in 56 games, Neal has been a steady defensive presence and tremendous physical force. Only Steve Ott has more hits among forwards on Dallas this season.
How off the radar has Neal been compared to other rookies? He’s second only to Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan in goals and just a hat trick would change that. He’s one point behind Blue Jacket sensation Jakub Voracek for fifth in points. The 21-year-old is third in hits behind noted ruffians Luke Schenn and Cal Clutterbuck. And only Kyle Okposo has more takeaways.
2. (1) Ivan Vishnevskiy, D – 7.5C (7.5C)
Peoria Rivermen (AHL)
1st round (27th overall) in 2006
Vishnevskiy drops to the No. 2 position due to Neal’s proof of NHL worthiness and a less than stellar transition to the pro game from this Russian defenseman. With Peoria, Vishnevskiy has netted three goals, 13 points and a -7 rating in 50 games this season. It’s been a slow start, but there are a lot of variables to it. First and foremost, Vishnevskiy is not St. Louis property, like most players there. Second, Vishnevskiy is the youngest player on the team. Also, with offensive-minded blueliners like Jonas Junland, Steve Wagner and Andy Wozniewski ahead of him on the Peoria depth chart, it’s tough for Vishnevskiy to put his tools to good use. Vishnevskiy’s defensive game hasn’t been very inspiring, and he doesn’t seem very inspired as a whole at times.
3. (5) Jamie Benn, LW – 7.5C (7.0C)
Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
5th round (129th overall) in 2007
Benn’s meteoric rise from relative obscurity is a story that keeps on getting better and better. He currently resides in the WHL’s sixth spot in goals with 39, while his 71 points in 49 games registers a new career high. After a healthy dose of action in the World Junior Championships, Benn has started scoring more sporadically, at least compared to the clip if he was going at to start the year. In the last 10 games that Benn has scored a point, eight times it ended up being a multi-point game. He was also judged to have the hardest and most accurate shot in the WHL’s Western Conference by way of a players, coaches and managers poll. Benn rises a couple spots because of his consistently elite play since joining the WHL.
After much-heralded fanfare about his arrival, Brunnstrom has had a relatively modest beginning to his NHL career: 13 goals and 20 points to go along with a minus-9 rating and a single penalty for interference. Brunnstrom occupies the bottom six with regularity, though doesn’t play on the penalty kill. However, he does see a healthy amount of power play time. The Swede struggled early in the year with the defensive aspects of the game and was benched because of it. Now, though, he seems to be putting it together and is hustling much more on the ice. He won’t be mistaken for Steve Ott any time soon in the physicality department, but he does break out some handsy moves from time to time. The progress of Brunnstrom has been up and down with scattered injuries, but he’s making steady improvement.
5. (3) Mark Fistric, D – 6.5A (6.5A)
1st round (28th overall) in 2004
For the second straight year, Fistric has split time between the AHL and the NHL. Fistric has seen third pairing time and some penalty kill work this season. A single assist and a -2 rating is what the former first rounder has to show for his 18-game NHL season. In 35 games with the Manitoba Moose (AHL), Fistric has notched eight assists and leads team defensemen in plus/minus with a +12. The former Vancouver Giant battled an injury early in the year which set him back a little, but he has since recovered and has been given another nod in Dallas. He drops a bit, but more because of Benn’s excellent play than his own average play. Fistric is another one that will soon graduate from prospect status, having played 55 NHL games.
6. (8) Ondrej Roman, C/LW – 7.0C (7.0C)
Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
5th round (136th overall) in 2007
Lost in the continued unsettledness between European leagues and North American leagues is Ondrej Roman. He started out the year stuck in the Czech Republic playing for HC Vitkovice. As the youngest regular on the team, his numbers were somewhat modest – three goals, six assists and a +6 rating. Roman finally returned to Spokane (WHL) and is off to a pretty torrid start. He’s already seventh on the club in scoring, with 26 points, despite only playing just 24 games. That puts him second in points per game only behind top prospect Drayson Bowman. He’s also posted a +17 rating. The exciting playmaker has helped Spokane into a playoff spot and helped the Czech Republic immensely during the World Junior Championships. Roman finished second on the team in points with eight and was the most plus on the team at plus-three.
7. (16) Philip Larsen, D – 7.0D (7.0D)
Vastra Frolunda (SEL)
5th round (149th overall) in 2008
Already playing against men at the age of 19 in Sweden’s top league, Philip Larsen is just three points away from leading all club defensemen in scoring. He’s notched an impressive 15 assists and 17 points this season from the Frolunda back end. Larsen represented Denmark in the World Junior Championships, where he led the club’s blueliners in scoring (four assists in five games). He has also been improving his play in the defensive end of the rink, holding his own against seasoned Swedish vets. Larsen becomes the biggest mover on the list and for good reason, he looks to be another fifth-round gem.
8. (7) Perttu Lindgren, C – 7.0D (7.0C)
Lukko Rauma (FNL)
3rd round (75th overall) in 2005
After spending all of the 2007-08 season in the AHL, Lindgren has returned to Lukko Rauma of the SM-Liiga A. The Finnish center hasn’t deviated from his pass-first mentality — 18 of 23 points have been assists. His 18 helpers rank him fourth, while his 23 points place him fifth on the club that includes former NHLers Antti Laaksonen and Jeff Jillson. There have been some questions about Lindgren’s desire and conditioning at times and they cast long shadow on his NHL future. He drops just one spot, but arguably could have dropped a couple more.
Colorado College is finally starting to put together a more consistent effort in recent weeks. Richard Bachman has gone 14-8-8 on the year with a 2.55 GAA and .916 save percentage. Bachman was under a lot of pressure to give an encore performance of his play last year and simply has not been able to match that high level of play. The defense in front of him hasn’t been amazing, but Bachman has been getting torched at times by better opposition. Still though, his goals against average is fourth in the WCHA and his save percentage ranks third. Bachman and the Tigers look to continue their strong finish with three games left in the regular season against the two best teams in the conference – North Dakota and Denver.
10. (10) Raymond Sawada, RW – 6.5B (6.5B)
Manitoba Moose (AHL)/Dallas Stars
2nd round (52nd overall) in 2004
Sawada is currently recalled to the Stars for the first time in his career; he made an immediate impact by scoring in his first NHL game on Feb. 19. Sawada has played a physical game this year in both the AHL and his short stint in the NHL. He generally plays in a top-six role for the Manitoba Moose. His job is to make room for some of the top scorers on the team and he has done just that. All the while, five goals and 19 points in 48 games is nothing to be ashamed of. Sawada’s five fighting majors this year show that he’s not afraid to mix it up either.
11. (12) Sergei Korostin, RW – 7.0D (7.0D)
Peterborough Petes (OHL)
3rd round (64th overall) in 2007
Korostin took the big step from the NAHL to the OHL this season and hasn’t looked too out of place. Initially, he started with the London Knights, but after 13 games and seven points he was dealt to the lackluster Peterborough Petes. Korostin has gotten top-notch ice time since then and has really taken off offensively, with 10 goals and 28 points in 29 games since the trade. He’s even on a very minus team. Korostin hasn’t been the most consistent player on the rink this year, but he is getting a strong opportunity on a weak team. Korostin also appeared in the World Junior Championships for Russia, scoring a goal and an assist with a +3 rating as Russia took home the bronze.
12. (19) Colton Sceviour, RW – 6.5C (6.5C)
Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
4th round (112th overall) in 2007
Sceviour continues to impress since moving to Lethbridge. He leads the team in points by a healthy margin, with 26 goals and 72 points, and no one is within 20 points of him. Lethbridge is likely to sneak into the playoffs where Sceviour and top prospect Zach Boychuk (CAR) will try to carry the Hurricanes deep into the playoffs. For the current season, Sceviour has improved his playmaking skills a good deal. He already has more assists in 61 games this year than he did in 130 games (over parts of four seasons) with Portland. Sceviour slides up to No. 12 but he doesn’t figure to score as much as a pro, which he’ll move to in the fall.
13. (NR) Matt Tassone, C – 6.5C (6.0C)
Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
6th round (176th overall) in 2008
After showing some scoring instincts around the net last season, 19 goals’ worth in fact, Tassone has taken off this season. He’s shattered his previous career marks with 36 goals and 55 points in 52 games. Tassone currently ranks ninth in the WHL in goals, three spots behind Benn. Tassone’s plus/minus matches Swift Current’s goal differential (+23), good for second on the team. Thanks to his heart and work ethic on the ice, Tassone has been awarded with an “A” this season for the Broncos. The Alberta native has cracked triple digits in penalty minutes once again, in part, thanks to seven fighting majors. Tassone makes the deserved jump from the Other Notables to the top 15.
14. (NR) Tom Wandell, C – 6.5C (6.5D)
Timra IK (SEL)
5th round (146th overall) in 2005
Wandell came over to North America last year to try out the professional game and had mixed results. In the Swedish Elite League this year, Wandell is one point back from leading his club. The 22-year-old has an impressive 15 goals and 26 assists in 50 games. Wandell is surprisingly fifth in the Elitserien in plus/minus at +18 while playing more than 20 minutes a night. Interestingly, due to injuries back in Dallas, Wandell returned to North America on an emergency recall. He saw limited even strength time and a touch of power play time. The Swedish center managed to notch his first career NHL point versus Detroit on Dec. 12. Wandell slides up in a similar fashion as Tassone, but the prospect of Wandell being a regular, effective NHLer is still very much in question.
15. (17) Scott Winkler, C – 6.5C (6.5C)
Cedar Rapids Roughriders (USHL)
3rd round (89th overall) in 2008
Winkler moved to the USHL this season, a stepping stone for him as he heads to college in 2009-10. Winkler has put together a respectable season this year in Cedar Rapids. Seven goals and 26 points places him fifth on the team in points. The Norwegian forward has had games where he’s been lights out at both ends of the ice and others where he’s been merely a bit above average. Winkler slides up a couple spots, but until he’s exposed to some higher-end opposition at the collegiate level it will be tough to make a good projection.
With many older players still on the University of Minnesota team, Sacchetti hardly plays a large role on the club. He sees limited special teams action. After his first 30 collegiate games, the Minnesota native can only hang his hat on two goals and five points. He has shown some progression and has been one of Minnesota’s better players from their large freshman class. He should have a better opportunity for ice time next season.
17. (13) Tobias Stephan, G – 6.5B (6.5B)
2nd round (34th overall) in 2002
Stephan has finally gotten his chance to be a regular NHLer –- sort of. No one on the list goes further back in terms of draft year than Stephan (by two years) and he’s gotten off to a bit of a rocky start. Stephan has started in three games this year and appeared in seven. He’s 1-2-0 with a 3.34 GAA and a .887 save percentage. However, his appearances seem to come roughly once a month and it’s very tough for a goalie to get a rhythm going. Stephan was sent to Bridgeport for a conditioning stint where he went 4-0-1 with a 1.91 GAA and .917 save percentage. Stephan isn’t exactly trusted yet by the coaching staff and they tend to ride Marty Turco. Stephan is unlikely to see more than a game or two the rest of the way for Dallas as they push for the playoffs.
18. (18) Tyler Beskorowany, G – 7.0D (7.0D)
Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
2nd round (59th overall) in 2008
Once again Owen Sound finds themselves near the bottom of the standings and Beskorowany has lost the No. 1 job. He and rookie Scott Stajcer (ranked second among NA goalies by Central Scouting for the 2009 draft) now split the Attack’s goaltending duties. Stajcer has the edge in numbers, but not by a lot. Beskorowany in 33 games has a 10-11-9 record, 3.65 GAA, and .900 save percentage. Once again, Owen Sound surrenders more than 37 shots per game and Beskorowany is left to fend for himself. The Attack had at least one team inquire about the 6’5 goaltender but they refused to move him at the trade deadline. There are times when Beskorowany stands on his head and steals game and there are others where the onslaught is simply too much for him. He has another year of junior in which to work on his game.
19. (14) Chris Conner, LW – 6.5C (6.5C)
Conner is splitting yet another year between the AHL and the NHL. Once again, the numbers in the AHL are impressive (28 points in 30 games) and the numbers in the NHL are spotty (7 points in 20 games). In the NHL, Conner sees some time at even strength but nothing more. The 5’8 forward is a hard worker and quick forechecker but the wing depth in Dallas’ system prevents him from getting a good look at any other role than third or fourth line winger. It seems likely that Conner will remain being a fringe NHLer but an AHL star.
Recently-signed defenseman Monast is the lone QMJHL player on the Top 20. Monast is on his third Q team in the last three years, the Quebec Remparts. He leads the team’s defensemen in scoring as an overager with 32 assists and 37 points in 56 games. Monast has been playing a decent all-around game while wearing an “A” for Quebec and has even dropped the gloves a couple times this year. The little-known late bloomer will turn pro next season.