The churning out of quality prospects continues for the Dallas Stars organization. General manager Jim Nill will be looked upon to continue to bolster a very strong and deep organizational depth chart that has few glaring weaknesses at this point in time. With the Texas Stars (AHL) contingent set to defend a title and the Dallas team looking to make a bigger playoff push, the pressure is on this impressive group of youngsters.
The Stars have been effective in producing adequate wingers in recent years and may have found themselves another fifth round gem from the WHL in Cole Ully, who has burst out of the gates after a 30-goal campaign last season. While strength and puck management remain on the undeveloped side, the purveyance of offense is undeniable from the young Albertan. Also in the junior circuit, Remi Elie from Belleville (OHL) has made the best of his liberation from London (and limited minutes) and is making it count on the score sheet. An engaging player who can whip the puck home with some authority, Elie brings enough defensive ability to be counted on at the pro level for more than just offense.
Keeping in the theme of defense, former four-year Redhawk Curtis McKenzie broke out in a big way last year, as he captured Rookie of the Year honors in the American League. This season the winger will be relied upon again to make room for his skilled linemates and to cash in on his opportunities. He will likely be granted some time in Dallas as the year goes on, probably in more of a depth role.
Free agent signing Brendan Ranford will re-join Texas (AHL) to provide a secondary scoring punch. Ranford played with the club last year on an AHL deal before signing an entry-level contract with Dallas in the offseason. The small but skilled winger potted eight goals and eight assists en route to a Calder Cup championship in 2014.
Swedish winger Ludwig Karlsson was acquired from Ottawa in the Jason Spezza trade. It is still unclear if he has the requisite skill to be an NHL player. He will spend much of the year plying his wares in the ECHL or on the fringes of the AHL. Similarly, Dallas fifth round pick Matej Paulovic – previously let go by the OHL’s Peterborough Petes – will rejoin his teammates in Muskegon (USHL). The sluggish winger netted 16 points in 29 games last season with the Lumberjacks and hopes to improve upon that mark in 2014-15.
Jason Dickinson moved to center and helped the Guelph Storm to a five-goal-per-game average last season. Now the captain of the club, that “C” weighs heavier than normal as the club will be looking towards Dickinson for an improvement on his 78-point campaign from the previous season. Dickinson is a rangy two-way forward who can do most everything on the rink. The Stars have made it a point to supplement their center depth and have done so in a major way. Dickinson, who can easily play wing, may well be joining a team with Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza and Cody Eakin down the middle already.
Not to be overshadowed, savvy playmaking center Devin Shore hopes to top the Hobey Baker Award list at the University of Maine. Also a captain, Shore plays in all situations for the Black Bears and has been far and away their best player since joining the club in the fall of 2012. The Stars own the rights to another two-way centerman, but one that has been somewhat underwhelming since being selected ahead of the aforementioned Shore in 2012. All hope is not lost – far from it – on the heavy Czech center Radek Faksa, as he assimilated himself nicely during the Stars’ Calder Cup run. The question for Faksa is how much production can be expected as a pro. He seems to be tracking towards being a third-line center instead of a second-line center as was previously hoped.
Entering his third WHL season is Brett Pollock from the Edmonton Oil Kings. Pollock may be better off as a winger down the line but entered the WHL as a goal-scoring center. With great reach and an intriguing skill set, Pollock could be a great player to roll off the boards and power his way towards the net.
The Stars have held on to a couple of industrious, speedy players in Gemel Smith and Emil Molin. Molin has been shuttled down to the second-tier Swedish league in an effort to salvage some of his offensive upside. Smith was a major producer in the OHL and hopes to be able to produce at a reasonable rate as a pro. He is another player that may not necessarily be a center down the road due to his limitations and potential use.
Everything is bigger in Texas, including the organization’s offering at right wing. Brett Ritchie, Matej Stransky and Branden Troock are all at least 6-foot-3 and 200-plus pounds and have the skill to be effective professional players.
Ritchie walked right into the AHL and notched 20 goals and nearly 50 points.
Stransky played in more of a depth role, as he still has to grow into his body more and improve his skating. The hulking Czech winger showed noticeable improvement in all facets of his game over the course of the year. It may not be until late this season, or even next season, when Stransky hits his stride and becomes a more consistent producer.
Troock is an AHL rookie in 2014-15 after an injury-riddled junior career. He may be the biggest sleeper of the whole group, as he can make some interesting things happen with and without the puck and his straight line speed is astounding for a player of his heft.
The organization has also been working to make the defense whole and have invested two 14th overall picks in defensemen in recent years. First is the gargantuan Jamie Oleksiak, who has shown flashes of being a player but is plagued by inconsistency and some faulty decision-making. Then the compact Julius Honka, who can skate and think with the best of them. Honka, by way of an interesting set of circumstances, is permitted to play in the AHL as an 18-year old and will be available for the big club this year if need be. Also available to play in the NHL will be 23-year-old Finn Jyrki Jokipakka. The 2011 seventh round pick plays a steady, reliable game without much fanfare or gusto.
Patrik Nemeth has progressed marvelously and made the Stars but was felled by a season-ending injury. Nemeth has his moments jumping into the rush, but he is more of a defensive threat. The offensive defensemen are on their way in the form of Swedes Ludwig Bystrom and John Klingberg. Bystrom, a second round selection in 2012, is embarking on his third full season in the SHL already – not including his 20 games in 2011-12. Mounting this much experience in one of the world’s finest leagues should help make his eventual transition to professional hockey in North America slightly smoother, as he should be a more polished and ready player. Klingberg is one of the bigger wildcards in the system. He is an older player at 22 years of age and was a late 2010 draft pick who is claimed by some to be as high caliber as Erik Karlsson-lite or as low end as Sami Vatanen-lite. The technical skills are present certainly and he can rush the puck fluidly. He brings an element to the Dallas blue line that they do not currently possess.
Another couple of players with intriguing upsides are playing in vastly different environments in 2014-15. Former NCAA and WHL player Dmitri Sinitsyn is playing with Dynamo Balashikha in the VHL, Russia’s second-tier league. The hard-shooting Russian should continue to see a lot of time despite the transition to professional hockey. Meanwhile, 2014 draft pick Michael Prapavessis moves to RPI as a freshman. Something of a project, Prapavessis is smart and blessed with uncanny vision. As he improves his skills and grows into his body, the Mississauga native could prove to be a pleasant surprise far down the line.
The Stars have a slew of European defensemen who are eager to get more ice time and experience. Niklas Hansson will be a top-four defenseman at the Allsvenskan level; Aleksi Makela hopes to get a longer look in the Liiga with Ilves; Esa Lindell hopes to improve upon last year’s five-point performance in the very same Liiga with Assat Pori. Meanwhile, 2014 draft pick John Nyberg is has a propensity to launch pucks from the blue line. He will play all over the place this year: Swedish juniors, Allsvenskan and even some spot duty in the SHL. The polar opposite is the situation faced by Miro Karjalainen, who will likely be confined mostly to junior play with an outside shot of being loaned to a Mestis League team.
American defenseman Aaron Haydon – another 2014 pick – hopes to rebound from a fairly dim 2013-14 season with the up-and-coming Niagara IceDogs (OHL). The big test will likely be whether or not he can tap into his offensive upside. Conversely, and unfortunately, Plymouth (OHL) is expected to be without their captain and a 2014 Stars third round pick, Alex Peters, for a significant stretch of time. Preliminary reports suggest that the rugged defenseman’s season is in jeopardy. Not all the ruggedness has been subdued, however, as Patrick Sanvido competes hard for Windsor (OHL) – he has a long way to go with his game and hopes to make big strides in 2014-15. Troy Vance, last year an overage junior, will try his hand at the ECHL level with hopes of cracking the AHL lineup.
The Stars have had their next potential starter waiting in the wings dating back to 2010, when the Stars nabbed Jack Campbell with the 11th overall selection. It appears as if the athletic American netminder is on the verge of putting it all together. Unfortunately, his efforts were cut short due to injury last year; however, he will be counted to be one of the cornerstones of defending the Texas Stars’ championship.
With European veteran Jussi Rynnas working AHL duties with Campbell, the ECHL jobs are to be taken by Maxime Lagace and young Finn Henri Kiviaho. Neither player comes in with much expectation, so any excelling will be a major bonus for the organization. The next name of known promise is Phillipe Desrosiers from the Rimouski Oceanic. The second round pick in 2013 broke the QMJHL’s shutout streak record and has the makings of a quality NHL netminder in time.
The most recent addition to the goalie pool is big Brent Moran from the Niagara IceDogs (OHL). Moran stole the starting slot late last season and is now going to be shouldering a heavier workload for the young Niagara club. Moran is a large, long-term project goaltender that needs a lot of development to make it; he will be on full display in 2014-15.