Dallas Stars go heavy on European prospects

By Mike Farkas
Aleksi Makela - Dallas Stars

Photo: Dallas Stars seventh-rounder Aleksi Makela is a trustworthy net-front presence and one of several Finnish prospects in the system. (courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

 

With former GM Joe Nieuwendyk out and former Red Wings GM Jim Nill in, the Dallas Stars seem to be even more European-friendly than usual these days. A number of young European professionals in their ranks covered the entire success/disappointment spectrum over the course of the 2014-15 season. The NCAA ranks have largely thinned out due to graduation. Devin Shore and Michael Prapavessis, the only two remaining at the collegiate level, both had very strong finishes to their respective seasons and Shore has turned professional. Overall, the Stars’ European defense pipeline continues to be very sturdy.

NCAA

Devin Shore, C, University of Maine (Hockey East)
Drafted: 2nd round, 61st overall in 2012

Despite a late uptick in production, Devin Shore’s final season at Maine did not go exactly as planned. The team was poor and Shore was not able to produce offensively as many had hoped. The captain wrapped up with 35 points in 39 games, which again easily led the club. He was limited to just five points in his first ten contests, but over the course of the year, he improved his defensive game even further. While his skating has improved, Shore is not a burner; he is going to have to earn his points with sagacity as a professional. To wrap up his collegiate career, Shore was named a Hockey East Second-Team All-Star. The 2012 second round pick has signed an entry-level deal with Dallas and will join Texas for some late season games.

Michael Prapavessis, D, RPI (ECAC)
Drafted: 4th round, 105th overall in 2014

After a superb year in Ontario juniors, Michael Prapavessis enrolled at RPI and progressed quite well as the year went on. Though the point totals (one goal and eight points in 41 games) do not suggest superstar status has been achieved, he gained the trust of coaches as time went on and inherited more ice time down the stretch. Still growing into his frame, Prapavessis plays a savvy game that is aided further by fluid skating ability. The expectation is for him to absorb some significant ice time in all situations going forward. Last year’s fourth round pick is a work in progress, but being named to the ECAC All-Rookie Team is a good start to a college career.

Europe

Mattias Janmark, C, Frolunda (SHL)
Acquired: Trade with Detroit, March 2015

2013 third round pick Mattias Backman came over to Dallas by way of a deadline deal with Detroit and could turn some heads in due time. At 22, though, time may not be on the side of the wiry center. A pro in Sweden for the past three and a half years, Janmark has never really engaged much in North American hockey (save for eight AHL games late in 2014). Nor does he play a real North American style game, but he has hockey sense and fine offensive skills. The key to Janmark will be making sure he is strong enough on the puck and conditioned enough for the rigorous AHL/NHL schedule. While stepping right into the NHL next season will be a long shot, Janmark appears to have the capability to be a top-flight center in the AHL right now after a career-best 36-point regular season. Janmark’s Frölunda Indians fell in the SHL semi-finals to the Växjö Lakers, but Janmark did lead the team in points, with four goals and three assists in the post-season.

Emil Molin, C, Rogle (Allsvenskan)
Drafted: 4th round, 115th overall in 2011

Armed with seemingly a wealth of pro experience, Emil Molin really has struggled to penetrate any lineup meaningfully in his professional career to date. Between regular season and playoffs, Molin has more than 200 games accrued in the SHL and Allsvenskan, but in all those games, he has an ATOI that hovers around just ten minutes. Kind of a waterbug type of player, Molin has yet to find his niche and the skills as a result are not as sharp as they might be. Dallas had gotten involved with the entry-level contract and the loan to the second-tier Swedish league for the sake of playing time, but to little avail. Molin has a year left on his contract and it is unclear whether or not he is worth rostering at the AHL level at this point. He failed to score a goal in 50 games this season with Rogle, holding his career Swedish pro total to four.

Esa Lindell, D, Assat (Liiga)
Drafted: 3rd round, 74th overall in 2012

With Jokerit moving to the KHL, Esa Lindell was kept domestically by Assat and had a major breakout season. He produced 35 points to lead all d-men and also was among the leaders in total ice time in Liiga play. Lindell still finished the year even in plus/minus despite all of his production. On the defensive front, Lindell is somewhat hit or miss. He is a risk taker defensively at times and can sometimes get lost in sustained attack time against. On the flip side, he spurs a lot of rushes and jumps into any rush. Assat was dispatched quickly in a three-game play-in series for the Liiga playoffs, and as a result, Lindell has joined the Texas Stars. The 6’3 Finnish blueliner is likely to be called up to the national team for the World Championships soon.

Dmitry Sinitsyn, D, Dynamo Balashikha (VHL)
Drafted: 7th round, 183rd overall in 2012

It has been the typical development route for Dmitry Sinitsyn: Dallas Stars U16 program, Russian Junior B, then back to America for a year of NCAA hockey at UMass-Lowell. Then he was selected in the 2013 CHL Import Draft and went to Regina (WHL), before returning this season to Russia to play in the second-tier VHL, with a call-up to the KHL and appearances in MHL (junior) playoff games to boot. Despite a mid-season injury, Sinitsyn did enjoy a good season. He logged some meaningful minutes in the KHL and has appeared in the playoffs there. In the VHL he was able to notch nine points in 20 games with a +4 rating. Obviously his minutes in the KHL are limited, but he has shown the ability to be in the right spot positionally and engaging physically. It seems likely that Sinitsyn will remain in the KHL as a depth player next season.

Mattias Backman, D, Linkoping (SHL)
Acquired: Trade with Detroit, March 2015

Mildly disgruntled defenseman Mattias Backman decided to leave the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL to find regular playing time back in Sweden and was quite effective in his 25-game return. An impressive 17 points were notched with Linkoping in short order, as he soaked up ice time to the tune of nearly 20 minutes per outing. He is used in any situation but is more effective, naturally, on the power play than the penalty kill. Backman has a surplus of skating ability and hockey sense, but the physicality and strength are certainly lacking. In Sweden, he played all of those minutes and when his PIMs and hits are totaled, it still only equals seven. The question is not of skill for Backman, it is just a matter of handling the bigger, more rugged, sometimes more cycle-oriented, NHL game. Hoping for a fresh start in a new organization, the former fifth round pick enters into yet another numbers game in terms of depth that he will need to rise above for an NHL future.

Niklas Hansson, D, Rogle (Allsvenskan)
Drafted: 3rd round, 68th overall in 2013

Donning an A on his jersey as a 20-year-old, Niklas Hansson seemed poised for a big season. However, it has been a little bit of an up and down year for the young Swede. A rough middle stretch included being denied an invite to the World Junior Championships and getting his ice time reduced. At the end of the day, Hansson notched career bests in assists (19) and points (21) while helping his team get promoted to the SHL with a strong effort in Kvalserien play. Hansson is still learning the ropes and has been less than stellar defensively for some of the year, which led to a bit of the previously-mentioned shift deflation, but he starts the rush well with pointed passes and aids the power play efficiently. There will be decisions to come with Hansson, who reportedly has another deal left on his deal with Rogle, and it seems likely that he will remain in Sweden for the time being.

Ludwig Bystrom, D, Farjestad (SHL)
Drafted: 2nd round, 43rd overall in 2012

A second round pick in 2012, Ludwig Bystrom seemed on pace to make a pretty big jump in his development this season with Farjestad. However, a new coaching staff and overall spotty play may have damaged Bystrom’s reputation a bit. Point production and ice time slipped and Bystrom was even deployed down to Allsvenskan play for a time to regain his composure. The mobile two-way defenseman put the turbulent year behind him and moved to the AHL to help the Stars finish their campaign in  strong fashion. Bystrom has been a steady presence who makes good reads. The issue with the 20-year-old Swede is that his compete level for loose pucks and, even more acutely, net-front play leaves a lot to be desired. In a system with 18 prospect-level defensemen, he will need to adjust his play to keep moving up the depth chart.

Aleksi Makela, D, Ilves (Liiga)
Drafted: 7th round, 182nd overall in 2013

Last-round draft pick Aleksi Makela has emerged from his club’s junior program right into being a regular Liiga member, and playing a wealth of minutes. Before succumbing to injury he was averaging over 17 minutes per night in January and exceeding 20 minutes in three of his last five games that month. Overall, he appeared in 30 games, notching six helpers and a +2 rating. Makela is not a big offensive threat, but he plays a very tenacious game. He sticks tightly to players heading to the front of the net and cancels them right out. He played that role quite well at the World Junior Championships as well. Besides being a seventh round pick just like him, his game might resemble a little rougher Jyrki Jokipakka in some respects. Both players do not possess a ton of upside, but possess a pretty high floor and a North American style game.

Miro Karjalainen, D, HIFK U20 (Jr. A SM-Liiga)
Drafted: 5th round, 135th overall in 2014

Gargantuan Finn Miro Karjalainen was bumped up to the U20 junior circuit this season but has been limited to just a small handful of games. A knee injury wiped out much of his season and he is just getting back into the game shape over the last several weeks. A minute-muncher at this level, Karjalainen is not much for offense but can punish opposing forwards with his massive size. At nearly 6’6, the player affectionately nicknamed “Cowboy” is one tough hombre.

John Nyberg, D, Frolunda J20 (J20 SuperElit)
Drafted: 6th round, 165th overall in 2014

Recent sixth round pick John Nyberg played all over the map in 2014-15. He really accelerated through junior play at the highest junior level, notching 17 points in just 25 games. He jumped right to the pro level for a fair amount of games as a result: 13 games in Allsvenskan play and 17 games up with Frölunda in the SHL. Though generally just a reserve defenseman playing less than ten minutes per night, the jump from J18 play in his draft year to playing 17 SHL games this season is a testament to his quick progression. At this rate, the heavy-shooting Swede will see more top league time next season and perhaps receive an invite to the World Junior team.

Prospect of the Month
Jason Dickinson - Dallas Stars
With a lot of responsibility for keeping the Guelph attack going, Jason Dickinson has answered the bell quite well. He reeled off a 13-game point streak that concluded in late January and ended up finishing just a point shy off the second-place pace for scoring on the Storm with 71 points in 56 games. His +12 rating finished third best on the team and it was aided by an astounding six goals while his team was disadvantaged. Dickinson was the best defensive forward in the Western Conference as voted by the OHL coaches.