Though the Dallas Stars fell short of a playoff berth in 2015, many prospects put themselves a step closer to being able to help the cause at the NHL level. Some Stars prospects actually received a fair bit of playing time in the show and that is reflected in this year’s awards. The most resounding example being young defenseman John Klingberg, who has been just what the doctor ordered on a Dallas Stars attack needing a big time puck mover.
Hardest Worker: Curtis McKenzie, LW, Dallas Stars (NHL)
Not brimming with glitzy offensive tools, Curtis McKenzie learned the collegiate way to score: going hard to the net and making a mess of things. McKenzie does that well and now he is trying to bring his AHL production level to the NHL scene. The 2009 sixth round selection has very much embraced the pro game, regardless of his role. Because of the shuttle he was on between Cedar Park and Dallas, he was unable to duplicate the 27 goals and 65 points he amassed last season, but it was not for lack of effort. McKenzie will likely be a role player next season in the NHL but with the fluid rotation of the third man playing with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, anything is possible for McKenzie next season.
Hardest Shot: Jamie Oleksiak, D, Dallas Stars (NHL)
With a career-high 36 games in the NHL in 2014-15, Jamie Oleksiak netted his first NHL goal October 28th vs. St. Louis. However, it was anything but a fast ball, as he pulled down a big windup and had one just bounce and flutter its way in past a fallen Brian Elliott. That said, Oleksiak does have a cannon to augment his 6-foot-7 frame. The former 14th overall selection, Oleksiak improved quite a bit this season, after some rather rushed and relatively fruitless prior trials at the NHL level in previous years. Next season, Oleksiak will require waivers to go to the minors and that will keep him up with the big club full-time.
Best Defensive Prospect: Julius Honka, D, Texas Stars (AHL)
Finnish defenseman Julius Honka jumped right into the North American professional game as an 18-year-old and acquitted himself quite well. He was among the leaders on the team in defense scoring with eight goals and 31 points in 68 games, and that total was just one point short of best among AHL rookie blueliners. He certainly has some kinks to work out in terms of defensive savvy and with his overall strength. This showed in his plus-minus being worst among Texas rearguards at -10, but he certainly made a positive impact as the season went on. In fact, he scored 19 points in his final 29 games, a great sign of things to come for Honka. Not to mention, he was easily the best Finnish defenseman at the World Junior Championships. The extremely mobile d-man will likely see a lot more AHL time next season, but may also make his NHL debut if all goes well.
Jason Dickinson has matured into a well-rounded, versatile player. Commissioned to try to buoy the Guelph attack after a slew of graduations from the previous season, Dickinson’s valiant effort sparked a 71-point season in 56 contests. His skating certainly opened up a lot of opportunities for himself. He netted six shorthanded goals on the year and showed a high-level defensive game as well. Dickinson was voted the best defensive forward in his conference in the annual OHL coaches poll. The late first round pick has set his sights on the pro game now; he netted three helpers in his first two AHL games.
Prospect of the Year: John Klingberg, D, Dallas Stars (NHL)
The slam dunk for the Stars prospect awards this season, John Klingberg had the most impressive showing of the 2014-15 campaign among Dallas youngsters. The offensive Swedish defenseman took the NHL by storm. With 40 points in 65 games, Klingberg led all rookie d-men in scoring. Blessed with great vision and offensive instincts, his right-handed shot was a revelation to Dallas after a brief stint in the AHL to start the year. The 2010 fifth round pick certainly garnered some well-deserved Calder Trophy consideration.
Breakout Player for 2015-16: Patrik Nemeth, D, Dallas Stars (NHL)
A terrible blow to an already thin defense occurred early in the season when Patrik Nemeth went down from a skate slice that cost him most of the regular season. The big, defensive-minded defenseman brings a lot to the table in terms of steadiness and physicality. Nemeth also has an underrated offensive upside where he can jump into some rushes when the time is right. A big chance awaits the young Swede in 2015-16, as he could be a steadying anchor for the club’s defensive corps in short order.
Most Improved Prospect: John Klingberg, D, Dallas Stars (NHL)
One of the NHL’s best rookies, Klingberg made quite a leap from the SHL. He blew right through the AHL to start the season, netting 12 points in just ten games before being called up to Dallas for good. He progressed nicely as the season went on as well. He is still trying to fully round out his game, but he is calm and composed under the bright lights. A great skater with terrific hockey sense, Klingberg has spearheaded the Dallas attack from the backline like few others in recent memory. The Stars rewarded his efforts with a seven-year contract extension.
Overachiever: Esa Lindell, D, Assat Pori (Liiga)
After moving from Jokerit to Assat, Esa Lindell exploded for 14 goals and 35 points in 57 games to lead all Liiga defensemen. The sudden spike in production and ice time has certainly accelerated Lindell’s progression. A good shooter who jumps in deep to try to finish plays, Lindell can manage the puck well in the offensive zone. The issue with Lindell is his sometimes chancy plays on defense and over-commitment on some rushes. Though he won the equivalent of the NHL’s Norris Trophy in Finland this year, still some questions loom about his adaptability to the NHL level.
Underachiever: Jack Campbell, G, Texas Stars (AHL)
After a somewhat abbreviated, but quite successful, 2013-14 campaign, it seemed as if goaltender Jack Campbell was back on track. However, 2014-15 turned into a bit of a disaster for him and he was fighting it all too often. The diminished quality of play even had him serve a stint in the ECHL just to get playing time and confidence back. Campbell was saddled with 14 of the team’s 22 regulation losses and his goals against average ballooned to over three, while his save percentage hung at just .907. To his credit, he finished the season strong, going 11-3 with a 2.45 goals against average and .930 save percentage while also recording his only two shutouts of the season down the stretch. He has been invited to play for the United States at the World Championships.
Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Mattias Janmark, C, Frölunda HC (SHL)
Acquired from Detroit in a trade deadline deal that sent veteran Erik Cole the other way, Swedish playmaker Mattias Janmark ended up back under Jim Nill’s guidance. Janmark, already with a young career of consistently high-level play in the SHL, set a career-mark with 36 points in 55 games with Frolunda. He then led his club in playoffs goals with four and points with seven before being ousted by the eventual champions from Växjö. Skilled and smart, Janmark might remind some of Valtteri Filppula, but the 2013 third round choice will need to get stronger on the puck and ready to handle the more rugged North American game. He has second line upside, but the 22-year-old is still looking at another year in the SHL.
Prospect of the Month
Hard working winger Remi Elie is the Dallas prospect of the month. As the Erie Otters continue through the OHL playoffs, Elie has often been the sidekick for phenom Connor McDavid since being acquired from Belleville a couple months back. With 42 points in 28 games, Elie has broken away from his previous pace, where he hovered around a point per game since leaving London. With 17 assists in these playoffs, only McDavid does more poignant dishing. If Elie can think and react on the same wavelength as a supernova like McDavid, it bodes well for his ability to perhaps be a complementary scorer down the line in the pro game.