The first season in Cedar Park, Texas was a great success for the Stars organization as they used a stingy defensive system to melt down their opponents en route to a berth in the Calder Cup Finals.
After a scenery change and a great influx of young, new prospects the Texas Stars forwards contributed greatly to the strong defensive presence that helped the fledgling Stars all the way to the Calder Cup Finals. Age, prior success and uncertain franchise financials will keep much of the same core intact.
One of the leaders and leading scorers, Aaron Gagnon will return to the Stars after having a career year in 2009-10. Conversely, they will be without the services of Perttu Lindgren – the club’s third highest scorer – who once again is off to Finland. Lindgren, a 2005 draft pick, has alternated between Finland and the AHL since the 2006-07 season but it appears he may be gone for good this time.
Francis Wathier, a gritty veteran, provided a surprising amount of offense last year and will be counted on once again to bring some points and physicality. In a similar vein, Raymond Sawada, a second round pick in 2004, brings the toughness but hasn’t progressed exactly as hoped in terms of offense. Sawada may be able to earn an increased role after a good playoffs and see a few games in the NHL.
Colton Sceviour and Sergei Korostin are looking to build on their rookie campaigns and become a bigger piece of the puzzle for the AHL’s Stars en route to becoming a part of the NHL’s Stars. Sophomore agitators Mathieu Tousignant and Luke Gazdic are hoping that their niches will propel Texas to a championship and their respective careers to the big show.
The lineup won’t be completely identical to last year’s however as first-year pros Tomas Vincour and Tristan King will join plenty of other WHL alums and will be counted on for offense in a defensive system. Other players with lots to prove are Ondrej Roman and Matt Tassone. The former has had transfer issues going back to his junior days and has been stuck in the Czech Republic at times. His highly skilled, playmaking game should help to replace the similarly-styled, but now departed, Lindgren. Meanwhile, after an injury-shortened overage season with Swift Current (WHL), Tassone is hoping to pick up right where he left off in 2008-09 when he scored 36 goals in 52 games for the Broncos. Additionally, free agent singing Sean Backman from Yale will join the club but with an uphill battle against his limited stature.
After being signed out of Sweden, Danish defenseman Philip Larsen will make his North American debut. Larsen is highly-touted and is quickly becoming recognized as a player to be watched in the not-too-distant future. He’ll get the chance to round out his defensive game on a smaller North American rink.
After Larsen, there aren’t a lot of defensive prospects in the Stars system and even less that are playing professionally in Texas (AHL). The only other Stars “prospect” is Trevor Ludwig – a 25 year old, 2004 sixth round pick. The rest of the minor league team is populated by veterans Matt Stephenson, Brad Lukowich, Dan Spang, Maxime Fortunus and the recently-inked Severin Blindenbacher who was a nine-year vet of the Swiss Nationaliga A. Guillaume Monast, who spent the year in the ECHL last year, may see some time at the AHL level as well.
Jack Campbell, the big cheese of the Stars goaltending system will play in Windsor (OHL) which leaves Richard Bachman and Tyler Beskorowany to fight it out for time versus AHL veteran Brent Krahn. Barring an unforeseen circumstance, Richard Bachman has the leverage of being more experienced than Beskorowany and a successful ECHL season under his belt that should put him firmly in the number two spot on the AHL’s Stars. Meanwhile, Beskorowany is hoping to finally get some defensive support in the ECHL for Idaho.
It’s no surprise what has led the fledgling Texas Stars to some early success – defense, defense, defense. Glen Gulutzan, the first year AHL head coach, was an ECHL head coach for six seasons with the Las Vegas Wranglers. Gulutzan’s suffocating system has created a wonderful place for his netminders and despite the lack of offense his forwards probably don’t mind getting to the Calder Cup Finals in their first season.