Versatile forwards populate NCAA prospect pool for Dallas Stars

By Mike Farkas
Photo: Austin Smith is one of six versatile collegiate forward prospects the Stars currently retain the rights to. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)


The Dallas Stars have spent the last few drafts filling up on collegiate prospects and have had some rather positive results. Currently, prospects Alex Chiasson and Reilly Smith have emerged as dominant collegiate players early in their NCAA careers and have very promising futures. On the other side of the pond, the Stars look to be having more success with Swedish prospects, most notably Patrik Nemeth and John Klingberg. Additionally, they own the rights to Finland‘s top point-getter in Perttu Lindgren. In sum, the Stars have seven collegiate prospects and five European pros.

NCAA

Alex Chiasson, LW, 20
Acquired: 2nd round, 38th overall, 2009

It didn’t take long for Alex Chiasson to break out and become a Boston University and Hockey East fixture. As a sophomore he lead his team in points with 34 (nobody else had 30) in 35 games. He was 15th in Hockey East scoring and, more impressively, second among underclassmen behind prized free agent (now Ottawa prospect) Stephane Da Costa. The Quebec native has become a much more consistent threat and was rewarded with more ice time by head coach Jack Parker.

Chiasson has made great strides in his skating and defensive game and is taking on the role of power forward in the NCAA. With the added consistency and the backing of coaches, Chiasson has become the on-ice leader not only by example but also verbally. He was named an "honorable mention" in the Hockey East All-Star Team voting. The development track of the Stars second selection in 2009 looks extremely promising despite BU’s early exit from the postseason.


Reilly Smith, RW, 20
Acquired: 3rd round, 69th overall, 2009

Another standout sophomore in the Stars system is Miami University’s Reilly Smith who nearly tripled his point totals from his respectable 20-point freshman campaign. Playing with Hobey Baker winner Andy Miele certainly helped Smith to a CCHA best 28 goals, but it wasn’t merely a collection a power play markers – Smith was a fantastic producer at even strength. For most of the season, the Redhawks top line consisted of Smith, Miele and Carter Camper (BOS) and they stuck together all the way to the end of the season as they captured the three forward positions of the All-CCHA First Team.

Smith, who was the Stars drafted after Alex Chiasson in 2009, is already trusted to play in all situations for head coach Rico Blasi and will be counted upon further next year with the departure of seniors Camper and Miele. The former St. Michael’s Buzzer (OJHL) assisted on Miami’s CCHA championship clinching goal versus Western Michigan but was unable to help the Redhawks avoid elimination at the hands of New Hampshire in the NCAA Semis.


Curtis McKenzie, LW, 20
Acquired: 6th round, 159th overall, 2009

Teammate of standout Reilly Smith, Curtis McKenzie‘s year didn’t take the same dramatic upswing. His 27-point freshman campaign dwindled to a mere 12 in 37 games. McKenzie continues to be a quality forechecker, backchecker and willing grinder, but the offensive touch that he had as a collegiate rookie was lost. In part, that may be attributed to a lack of consistency and consistent effort. It appeared that McKenzie was more of a tireless spark plug constantly charging the net last season but this year appeared almost too comfortable in a bottom-six role and his offensive numbers suffered as a result.

Armed with good size and physicality, McKenzie may be quickly carving himself out as a checking line forward as opposed to a scoring power forward but all that is still a long way off. It’s likely that McKenzie goes the distance with the Redhawks and with some high scoring forwards on the way out, McKenzie will be counted on to provide more offense next season.

Austin Smith, RW, 22
Acquired: 5th round, 128th overall, 2007

Smith had a slow start to his junior season, with just 16 points in his first 23 games it seemed that Smith was trending down from even his freshman total of 31 points. With Smith leading the way, however, Colgate started collecting some victories (the Red Raiders didn’t win a conference game until February) and Smith was a major factor in the offense. In the postseason, Colgate stunned top-ranked Union and upset RPI and made it to the ECAC final four. Smith played a major role – in all situations – for Colgate and figures to do so as a senior next season.

Smith is a versatile forward that can play any forward position, any situation and virtually any system. He brings smarts and good playmaking skills to the table along with above average skating that includes a second gear that allows him to pull away on odd-man breaks. It was a difficult decision for Smith, but he appears to be set on getting his degree before turning pro.


Mike Bergin, D, 22
Acquired: 7th round, 209th overall, 2008

Rangy defenseman Mike Bergin has put together a second straight virtually injury-free season with RPI and he has made great strides in his development. In 32 games, Bergin set a career high for points with 18 which was good for second among all Engineer blueliners. Last year, legitimately Bergin’s first full year in college hockey, proved to be a solid foundation for a great year in 2010-11. The Ottawa native played a more confident game at both ends of the rink and routinely led or joined the rush.

Bergin is a big, smooth-skating defender who plays a strong two-way game who leads by example and will be counted on as a leader even further in subsequent year(s) as an Engineer. He plays a heady game at both ends of the rink and exhibits largely mistake-free hockey. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Bergin has risen to the level of sleeper prospect for the Stars.


Nico Sacchetti, C, 21
Acquired: 2nd round, 50th overall, 2007

With his junior year behind him, some Gopher faithful are beginning to wonder what could have been and Stars fans may not be far behind. The 2007 second rounder put together another underwhelming season by tying a career-low with seven points in 30 games. The 21-year-old Minnesotan finds himself largely filling in on the fourth line as he has been unable to surpass other forwards on the depth chart despite his seniority. He has shown flashes of skill and effort but the consistency and hockey sense are lacking. Sacchetti may be in need of a change of scenery but it seems unlikely that will be afforded him – by the Stars at least – this summer.


Scott Winkler, F, 21
Acquired: 3rd round, 89th overall, 2008

The waters have been unexpectedly choppy for Scott Winkler through two years at Colorado College. Once again, he battled through injuries to 26 games and a three goal, six assist, nine point stat line. Winkler has a solid frame and a very good top speed which he uses to play physically in the demanding WCHA. Due to his being in and out of the lineup due to injury, his versatility to play center and wing and his ability to adapt to any role has been very valuable to Tigers coach Scott Owens. While the Norwegian is still very much a project, he is coming along as a complete player with a projectable frame – at least one more season at CC, the Stars hope, will round him out nicely.


Europe

Patrik Nemeth, D, 19
Acquired: 2nd round, 41st overall, 2010

It was a strikingly positive year for Patrik Nemeth as he opened a lot of eyes after being a relatively unknown commodity on the eve of the 2010 NHL Draft. In Sweden, Nemeth played full time for the Elitserien club AIK and around the turn of the calendar, he represented the Swedes quite well at the World Junior Championships – despite a nagging injury. With AIK, he gathered a goal and six assists and an even-rating in 38 games while earning top-four minutes. The 6’3 blueliner helped AIK have one of the top penalty kills in the Swedish Elite League.

The physical defenseman from Stockholm plays a very sound defensive game with a decided edge. He plays a no frills offensive game, but he makes smart decisions with the puck. The Stars second selection in 2010 has done enough in his young career to earn an entry-level contract from Dallas but may remain in Sweden for another season.


Perttu Lindgren, C, 23
Acquired: 3rd round, 75th overall, 2005

The frequent flyer miles have piled up for Perttu Lindgren as he resumed his career in Finland once more in 2010-11. Perhaps it’s being settled on his native soil or just his maturing as a player (or a combination of the two), but Lindgren had an extremely impressive year. In 56 games, Lindgren led the SM-Liiga A in assists (43) and points (66) with a couple of foreign imports flanking him. The highly-skilled playmaker may be content to remain being a top dog in Finland rather than fighting for time on a team that may have Brad Richards, Mike Ribeiro and Tom Wandell down the middle. A source from within the Stars told Hockey’s Future near the end of the regular season that they have tracked Lindgren’s progress and still own his rights but bringing him back over was a "backburner" issue for now.


John Klingberg, D, 18
Acquired: 5th round, 131st overall, 2010

Swedish blueliner John Klingberg is looking like yet another diamond-in-the-rough fifth rounder that the Stars have mined. Somewhat surprisingly, Klingberg was able to crack the Vastra Frolunda lineup at the top level of Swedish hockey for 26 games (recording five assists). Additionally, he was rather dominant at the J20 SuperElit level in both the regular season and playoffs. In the playoffs, he was named the MVP of his championship-winning team. Like his countryman Nemeth, Klingberg also represented the Swedes at the World Junior Championships – recording one goal and one assist in six games.

The younger brother of Carl, Klingberg is a smooth skating offensive-minded blueliner that can move the puck with acumen. He uses his mobility and hockey sense to join the rush regularly. While he still remains a bit of a project, Klingberg has tremendous upside as an offensive blueliner.


Sergei Korostin, LW, 21
Acquired: 3rd round, 64th overall, 2007

After a mildly unsuccessful attempt at North American hockey, Korostin was loaned to the second-tier Russian League team Dynamo Tver for the 2010-11 season. Korostin was limited to just half of the season’s games (28) and recorded nine goals, seven assists and an even rating. His club, which includes one of the much-maligned Bashkirov twins, failed to make the postseason. It would appear that the speedy winger’s tenure with the Dallas Stars has ended and Korostin will likely further his career in Europe.

Mikhail Stefanovich, RW, 21
Acquired: Trade with Toronto, 2011

The Stars acquired 6-foot-3, 201-pound winger from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for former free agent prize Fabian Brunnstrom. The enigmatic Stefanovich spent no more than six games in the AHL and ECHL to start the year before jumping ship to Dynamo Minsk (formally, a loan by Toronto). With the KHL club that selected him second overall in the KHL junior draft in 2009, Stefanovich recorded a single goal (his only point) in 21 games.

The sizable winger has a sniper’s shot and, like many Europeans of his ilk, has good technical skills. His consistency and work rate could certainly use some improvement, along with his skating. He takes some time to get moving and despite his size doesn’t really care much for the physicality of the North American game. While Stefanovich may get a look at training camp in the fall, it seems somewhat unlikely that the Stars will worry themselves too much with their new acquisition.