The Dallas Stars organizational depth has improved steadily over the past few years. The forwards are largely of the plug-and-play variety and can fill in all over the lineup. The lack of blue-chip forwards since James Neal and Jamie Benn recently graduated is concerning and Scott Glennie is doing little to ease those fears. The Stars have some sleepers in the works but they are still years away. They are particularly hurting for centers. The defense was once a source of much weakness in terms of both depth and quality, however both have been improved significantly through the draft and free agent signings. Philip Larsen and Jamie Oleksiak lead the way in what is a well-balanced, though defensive-minded blue line. In net, the Stars feature a blue-chipper in American goalie Jack Campbell and solid depth with a fair amount of potential in Richard Bachman and Tyler Beskorowany.
On the left side of center, the Stars are rather rugged and truculent. NHL-ready forward and Czech-import Tomas Vincour leads the way on the left. An extended call-up last year laid the foundation for Vincour to make the club, albeit in a fourth line role, here in 2011-12. The former first overall pick in the CHL Import Draft has been working on his grit level and defensive game to fit Head Coach Glen Gulutzan’s system.
After a very promising freshman year, Curtis McKenzie is looking to rebound and regain his place in the top-six on Miami University. Primarily a mucker and grinder, McKenzie has the potential to fit nicely, though in a non-descript fashion, along with the Stars other plug-and-play worker bees. Matt Fraser, an overaged champion in the WHL last season, has jumped into the AHL as an over-ripe prospect that the organization has high hopes for. This is furthered by the injury to Matt Tassone that has precluded him from getting an NHL contract. Fraser is a feisty, hard-working forward with a good scoring touch and an appetite for destruction.
Alex Guptill is quickly emerging as a major contributor to top-ranked Michigan in the CCHA. The big, versatile forward is getting a good amount of ice time for a rookie and is trusted in varied game situations. A former OHA top prospect and OJHL Rookie of the Year, Guptill is a long-term project but may turn some heads even as a freshman.
Luke Gazdic, enforcer extraordinaire, has been improving his skating and skills with gloves intact. He still doesn’t project to much more than a fourth liner. He has a decent nose for the net, but needs to continue to make progress in all areas for him to be the heir apparent to heavyweights Krys Barch and Eric Godard.
Michael Neal, younger brother of the now-departed James, continues to struggle to find a permanent AHL spot and is unlikely to be qualified when his entry-level contract expires at the end of the season.
With or without Brad Richards in the fold, the Stars lacked tremendous center depth from top to bottom. Steve Ott has moved over to center to help alleviate the need somewhat and Tom Wandell‘s emergence as a quality, albeit unknown, NHLer certainly helped the depth. The prospect lineup doesn’t hold a lot of answers either. Former first round pick Scott Glennie will be moved back to center after being a right wing for a considerable amount of his junior career. He, however, has been riddled with injuries and question marks surrounding his commitment level to date. A fresh start on a professional team that will depend on him for their offense may be just what the doctor ordered. More on Glennie later.
Ondrej Roman, who has waffled back and forth between being a left wing and a center and hasn’t excelled at either, will likely have the remainder of the season to prove himself as a worthwhile prospect before being shown the proverbial (or even, actual) door. Roman, a slick playmaker in the WHL, has not panned out in his young pro career and has recently been assigned to the ECHL in lieu of fourth line minutes in the AHL. Like a handful of failed prospects before him, Roman was a scratch through much of the Stars first round ousting in last year’s Calder Cup Playoffs. Similarly, Perttu Lindgren has continued on his rollercoaster career and looks to build on his a strong season he is having in Finland. He has returned to Lukko Rauma and is trending towards being a European-lifer at this point.
Probably the best Swedish player in the J18 tier last season, Emil Molin has moved up to the SuperElit J20 level and, further, the Elitserien with the Brynas organization. Despite his early season call-up, he’s still one of his junior team’s leaders in points in the early going and seems to be moving up the ladder so quickly that it’s burning up some rungs. Quickness and agility mixed with a high level of skill makes Molin an interesting prospect to watch. He’s way under the radar and a handful of years away, but that seems to be the MO of the Dallas organization recently – underrated underdogs.
Colorado College junior Scott Winkler has been battered and bruised by injuries throughout his collegiate career and then was unable to get an opportunity to pull himself back into the swing of things. Winkler now has that chance and is poised to make the best of it. Winkler appears set to be playing on the Tigers top line to start the season and he has the tools to make great use of that. After a combined 11 points in 47 games as an underclassmen, Winkler will have the chance to make those numbers a distant memory and anomaly with a healthy season in 2011-12.
Mathieu Tousignant will continue to be a bang-and-crash pest on the lower lines for Texas and try to work his way into an NHL gig from being an undrafted free agent. Tristan King is struggling to get AHL work in the second year of his entry-level contract and seems unlikely to be a factor in the Stars future. Nico Sacchetti, a second round pick back in 2007, has been unimpressive at the University of Minnesota and is constantly being surpassed by younger players on the depth chart. He’s fighting for an NHL contract in his senior season and it’s projected to be a losing battle.
The Stars exhibit the most depth in the organization on the right wing and they rank highly among all NHL teams in terms of right wing strength. Alex Chiasson heads up the group with power, strength and a wonderful scoring touch. The 2009 second-rounder quickly rose up the depth chart to become Boston University’s top line winger last season and will continue to feature prominently in the Terriers offense. He is projecting to be a good fit down the road for the Stars as they continue to harvest homegrown wingers from the farm.
The aforementioned Scott Glennie has been at right wing and center in the past and will be tried at center to start his pro career. Glennie, the somewhat surprising eighth overall pick in 2009, has been plagued by poorly-timed injuries and lackluster play in clutch situations. He’ll have a chance at a fresh start and the Stars look forward to seeing his development right in their own backyard.
Miami University winger Reilly Smith has been an extremely pleasant surprise so far in his collegiate career. He was on the top line with Carter Camper and Andy Miele and dominated underclassmen (and the rest of the nation for that matter), scoring 28 goals and 54 points in 38 games as the Redhawks captured a conference championship. He’s off to a hot start this year which is good for more than just superficial stats. Smith was under pressure to take over the team without having two excellent seniors surrounding him. The Mimico, Ontario native brings a high level of skill and good attitude to the rink.
While the Sarnia Sting have lost 2012 elite talent Alex Galchenyuk to injury, Brett Ritchie should be ready to step things up to the next level. He’s been hampered a bit by injuries in the recent past but is poised to break out. A big body with a good shot and polished finishing ability, Ritchie projects to help Sarnia become serious challengers in the OHL.
2011 sixth rounder Matej Stransky, a right-handed, right winger has gotten off to a hot start in the 2011-12 season and has quickly risen up the depth chart of the Saskatoon Blades. He still needs to improve his skating, but he has made great strides so far for the Blades and, much like Tomas Vincour, may be a late round, Czech-import steal for Dallas.
Colton Sceviour fits into the plug-and-play depth mold within the organization and could factor into Dallas’ plans after other bottom-six forwards move on or become too expensive to retain. Austin Smith from Colgate will finish up his degree and try to lead the Raiders deep into the postseason. Smith can play in any situation and had the opportunity to leave school after his junior year but decided to finish his education and collegiate career at Colgate.
Once a definitive weakness in the organization’s cupboard, the Stars have steadily improved on the back-end in the past couple years. At this juncture, the Stars bolster a very sound group of prospects that have a legitimate chance of being NHLers in the not-too-distant future. The most notable and noteworthy is the gargantuan blueliner and 2011 first rounder Jamie Oleksiak.
Oleksiak was selected out of Northeastern University, but due to a coaching change at the university, Oleksiak decided to move to Saginaw and play for the OHL‘s Spirit. He’s a big, rangy defenseman that is a superb athlete and tremendous physical specimen. The Toronto native can work on bringing his offensive game and transition game up to speed in the faster-paced Ontario Hockey League. Because he was drafted out of college and is already signed, Oleksiak can join the Dallas organization at any time after the Saginaw season is completed.
Danish defenseman Philip Larsen had a nice season in Texas in 2010-11 where he made his North American (full season) debut. He will be counted on for a ton of minutes in Texas and will be one of the first call-ups, if not the first, when Dallas needs a d-man. He still needs to work on his defensive coverage and overall strength, but his development curve has been steady and precipitous.
Dallas brass has been pleasantly surprised with the development of two relatively-unknown Swedes in Patrik Nemeth and John Klingberg. The former, a hulking, mobile defensive defenseman has accelerated through the junior ranks and right into the Elitserien and also represented Sweden at the World Junior Championships. He’s progressing into, perhaps, a more physical version of Nicklas Grossman which would be welcomed into the Dallas lineup in the future.
Klingberg, conversely, is a smaller, puck-moving defenseman that needs to better his defensive game, strength, and physicality. He, even more unexpectedly, made his way up to the Elitserien last year and represented the Tre Kronor at the World Junior Championships. He has moved to the SM-Liiga in Finland to play for Jokerit to experience the more physically-demanding league. The early results on the Finland experiment are not terribly promising, but there’s still time to rebound and Klingberg is a long way from the NHL anyway. The Stars are in no rush to force Klingberg into a lineup or situation that he doesn’t fit into.
Dallas has not been shy about signing undrafted free agents and exercised their right to do so by grabbing Brenden Dillon from the WHL and Hubert Labrie from the QMJHL. Both are defensive-minded players with some mild offensive upside. Dillon came on strong last season in the WHL as an overager and was very impressive when he joined the AHL’s Stars for their stretch drive. Labrie missed most of the season with an injury but returned to have an enormous playoff performance – with a broken hand no less. They are worlds apart size wise but they have enough strong attributes to penetrate an NHL lineup in the near future.
Recent draft picks Jyrki Jokipakka and Troy Vance both took big jumps in development last season. Vance jumped from the EJHL to the QMJHL and has fit in nicely. At 6’5 he’s a towering defenseman that brings a nice, steady positional defensive game that many teams covet on their lower pairings. Jokipakka, a 6’3 Finn, also has some size and good defensive ability. He was passed over previously in the draft but a strong World Juniors garnered a lot of attention from scouts and ultimately got him selected by Dallas in seventh round.
Mike Bergin and Alex Theriau are trying to put themselves in a more prevalent spot on the proverbial map this season as well. Theriau, already on his third WHL team, is a cerebral, passive defensive-minded blueliner that has some consistency issues to work out among other things. Mike Bergin returns to RPI in 2011-12, despite some injury troubles in the past, Bergin is a seasoned NCAA vet and is being counted to provide not only a steadying defensive presence but also locker room leadership. He is already 23, so time is beginning to become a factor for him but the Stars will get a look at a polished player before making a decision on offering him a contract. Jace Coyle and Jordie Benn have been added as farm hands.
Jack Campbell, the Stars purported goalie of the future, worried many fans after an inconsistent and borderline poor performance in 2010-11 for a young Windsor team. He was dominant in the World Junior Championships once again and put together a nice playoff performance. He has the mental fortitude and clutch factor that scouts love to see in a goalkeeper. This season, he is more positionally sound. He’s still very much the goaltender of the future and will likely turn pro next season and follow the Stars organizational game plan for goaltender development – slow and steady. With Kari Lehtonen at a high level, the Stars don’t have to be in any sort of rush to get Campbell into the NHL.
Former Colorado College standout Richard Bachman finished top-five in all major statistical categories. He has good athleticism which helps make up for his average-at-best size. He was thrust into the spotlight and starting role when Brent Krahn was injured yet again. While he was unable to advance Texas out of the first round in the Calder Cup Playoffs, he put together an impressive season from start to finish.
Second rounder Tyler Beskorowany is a big goaltender with good athleticism and stick-handling ability. After being nominated as an ECHL All-Star for his work in Idaho, he was summoned to provide relief for Richard Bachman in the AHL. Besko handled the American League well and will get a chance to see more AHL pucks in 2011-12. Unfortunately, both Bachman and Beskorowany are off to a slow start for Texas this season but with plenty of time to rebound.