CHL pool for Dallas Stars buoyed by high-end talent

By Mike Farkas
Photo: With only six goals and seven assists in 21 games, Brett Ritchie has struggled to consistently produce offense for the Sarnia Sting this season. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The Dallas Stars feature a few high-end prospects at the major junior level and a couple of young, up-and-comers that could turn some heads soon. Three of the Stars top 10 prospects are currently serving in the junior ranks, including two recent first round picks.


QMJHL

Troy Vance, D, Victoriaville Tigres
Acquired: 5th round (135th overall) in 2011

Towering young defenseman Troy Vance is embarking on his first full season in the QMJHL after leaving the EJHL mid-way through the 2010-11 season. Vance is quickly catching up to the speed of the Q and is moving the puck with efficiency. Only one defenseman on the club has more points than Vance’s 10 this season and he’s taking on some tough QMJHL assignments. He’s not quite a minute-muncher yet, and has been susceptible to getting out of position at times and chasing pucks.

The only American on the Tigres has a good amount of upside, but is still ironing out the details and working on his defensive consistency.

OHL

Jack Campbell, G, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Acquired: 1st round (11th overall) in 2010

Jack Campbell got off to a hot start this year for the Windsor Spitfires. He was playing well positionally, not over-playing the puck, challenging shooters instead of sitting back and relying on his reflexes. That hot start came back down to earth and then it came to Sault Ste. Marie via a monstrous trade. His numbers are only marginally different on each team and on the whole he’s 10-5-2-2 with a 3.02 goals against average, .908 save pct. and two shutouts.

Campbell has highlight reel nights at times and, conversely, like most young goalies, has blooper reel nights. He’s still prone to letting in the long, soft goal that can kill momentum. His international and big game reputation precedes him however, and that’s hugely valuable to all teams. Campbell is still trending towards being a big time goalie at the next level.

Jamie Oleksiak, D, Saginaw Spirit
Acquired: 1st round (14th overall) in 2011

The hulking 6’7 defenseman left Northeastern University for the Ontario Hockey League’s Saginaw Spirit. He’s adjusted well to the faster-paced game and more frenetic schedule. Through 26 games, he has six goals (good for fourth among OHL blueliners) and four assists and he’s marginally on the plus-side of even. He has a smooth stride and a powerful wristshot that he uses well coming as the late man down the slot.

Point totals aside, Oleksiak is a defensive-minded defenseman and has done quite well in that regard so far. He is one of just two plus defensemen on the team (among those that have played the entire season). He’s always been very good at puck retrieval and initiating the transition game. The Stars first rounder has been quickly establishing himself as one of the league’s best defensive defensemen.

Brett Ritchie, RW, Sarnia Sting
Acquired: 2nd round (44th overall) in 2011

Once again, it’s a frustrating year for Brett Ritchie and his fans. He’s been hampered by nagging injuries which have had their hand in his inconsistent effort in the young year. On his best nights, he’s a player that plays in every situation, does great work in dirty areas and in front of the net. One might look at his 13 points in 21 games and wonder how that figure could be so low. On the flip side, Ritchie can go through stretches of ineffectiveness and downright invisibility. He hasn’t exactly ramped up his game to a level that replaces the injured Alex Galchenyuk‘s offense.

In wake of injuries and inconsistency, other players have unexpectedly stepped up their games and Ritchie is only occasionally a part of that. He shows flashes of brilliance that show he was good enough to use at least a second round pick on, however he can do a pretty convincing disappearing act that may worry some Stars fans, as they are well-versed in this type of prospect. Ritchie has a bright future ahead of him once he puts it all together and dodges that injury bug for a good amount of time.

WHL

Alex Theriau, D, Medicine Hat Tigers
Acquired: 4th round (109th overall) in 2010

Alex Theriau has recovered well from an ankle injury last season and has really emerged as a go-to shutdown defenseman for the Medicine Hat Tigers. While he doesn’t bring a ton to the table offensively besides fine puck moving skills and some safe, sound movement on the power play, he is a quality defensive blueliner. He has just six assists in 28 games but a strong plus-13 rating.

Theriau impressed at rookie camp and even garnered an invite to training camp before being returned to the friendly confines of Head Coach Shaun Clouston’s system in Alberta. His inability to produce offense in juniors – even as a 19-year-old – is troubling but is not an indictment of his defensive abilities. Positionally sound with a solid frame, Theriau hopes to continue to impress Dallas brass by logging big, tough minutes against the WHL‘s best.

Matej Stransky, RW, Saskatoon Blades
Acquired: 6th round (165th overall) in 2011

After a strong second half last season, Matej Stransky has really come on in the 2011-12 season. The late-round Czech import is impressing with 12 goals and 28 points through 27 games and a forward-best plus-eight rating. Armed with tremendous skill and great size, Stransky may remind some of a young Jaromir Jagr stylistically. He gets the puck and shields off would-be defenders very well and has the big-time skill to finish and create offense.

He still needs to work on his skating and balance is always crucial for a slower, more powerful player. He looks like a bigger, more talented version of fellow late-round Czech import Tomas Vincour at this point and has been one of the WHL’s bigger surprises as we near the halfway point of the WHL season.