Honka leads a deep blueline group among the Dallas Stars Top 20 prospects

By Mike Farkas
Julius Honka - Dallas Stars

Photo: Julius Honka, who has become an established AHLer before being able to buy a beer in Texas, is no shock as Dallas’s top prospect (courtesy of Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

The Dallas Stars have been a finely-tuned offensive machine in the 2015-16 season, which is good because the prospect pool is a little short on elite-level talent. Nor is the situation helped by the loss of Brett Pollock to Calgary in the Kris Russell trade, and the graduation of Mattias Janmark. A good mix of intelligent players and useful depth players make up most of the pipeline. Standout players like Julius Honka and power forward Brett Ritchie do provide impact upside.


20. (NR) Joseph Cecconi, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 133rd overall, 2015

The defensive-minded Cecconi almost looks out of place at times on the offensive juggernaut Wolverine club, but he has been a highly effective player despite his production totals. Though he has no goals and seven assists on a club that scores nearly five goals per game, the freshman has been a smart and effective defender. His plus-13 rating ranks highly among club d-men, and he did lead the club in that category early in the year. Cecconi has spent some time on the right side of Columbus prospect Zach Werenski, allowing him to make headlong rushes with impunity.

19. (5) Patrik Nemeth, D, 6.0B
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2010

Patrik Nemeth is the biggest faller that still held on to a spot on the list. An unfortunate injury to the big Swede seems to have derailed him a fair bit and he has been stuck in gridlock with fringe NHL defensemen like Jordie Benn, Jamie Oleksiak, and Jyrki Jokipakka (before a trade sent him to Calgary). No longer exempt from waivers (same goes for Oleksiak), Nemeth is in a tough spot to try to find his rhythm again and be an everyday player.

The rugged defensive defenseman found some playing time in February after being a healthy scratch for a good chunk of the season. With Head Coach Lindy Ruff hinting that he may just run with five d-men down the stretch, Nemeth will really need to prove his worth to get ice time in the playoffs or else be resigned to playing the role of the grocery stick: the player on the bench who separates the forwards from the defensemen.

18. (NR) Brendan Ranford, LW, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, July 2014

Brendan Ranford has certainly earned his way since being drafted 209th overall by Philadelphia in 2010. Left unsigned, he started with the Texas Stars on a tryout before being signed to an entry-level deal. Ranford gets a nod towards the bottom of the list for his improved skating and playmaking ability since being snatched up by the Dallas organization. Ranford plays the game with a good deal of snarl and he goes to the net hard. With 49 points in 62 games, he leads the club in scoring and is tied for seventh in the whole circuit. Ranford’s scoring upside in the NHL remains in question, but he would not look out of place in a depth role at this point.

17. (20) Matej Stransky, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 165th overall, 2011

As expected, it has been a long road for Matej Stransky to get where he is in his development arc. Not a very good skater and a one-way player coming out of junior, Stransky was raw. He has grinded it out on some defensive lines as a pro, made good strides with his skating and has really started using his body to protect the puck better. He seems destined to score more goals this year (he’s at 14) than he has in his previous two seasons combined (16). Moreover, he is a much more complete player and he still has strong finishing ability from mid-range and in close. After slow-cooking this player for as long as they have, the Stars ought to at least qualify him at the end of his entry-level contract in June.

16. (NR) Niklas Hansson, D, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 68th overall, 2013

If Niklas Hansson had not been sidelined for a time, he would have finished top-ten among SHL defenders in scoring. As it stands, his 22 points in 44 games is very respectable and only Gustav Forsling (CHI) spends less time on the ice in the top-20 of defensive scoring in the league (19:14 ATOI). The offensive defenseman has been a very good setup man for HV71 but is still a work in progress defensively. He is not terribly concerned with getting back in the play and protecting his net and can easily be overtaken in front by those that want it more. Hansson is wet behind the ears from that aspect, but a right-handed rearguard with puck skills may be tough to pass up on with an entry-level deal.

15. (19) Radek Faksa, C, 6.5B
Drafted 1st round, 13th overall, 2012

After some trepidation, it seems as if Radek Faksa has really turned the corner in his development. With just 10 points in 32 games as an AHL rookie in 2014-15, Faksa scored 15 goals and 26 points in just 28 games this year before being summoned to the NHL. He has lasted as long as he has in the NHL because no one can find a reason to send him down. The bulky Czech is playing some smart hockey and seems engaged in his role as a bottom-six center. It seems unlikely that he will develop into a second line center, but he could turn into a very effective, defensive center in short order.

14. (12) Remi Elie, LW/RW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 40th overall, 2013

The hope for Remi Elie is that he can carve out a niche as someone that works with high skill players and can be a glue guy. So far, though, Elie has been relegated to a depth role in his rookie season. The Stars are hoping that he can learn the defensive aspects of the pro game, not unlike what they did with Matej Stransky, before opening him up offensively. Elie has 16 points in 52 games this season.

A junior linemate of Connor McDavid, Elie plays the game with a lot of energy most nights. Unfortunately, the good-sized winger seems to have some trouble getting his stick on the puck in the early going of his pro career. As call-ups occur, particularly next season, Elie should get a strong look to take over Curtis McKenzie’s role in the top-six.

13. (15) Curtis McKenzie, LW, 6.5B
Drafted 6th round, 159th overall, 2009

Making his final appearance on the list is tough winger Curtis McKenzie. The 2009 draft pick is in his third professional season and seems set to graduate from the AHL at any time. This season, he has proven that his rookie year was no fluke: 43 points in 48 games with a plus-17 rating are some of the best figures on the team. Nearing the century mark in penalty minutes, McKenzie is not afraid to go to the dirty areas or stand up for his teammates.

Going to the dirty areas and being able to convert is what makes Curtis McKenzie such a viable prospect. He may be one of those hard-to-identify complementary goal scoring types in the mold of Chris Kunitz, Alexandre Burrows or Joel Ward – all undrafted. If he is unable to finish at the NHL level, he still plays with plenty of gumption and could certainly be useful lower-line player.  

12. (18) Michael Prapavessis, D, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 105th overall, 2014

Picking up right where he left off last season, Michael Prapavessis has quickly developed into RPI’s best defenseman. He handles all the top competition every game and does so with aplomb. Moreover, he was one assist shy of tying for the team lead in that category. Overall, his 19 points was good for fourth on the club.

A tremendous skater, particularly laterally, Prapavessis is another high-intelligence player in the Stars system who has a bright future. He was a raw player with a lot of room left on his development arc when he was drafted and that is still true in a lot of ways. The ice time that he has been afforded should prove to be very helpful, as he leads RPI into the ECAC Tournament.

11. (11) Philippe Desrosiers, G, 7.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 54th overall, 2013

Texas goaltending has been a mess this season. Four guys have played ten games, none have played 30. The thought coming in was that Jack Campbell (not shown on this list for the first time since 2010) would get relieved by AHL vet John Muse. Instead, out of nowhere, Maxime Lagace has hopped in the nets and Philippe Desrosiers has been called into duty as well. Desrosiers has played more in the ECHL (22 games) than the AHL (10) but he is getting varied pro experience and, better yet, the door is wide open for him to become the AHL starter if he is deemed capable.

It is tough to figure out what will happen or is happening in the crease for Texas and Idaho. The worst goalie in the ECHL (Lagace) is the best goalie in the AHL. The worst goalie in the AHL (Campbell) is making mincemeat of the ECHL. Desrosiers has been about the same statistically in both. The Quebec-born goalie has a lot of upside to him: athleticism, smarts, puck-playing ability and he looks to be very adaptable.

Jim Nill addressed the goaltending in Dallas aggressively, and it seems likely that he will lay out a plan in the minors as well going forward. This should be to the benefit of Desrosiers, who now slides into the #1 spot in terms of future goaltending for the organization.

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