Jeff Pyle has taken over as the Texas Stars new bench boss after Glen Gulutzan’s promotion to the Dallas Stars. Pyle has installed a new system that involves heavy forechecking and a lot of tempo play. The Stars have the least amount of points in the Western Conference at 43 and just a 20-22-1-2 record and have yielded 139 goals so far which has them giving up nearly half-a-goal per game more than last season. It’s been a major adjustment for the players that were on the team last year and some are not adjusting as quickly as others.
Scott Glennie, C/RW, 20
Seemingly always derailed by nagging, untimely injuries, Scott Glennie has gotten off the early schnide in his first professional season. After just scoring in one of his first 13 AHL contests, many followers feared the worst for their first round pick in 2009. While his progression has been less than stellar since being drafted, he has really started to pick up the pace in his rookie season. He has 22 points in his last 28 games, largely playing on a line with Colton Sceviour and grinder Francis Wathier.
The former Brandon Wheat King has not been known for his tenacious play over the course of his career. However, he has picked up his grit in the last few weeks; challenging defensemen one-on-one and winning puck battles more reliably are traits starting to emerge in his game. Perhaps his linemates are rubbing off on him and making him into a more complete player and that this style of play will continue.
Matt Fraser, LW, 21
The overage junior was signed as an undrafted free agent and is making GM Joe Nieuwendyk and his staff look pretty good early on. Fraser picked up right where he left off in terms of goal scoring from last season. He’s currently sixth in the AHL in goals with 21 in 43 games (35 points in all). Fraser did see a few shifts in the big show in one game just before the NHL All Star break also. He’s been the most consistent scorer for Texas this year and has had a hand in more than a quarter of the team’s goals on the season.
Fraser still needs to continue to improve his skating and his defensive play (tied for worst on the team minus-16 rating) in order to be a contributing NHL player. He’s a trigger man on the power play and does play some penalty kill despite his somewhat questionable defensive awareness. When he’s not scoring, he does bring a good amount of truculence to the lineup and will stand up for his teammates without question.
Colton Sceviour, RW, 22
Colton Sceviour is in his third professional season, all in the AHL. After a slow start adjusting to completely new coaching strategies, Sceviour has picked up the pace big time. He has 19 points in his last 17 games, after just 10 points in his first 27. As he’s been most of his career, Sceviour is an all-situation player that is extremely versatile. Recently he has teamed up with much-maligned prospect Scott Glennie which has them both clicking quite well.
The clean, low-maintenance, industrious forward hopes to fill in some bottom six holes next year with the big club, but for now he’s an integral part of impending Texas success.
Luke Gazdic, LW, 22
Luke Gazdic made great strides last year after a somewhat iffy rookie season. While his offensive numbers remain on a similar pace, his play has slipped a bit. Largely a fourth liner under new head coach Jeff Pyle, Gazdic isn’t used as regularly as he was last year. He has six goals, nine points and 64 penalty minutes through 45 games but a team-worst minus-16 rating.
The physical forward does see some special teams time as he continues to try to improve his overall game play. With Krys Barch shipped out of the organization, Gazdic should have a shot at auditioning for Dallas’ resident pugilist as soon as next season.
Mathieu Tousignant, C, 22
Though undersized, Mathieu Tousignant plays with a lot of heart, soul and aggression. Offensively, Tousignant has struggled this season. He has potted just a single goal and five helpers in 26 games. He has been dealing with injury woes which have hurt him. Perhaps it’s because of those ailments that he hasn’t been as noticeable this season but he doesn’t appear to be seeing as much as ice as he did last year under Glen Gulutzan.
Tousignant is a hard-nosed player that likes to agitate the opponent and can play a solid two-way game. He has been supplanted somewhat in the lineup, most notably by Ryan Garbutt who shares a lot of similar qualities with Tousignant. It’s important for the Quebec product to get healthy and solidify himself in Coach Pyle’s good graces.
Angelo Esposito, C, 22
What seems like just yesterday, Angelo Esposito was a first round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins and then a major part of a deal that nabbed the Pens Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis. Just a few years later, Angelo Esposito was traded straight up for Ondrej Roman. Esposito, now slowed by multiple knee injuries, is trying to hold his head above water in the AHL. To date, Esposito has six goals and 19 assists in 94 career AHL games with three different teams.
A skilled playmaker, Esposito is looking at another change of scenery. Now to a team and an organization that could use some skilled centers. Ondrej Roman failed to meet expectations, often relegated to the fourth line or even the ECHL and now Esposito will look to work his way up into the lineup. He has shown flashes in his very brief time in Cedar Park, but the expectations should not be high. Coach Pyle’s up-tempo system may favor Esposito’s traits but he has a long, slow road ahead of him before he can recognized as a legitimate prospect again.
Jake Hauswirth, LW, 23
What seemed like merely a contract swap for Krys Barch, Jake Hauswirth got a look within the Stars organization. Somewhat unexpectedly: He was called up to play 11 games for Texas. Expectedly: He played largely on the fourth line. Since his call up from the Central Hockey League’s Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees, Hauswirth has one assist and a minus-3 rating. At this point, he still doesn’t appear to figure into the organization’s long term plans.
Tomas Vincour, LW, 21
While still just a fringe NHLer, Vincour looks to be about ready to say "so long" to the AHL for good. The Czech import has 11 goals and 15 points in 18 games. The goal total is good enough for third on the club despite playing as many as 25 fewer games than his teammates. Though he has just three points in 19 NHL games this season, he figures prominently into Dallas’ plans.
Brenden Dillon, D, 21
Another undrafted free agent from the WHL finds his way into a prominent role in the Dallas organization. Dillon recorded his first points of his AHL career (regular season) to start the season after going scoreless in a 10-game tryout last season. Dillon has two goals and 14 assists in 42 games this year while playing within the top two pairings. Despite gaudy numbers in his last year with Seattle (WHL), Dillon is a defensive-minded player that can chip in offensively.
Coach Pyle does not normally include Dillon on the power play units unless players are called up or hurt but is a quality penalty killer. He does fine in transition and plays a rugged style. He continues to look like a promising depth defenseman down the line once he masters the AHL game.
Hubert Labrie, D, 20
After a brief stint in the ECHL early in the year, Labrie appears to have solidified himself in the Texas Stars lineup. The smallish but positionally-sound defensive blueliner has made a fairly smooth transition to the pro game. He still plays as he did back in the QMJHL: gritty, chippy, physical and responsible. He has given Coach Pyle good reason to keep him around and with the rumors of an impending move of Dan Spang to Europe, Labrie could see even more ice time soon.
Jordie Benn, D, 24
Jordie Benn took a fairly unconventional and unlikely route to a contract and the NHL. Never joining the major junior ranks, instead remaining in the BCHL with the Victoria Grizzlies (formerly Salsa) to keep NCAA eligibility (he was headed for the University of Alaska-Fairbanks). He stayed in Victoria to play in the ECHL for the Salmon Kings then moved to the Central Hockey League to play for the distant Stars affiliate in Allen. Benn moved up to the AHL on a minor league contract and finally earned an entry-level deal this past summer. To top it all off, he appeared in two NHL games and recorded his first NHL point, an assist, by passing to his brother who passed to Loui Eriksson for a goal against Detroit.
Benn has worked his way up and become a very solid all-around player at the AHL level. He’s a versatile d-man that can play physical, chip in offensively, play special teams and has earned the trust of two separate coaching staffs. With 20 points (including eight goals) in 41 games, Jamie Benn‘s older brother may make a name for himself fairly soon.
Jace Coyle, D, 21
Offensive defenseman Jace Coyle was picked out of the WHL as an undrafted free agent. So far, not so good. He has seen limited ice time this season under Coach Pyle, and has recorded just one assist and a minus-seven rating in 19 games. He struggles with consistency and turnovers. He still needs to refine his defensive game and play with some degree of physicality. At this point, it seems like he’s a fringe AHLer and is NHL prospects are looking slim. He will have to really up his game when injuries and call-ups take place and take advantage of every opportunity given to him to remain a factor in the organization.
Tyler Beskorowany, G, 21
After an injury to Brent Krahn last season, Beskorowany was thrust into the backup role. Now with Richard Bachman beating out Andrew Raycroft for the backup job in Dallas, Beskorowany is auditioning to be a starter or a platoon goalie down in Texas. The 6’5 netminder is 6-10 with a 3.10 goals against average and .891 save percentage. No longer helped by Gulutzan’s defense-first system, ‘Besko’ might be reminded of his junior days with a heavy forechecking system that involves a little more risky business.
Beskorowany has struggled both technically and mentally this year – more so the latter. He has the propensity to let up an early goal and get down on himself for the remainder of the game. He still needs to work out the kinks technically, which will have to be done on the fly as he is almost certainly done in the ECHL for good. He’s a long-term project that shows flashes of potential but yet to put it all together.
Michael Neal, LW, 22
The Dallas fifth round pick in 2007, Michael Neal has not been noteworthy in his junior or pro career to date. Best known as the younger brother of Pittsburgh Penguin top liner James Neal, Michael continues to be a depth player in the ECHL for the Idaho Steelheads. With four goals and 12 assists through 41 games, Neal is not far off of his normal offensive pace. He has not been called up to the AHL despite how deep into the season he is. It’s unlikely that he will be qualified at the end of the year.
Tristan King, C, 21
Tristan King has not appeared in an AHL contest this season and only saw four games with the Idaho Steelheads before being loaned out to the Ontario Reign of the ECHL. He has 23 points in 24 games for the Reign but appears to be a non-factor in the Dallas organization at this juncture.