Dallas boasts large array of NCAA and European trained players

By Mike Farkas
Photo: Boston University standout Alex Chiasson recently signed an entry-level deal with Dallas. (Photo courtesy of Michael Tureski/Icon SMI)

The Dallas Stars scour the NCAA and Europe regularly for young players and as a result have a number of quality prospects in both fields. Of the top-20 prospects in the Dallas organization, 11 of them – at some point or another – played at the NCAA level or in Europe. Many of their prominent collegiate prospects have recently turned pro and their best European prospect – Patrik Nemeth – is expected to move to the AHL next season.

NCAA

Alex Chiasson, RW, Boston University Terriers (Hockey East)
Drafted 2nd round, 38th overall, 2009

Another year of terrific growth for Alex Chiasson at Boston University has concluded. He set new career marks in goals (15), assists (31) and points (46) in 38 games before Boston University was eliminated in the NCAA West Regional by the University of Minnesota. Chiasson led his team in points over the course of the year as a playmaking winger and has shown lots of improvement in his overall game since he joined the collegiate ranks. He's a good faceoff taker despite being a winger and has well-received the defensively responsibilities of the wing position. He can play in all situations, but will likely prove to be better on the power play than on the penalty kill. He's very good at setting up along the wall and distributing or walking in and shooting a heavy wrist shot.

Chiasson recently signed an entry-level deal with the Stars and joined their AHL affiliate.

Reilly Smith, RW, Miami RedHawks (CCHA)
Drafted 3rd round, 69th overall, 2009

Also from the 2009 draft and also turning pro after three seasons, Reilly Smith has concluded his collegiate career with the Miami University Redhawks. He burst on to the scene as a sophomore playing with seniors Carter Camper (BOS) and Andy Miele (PHX) and then kept it up as the offense revolved around him as a junior. For the second year in a row, he was a First Team CCHA All-Star. He scored 30 goals (second in the nation) and 48 points in 39 games before being upended in overtime by UMass-Lowell in the East Regional. Smith isn't the biggest guy in the world still despite working hard on strength in his three years at school, but he isn't afraid of contact by any means. He still looks a bit lanky on the rink and has something of a high center of gravity. That said, he's a natural-born goal-scorer. He has a good shot and knows how to find open ice. For his efforts, he was nominated as a Hobey Baker finalist.

The Stars have inserted Smith right into the lineup on the fourth line – though it does burn a year of his entry-level deal – it can provide valuable experience for him. He still could stand to round out his game more, improve his neutral zone decisions and continue to get stronger to handle the rigors of a long, physical professional season.

Curtis McKenzie, LW, Miami RedHawks (CCHA)
Drafted 6th round, 159th overall, 2009

 

After a disappointing drop off last season, Curtis McKenzie has rebounded fairly well in 2011-12 with the Redhawks. The tenacious forechecker upped his effort level from last year and was rewarded with a few more points versus his sophomore season (12 to 17). The offensive potential that he showed as a freshman has not really returned since being moved down in the lineup and developed more of a mucker's role. As he continues to add strength to his frame, he'll be a more dominant force on the cycle and his work on the penalty kill is valuable. With Reilly Smith, among others, leaving school, some of the offensive slack will need to be picked up by McKenzie next year as he tries to secure an NHL contract.

Austin Smith, C/RW, Colgate Raiders (ECAC)
Drafted 5th round, 128th overall, 2007

 

What a terrific season it has been for Austin Smith in his final year at Colgate University. The swagger-laden senior was injected with a ton more offensive confidence than he had had previously and was blessed with a healthy season that allowed him to lead the country in goals with 36 after just 10 the previous season. His 57 points were good for third in the country. The all-situation player had a field day with his ECAC peers and received a bevy of awards and nominations for his labors: ECAC First Team All-Star, ECAC Player of the Year and was named as a Hobey Baker Finalist for the first time.

Best of all for the Texas native, Austin Smith got an NHL contract and has turned pro with the Texas Stars (AHL). Despite his offensive explosion, he still doesn't project to more than a quality utility player at the next level. He's an industrious forward that has the character to be NHLer and his versatility would be valuable to any organization.

Mike Bergin, D, RPI Engineers (ECAC)
Drafted 7th round, 209th overall, 2008

 

It was a difficult year for RPI, especially in the first half for the Engineers. Senior captain Mike Bergin took a lot of weight on his shoulders. He helped the team rebound a bit in the second half and started playing a more invigorating brand of hockey. The defensive-minded club was still left reeling a bit by the loss of some key players. At around the midway point of the year, Bergin and RPI turned their ship around which included a more physical style of play from their top blueliner. He plays a ton of minutes in all situations and was a large part of RPI's late, though mild, resurgence. He's a big player that prefers a more defensive style game but can move the puck out of the defensive zone with some efficiency.

His offensive totals dipped to 10 points in 39 games which went along with a career-high in penalty minutes. Given the amount of contracts the Stars have just handed out to college players and the relative logjam of AHL d-men in the system, Bergin might be out of luck when it comes to securing an entry-level deal.

Alex Guptill, LW, Michigan Wolverines (CCHA)
Drafted 3rd round, 77th overall, 2010

After a forgettable transition year with the USHL's Waterloo Black Hawks, Alex Guptill made a name for himself in a big way with Big Blue. Guptill provided a real shot in the arm offensively for the Wolvervines, providing top-line offensive help for a good portion of the season. In 41 games, he recorded 16 goals and 17 helpers, largely playing with older players David Wohlberg (NJ) and Chris Brown (PHX). He's a big body that has a lot of offensive potential and a wicked shot with a quick release. He's a danger to score from all over the ice. Like some other prominent collegiate Stars prospects, Guptill accumulated some noteworthy recognition, as he was named to the CCHA All-Rookie Team and captured the same league's Rookie of the Year award. As he gets stronger and his game matures, Guptill will quickly slide up the organizational depth chart and become the focal point of Red Berenson's offense.

Scott Winkler, RW, Colorado College (WCHA)
Drafted 3rd round, 89th overall, 2008

Norwegian forward Scott Winkler has finally begun to find his game at the collegiate level as a junior in 2011-12. He more than doubled his paltry previous career bests this past season with seven goals, 17 assists and 24 points in 31 games. The last number may be the most noteworthy of them all however, as Winkler has been hampered by a myriad of injuries over the course of his NCAA life. Even this season, he broke his hand but only missed a few games before coming back and playing through it. He was largely used as a second line right wing and could use his size and straightforward style to penetrate deep into the opponent's end. He's a good two-way player that plays the game the right way. Winkler has some offensive tools at his disposal but they are rarely unleashed as various injuries have prevented the proper development and subsequent showcase of these talents.

His senior season will be big for him in terms of where his career takes him. Additionally, he may gain some notoriety if he's selected to Norway's World Championships roster this summer.

Nico Sacchetti, C, Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA)
Drafted 2nd round, 50th overall, 2007

Dallas' second round pick in 2007, Nico Sacchetti, has wrapped up his collegiate career with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. As has been the case in previous years, Sacchetti spent most of his time on the fourth line (when he wasn't scratched) as he continues to get supplanted by younger players on the depth chart. He managed a career-low four points (all goals) in a career-low 23 games. He rounds out his career with 15 goals and 18 assists in 127 games. For the third straight season, Sacchetti was a WCHA All-Academic Team selection which will hopefully help him down the road as his future doesn't appear to be in the NHL.

Europe

Patrik Nemeth, D, AIK (SEL)
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2010

 

The impressive career trajectory of Patrik Nemeth carries on as he continues to be trusted with more and more ice time at Sweden's top level for AIK. In 46 games with the big club, he only notched three assists and a plus-three rating but has been an important part of AIK's season and subsequent playoff run. He's rather mobile for a big defenseman and has ramped up his physicality and has ironed his timing much better this season. He does occasionally jump into the play offensively to give the offense numbers, but he's primarily a defensive defenseman and minute-muncher extraordinaire. He's been the most impactful junior-aged player on the club and though he leads the team in penalty minutes, he's not a dirty player.

Nemeth was very good for the Swedes at the World Junior Championships, logging five helpers in six games – the most by a d-man – as the Swedes captured the gold medal. The Stars have signed Nemeth and it's anticipated that he will be brought over to the AHL in 2012-13.

John Klingberg, D, Jokerit Helsinki (SM-liiga)/Skelleftea HC (SEL)
Drafted 5th round, 131st overall, 2010

It has been a turbulent season for young defenseman John Klingberg. He moved to Finland to try to refine pieces of his game that would be tested in a way that only the SM-Liiga A could provide but the experiment was largely a failure. He saw very limited time with Jokerit and was even sent down to the second-tier league for a bit. He then was loaned out to Skelleftea (at his request) back in Sweden where he felt a little bit more comfortable and picked up four points in 16 games and helped them clinch a playoff berth. Klingberg is a good skating, offensive defenseman that can lead a rush very well by skating it or with a crisp breakout. He's getting more time and trust in the Elitserien playoffs and is not disappointing so far.

He captured a gold medal with the Swedes at the World Junior Championships, garnering three assists in the process. He didn't log a ton of minutes especially in games where the Swedes were protecting a small lead. He is often so consumed with joining the rush that he can neglect his defensive responsibilities. He needs to continue to improve his strength as he looks quite slender on the ice and loses puck battles as a result even against his peers. He's a long term project that has a high offensive ceiling but remains years from being a polished NHL player.

Emil Molin, C, Brynas IF Gavle (SEL)
Drafted 4th round, 105th overall, 2011

Crafty forward Emil Molin was drafted out of the J18 level of the Swedish junior system in 2011 which is mildly unconventional, but Molin has quickly blossomed into a player that can play in Sweden's top league despite being of junior age. Molin graduated to the top junior league in the country (J20 SuperElit) with Brynas where he finished second on the club in points (42) despite only playing 29 games. He played a surprising amount of Elitserien games (34) and although the minutes are very limited, it's still providing valuable experience against professional players. He notched five points in those 34 games as Brynas has not only clinched a playoff spot but has advanced to the Finals.

Molin is a skilled centerman that distributes the puck well and has a good burst when he sees an opening. He's a bit of a project and his style will never be mistaken for someone that was developed in say, Western Canada for instance, but his offensive potential is very intriguing. The hope is that he grabs some more of the offensive reigns if Jakob Silfverberg and Calle Jarnkrok leave for North America, because as of now he's only taken a small handful of shifts in the entire playoffs.

Jyrki Jokipakka, D, Ilves Tampere (SM-liiga)
Drafted 7th round, 195th overall, 2011

 

Another late find by the Dallas Stars is Jyrki Jokipakka, not only was he taken late in the draft (7th round) but he had been passed over in the two previous drafts. A full-time pro for the second season in a row, Jokipakka has been trusted with a lot of Ilves Tampere's defensive duty. He set career highs in goals and points with his nine-goal, 17-point season. But as a more cautious, defensive defenseman, the point totals aren't quite as important (though he did lead his club's d-men in points). He logged more than 20 minutes per night and while he was a minus-four, that is the second best rating on the club. Jokipakka has been playing in all situations regularly and has handled them like a veteran.

Ilves avoided relegation in the SM-Liiga A, thanks, in part, to Jokipakka's contributions. He figures to return with Ilves in 2012-13 and then the Stars will decide whether or not he'll receive a two-year entry-level contract. His ceiling isn't tremendously high like some of the other European players on the list, but he is projecting to be a solid contributor down the line.

Mikhail Stefanovich, RW, Minsk Dynamo (KHL)
Acquired via trade with Toronto, January 2011

After bolting from North America for the KHL early in 2010-11 season, the Stars acquired Mikhail Stefanovich in exchange for Fabian Brunnstrom. Stefanovich played five scoreless games in the KHL with Dinamo Minsk before he was transferred to Gomel (Belarus League) where he posted a team-leading 25 goals in 39 games. He has six goals in eight playoff games as well. While there was some talk that he might come over for training camp last September, it never materialized though. It seems unlikely that he'll return to North America at this point.

Sergei Korostin, RW, Dynamo Balashikha/HC VMF St. Petersburg (VHL)
Drafted 3rd round, 64th overall, 2007

Sergei Korostin has bounced around to a few teams in Russia's second-tier league (VHL). He's played 24 games with HC VMF St. Petersburg where he's put up two goals and six assists in 24 games and then went scoreless in five playoff games. Despite giving it a legitimate chance to work in North America by playing in two junior leagues and the AHL, it's simply not a match. Korostin is struggling to even reach the top level in Russia, he's very far off the prospect radar at this point.

 

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