Defense rules in Stars prospect awards

By Mike Farkas
Photo: Jack Campbell ended his junior career at the conclusion of Sault Ste. Marie's regular season. The change of scenery couldn't come soon enough for Campbell, who was wildly inconsistent during his two years in the OHL. (Photo courtesy of CHL Images)

Below is the inaugural edition of the Dallas Stars prospect awards. The Stars have a wide-array of prospects and their depth is illustrated in the awards.

Most Improved Prospect: Alex Guptill, LW, Michigan Wolverines (CCHA)

After a less-than-stellar year in the USHL, Alex Guptill was quick off the blocks to start his collegiate career. In 41 games with the University of Michigan, Guptill scored 16 goals and 17 assists as he saw largely top line time. He was a threat from everywhere in the offensive zone and proved that he would be tough to hogtie below the dots. With his terrific shot, he figures to be among the country's best goal scorers as soon as next season. He was named the CCHA Rookie of the Year but unfortunately couldn't help Big Blue advance past Cornell in the NCAA Tournament. Also considered for this award were Matej Stransky and Austin Smith.

Best Defensive Prospect: Jamie Oleksiak, D, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)

A midseason trade saw humongous blueliner Jamie Oleksiak moved to the Niagara IceDogs from the Saginaw Spirit. He upped his offensive game (21 points in 28 games with Niagara versus 10 points in 29 games with Saginaw) and seemed all in all more confident in his game under his new confines. He's aided the IceDogs transition game well and his heavy shot from the point is always an asset. He plays a strong defensive game that still relies more on positioning than it does pancake hits. He exudes a ton of potential and has his team poised for a deep playoff run. Also considered for this award were Philip Larsen and Patrik Nemeth.

Prospect of the Year: Philip Larsen, D, Dallas Stars (NHL)

 

Danish defenseman Philip Larsen embraced the opportunity to play his first full season in the National Hockey League. He logged a fair amount of minutes over the course of the season, not differentiating too much from veterans such as Sheldon Souray and far exceeded the even strength time of Mark Fistric. Mostly a 5-on-5 player, Larsen did see some second power play unit time where he could utilize his good vision and passing ability. He held his own defensively and physically, though he was over-matched size-wise, his smarts and resiliency pulled him through his rookie season.

He has a lot room to grow on this team, as the Stars certainly lack a deep, star-studded blue line. As he continues to get stronger and adjust to the speed of the NHL game, Larsen is expected to excel at the NHL level for years to come. Also considered for this award were Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth

Fastest Skater: John Klingberg, D, Skelleftea (SEL)

While it was a trying year for John Klingberg as he experimented with playing in Finland, there's one thing that will always bring him to the forefront and that's his terrific skating ability. He's a very dynamic defenseman that can rush the puck and join the rush with great acumen. His tremendous wheels allow him to play at both ends of the rink. He had four points in 16 games after returning to the Elitserien and four assists in the playoffs. A tremendous lateral skater with very good straight line speed, Klingberg figures to remain in Sweden for another season before perhaps giving it a go in North America.

Hardest Shot: Jamie Oleksiak, D, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)

Jamie Oleksiak at 6'7, 252 pounds is an impressive physical specimen. Naturally, he can get a ton behind his shot and it's quite heavy from a distance. He's not afraid to unload it either, as he scored 12 goals over the year – good for seventh in the OHL among blueliners. He hasn't harnessed all of his potential energy and power quite yet, as he's still growing as a player but he's well on his way. His peers took notice as well, in the OHL Eastern Conference Coaches Poll, Oleksiak was voted to have the second hardest shot behind 2012 draft eligible Cody Ceci.

Overachiever: Austin Smith, RW, Colgate University (NCAA)

After an unexpected, but amazing season with Colgate University, Austin Smith concludes his collegiate career with an unforgettable season. Unforgettable, but maybe irreproducible too, were his nation-best 36 goals. His 57 points were also among the country's elite. The former fifth round pick and Texas native burst on to the ECAC scene healthy and confident. While he did dominate the ECAC in his senior season, there is not a ton of expectation that he will be able to translate that scoring prowess to the professional game. He figures to be more of a utility player at the next level, but knowing Austin Smith's swagger, who knows what kind of career he could carve out.

Underachiever: Jack Campbell, G, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)

While it's largely recognized that a goaltender, no matter how talented, no matter how pro-ready, no matter how good, cannot carry a junior franchise to a Memorial Cup championship, there were still high expectations cast upon Jack Campbell after the bounty that Sault Ste. Marie pawned off to acquire him. The results were less than inspiring and the Greyhounds failed to qualify for the postseason. It was looking like he was beginning to right the ship on a young Windsor team (12 games, 3.13 goals against average, .906 save percentage) but was shipped off to the Soo where he won just 15 of 34 games and posted a 3.58 goals against average and .892 save percentage. It's been a struggle for Campbell to find his way on some teams with questionable defenses and that doesn't exclude the United States U20 Team, who laid a proverbial egg at the World Junior Championships with Campbell in command. Campbell couldn't turn pro soon enough and hope to find some friendlier confines. Also considered for this award were John Klingberg and Tyler Beskorowany

Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Scott Glennie, C/RW, Texas Stars (AHL)

A well-documented enigma amongst Dallas Stars followers, Scott Glennie gave reason to believe that the Stars did not waste the eighth overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft this past season. Playing on one of the top lines, though it consisted largely of grinders Colton Sceviour and Francis Wathier, Glennie rebounded from a slow start to notch 37 points in 70 games. The Texas Stars were in a state of transition with a new coach installing a system that was nearly the polar opposite of Glen Gulutzan's from last year – so the environment was upset a bit by the sudden change. The former Brandon Wheat King is known for his injury troubles and has lacked the determination and desire that one would like to see out of a top prospect. He can generate a lot of offense when he wants to and will need to bring his "A" game if he wants to crack the Dallas Stars lineup next season – or any season. Also considered for this award were Jack Campbell and John Klingberg

Hardest Worker: Hubert Labrie, D, Texas Stars (AHL)

While not a traditional choice, defensive defenseman Hubert Labrie has been on an uphill climb since his QMJHL days. Always a bit on the diminutive side, Labrie has fought through it as a defensive, physical player that relies heavily on positioning and smarts to perform at the highest levels. His final season in the Q was marred by injury that limited him to just nine regular season games and in the first game of the playoffs he broke his hand and played brilliantly through the postseason for Gatineau. He moved to the AHL in 2011-12, where he was kept off the scoresheet largely (just two goals and one assist in 33 games) but seemed to fit in fairly well against pros as a rookie. He did spend some time in the ECHL with Idaho, including six playoff games. Labrie will have to fight hard to keep his spot in the lineup, but his determination level is high and he's a battler and the Stars brass are excited to have him in the organization. Also considered for this award were Colton Sceviour and Curtis McKenzie

Breakout Player for 2012-13: Jack Campbell, G, Texas Stars (AHL)

Though also listed as the underachiever, Jack Campbell has a ton of upside. He's been behind some junior teams with questionable defensive structure and struggled to varying degrees. He's more than ready to take on the professional game and will be given every opportunity to take on the starting job in Texas (AHL) in 2012-13 with Tyler Beskorowany also in the fold. Campbell took on the lion's share of the AHL work after leaving juniors and in the small sample size put up the best numbers among all the club's goalies this season. He went just 4-7 but had a 3.02 goals against average, .912 save percentage (second best was Andrew Raycroft's .891 in 21 games) and a shutout. Given the tumult of the season, the Stars fired Head Coach Jeff Pyle and may look to hire a more defensive-minded coach to match what the parent organization is doing with Glen Gulutzan. The future remains bright for Jack Campbell. Also considered for this award were Brett Ritchie and Emil Molin.

 

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