We’ve all managed to suffer through another painful summer without ice hockey, but finally it’s time to dust off the ol’ beer stein and armchair, kick back, and get ready for another (thankfully) long NHL season. As expected, this year’s Stars roster is burgeoning with new players – quite a few of them young prospects who could have an impact in the NHL this year. Summarized for your perusal, are some of these players we may see during the 2000-2001 season and some thoughts.
Richard Jackman: For Jackman, the most highly touted Dallas prospect of the last few years, this is a make or break year. Now an aging prospect, Jackman has been working the past few years on improving his spotty defense and his penchant for making mistakes, as well as trying to accelerate the wind-up on his impressive, yet oft telegraphed, slap shot from the point. Jackman will get lots of ice time this year in the 3rd defensive pairing and on the Stars power play, and he should have enough time to prove that his defensive responsibility is up to snuff and his offensive skills are truly NHL calibre.
Jackman had a fine preseason and his NHL start this year was marred with only a few mistakes (most of in the offensive zone that led to breakaways). But, he has shown alacrity and intelligence in clearing his own zone and his wind-up – though still telegraphed and easily blocked – has managed to take a few opposing players by surprise.
Brad Lukowich: For the last 2 years, Lukowich has been on the cusp of permanent fixture-hood for the Dallas Stars. He is physical and can skate well, but has not always played smart in the past. His lack of maturity has also failed to impress Hitchcock, who last season was utterly infuriated by Brad more than a few times. But Lukowich is not taking anything for granted this year. He came to camp with his act together and has a very serious focus going into this season. Brad is another make or break player this year, so expect Lukowich to make an impact by next Spring or be serious trade-bait.
Sami Helenius: Helenius is an enormous thug of a player, acquired this summer from Colorado where he had failed to overly impress coaching and management. He garnered that 7th defensive spot on the roster this season, but seems to be played sparingly. Because Helenius is slow and not always intelligent with his play, it is likely that an injury (or serious screw-up by Lukowich or Jackman) will be the only way Sami gets copious ice time this season. Helenius played in the season opener, and because he is an awe-inspiring physical presence and pseudo-enforcer, we may see him get ice time against Dallas’s more hated rivals.
Jonathan Sim: The ornery winger would have started for the Stars this season, were it not for an untimely broken left shoulder. Though small, Sim is feisty, quick with his hands, has a decent scoring touch, sometimes makes inspired plays, and doesn’t back down in a physical game. Though he looks like a young Theo Fleury on the ice, his lack of genuine finesse and skating ability makes him a probable 3rd or 4th line player on a good NHL team. He has shown enough skill to come in and play on the 2nd line, however, during times of injury or adversity. Unless Bouck has an amazing start, expect him to make the line-up when he recovers from his injury.
Tyler Bouck: Yet another winger prospect who is both gritty and fast. In preseason, Bouck impressed not only with his physical play, but with a startling amount of offensive ability. He’d likely be in the minors right now, were it not for Sim’s injury, but he has an excellent wrist shot and the ability to zip through the neutral zone. Though Bouck may eventually be sent down to the minors this year, he will eventually make the Dallas Stars as a permanent fixture and, with his penchant for making the big hit or the great play out of nowhere, he may well become a fan favorite.
Jeff Macmillan: Macmillan was a steady force behind the blue line for the Stars this preseason, and he was an inch away from capturing the 7th defensive spot on the Dallas Stars roster this year. Though a very young prospect, Macmillan impressed coaching more with what he didn’t do with the puck than what he did with it. Though not flashy, Macmillan rarely makes mistakes and almost always makes the intelligent play in his own zone. Because defensive prospects normally take so long to develop, Stars management was quite impressed with Macmillan, and he could well be a very competent future NHL’er. Macmillan could see ice time this year, if there are problems with Dallas’s current defensive lines.
Greg Leeb: One of the speediest and flashiest forwards for the Stars this preseason and training camp. Though a diminutive guy, Leeb has stellar skating chops and competent passing. The line he centered this preseason was one of the more pleasant surprises for the Stars. The problem for Leeb is that spots for grinders on the Stars last (checking) line are more up for grabs than spots for finesse-oriented players. As they have already demonstrated, the Stars will call up Leeb from the minors when they experience depth problems with their top playmakers and centers.
Jimmy Roy: Jimmy Roy was looked at very closely by the Dallas Stars organization during training camp this year, had a great preseason, and was one of the last player’s to be cut from the team. A very young prospect, what Roy lacks in true offensive ability he makes up for in heart, intensity, and hitting. Though he returned to Manitoba, Roy was told that the Stars might call him up to the NHL at some point during the season. If enough injuries hit the Stars again this year, he might well get his shot as a 3rd or 4th line banger on the Stars.
Chris Wells: Chris Wells was drafted in the first round, as he appeared to be an immense talent. At that time, he billed as an emormous physical presence who could skate and shoot effectively, and a potential 1st or 2nd line player in the NHL. Unfortunately, though the aging Wells has been extremely successful in minor league hockey, he has never been able to quite make the jump to the NHL. According to Dallas Stars coach, Ken Hitchcock, Wells has not improved his skating ability to the point where he is a good NHL-calibre skater, and he needs to learn use his size to “skate through the opposition, rather than around it”.
Wells still plays too much like a finesse player, but if he can learn to use his size he has been told he has a potential future spot on the Dallas Stars — ideally as a Scott Thornton type player, but more likely as a 4th liner. Unfortunately, Wells is already an old prospect and his window of opportunity is rapidly closing. Wells may see time on a checking line for Dallas this year, but he is likely to remain a top scorer and performer for the Utah Grizzlies.
John Erskine: Raved about all offseason and preseason by the press and Dallas Stars coaching, Erskine still finds himself ranked about 9th on the Stars defensive depth chart. An immense physical presence and work ethic led people to expect great things of Erskine, but boneheaded preseason play and the appearance that he is skating through molasses ultimately convinced coaching that he needs more time in the minors to improve. If the Stars have issues at defense this year, he may get ice time, but he will more likely break into the NHL on a different team.