Today we take a brief look at the Dallas Stars horrifying 2001-2002 season and report in
more detail on our prospects and young talent and how they did over the year.
It’s been a listless, hollow May for Stars fans who are used to a little more excitement
this time of year. Following the most postseason changes of any team (although Turgeon and
Audette were the only significant signings), Dallas continued on to make the most regular
season changes of any team. None of these changes worked quickly enough to appease fans and
management. No new chemistry was formed, except perhaps between Turgeon and Lehtinen. And,
we are left with the feeling that perhaps this team was just too mired in its ways to adjust
to change this season.
Many maintain that these changes failed because they weren’t typical “Dallas Stars” changes,
and they aren’t far from the truth. Certainly, Turgeon and Audette weren’t the same kind of
gritty, defensive-minded player this team had possessed in its “glory days” of a few season
ago. But the analysis falls a little short. Remove Turgeon, Audette, Kamensky, and Lumme
from the mix last year, and you are still left with a team that doesn’t even remotely
resemble the Stanley Cup-winning Stars. You are left with a team with precious little of
the calibre of grit and determination that team once had. With a different look, perhaps it
was time that the team adjusted its philosophy a bit to fit the players. Perhaps someone
should have given Audette a real chance. Perhaps Turgeon should’ve been tried on a line
(other than the 4th) a little earlier than the Olympics. Perhaps this is why Hitchcock is
now gone, and we are left squirming as teams that had one or two wins than us make
remarkably strong postseason showings.
In any case, the moves of the past season have removed some popular players, but they do
leave the team rather optimistically poised for the future. And, of course, that’s what we
care about most here at Hockey’s Future. For one, the team’s core is younger. The defense
is in its prime, and (since removing Hull and Nieuwendyk) the Stars new “core” (top 5) offensive
players (Modano, Morrow, Turgeon, Arnott, Lehtinen) are all in their prime or younger.
Turco, despite his “unorthodox” style, looks ready to take over the #1 reins, and the Stars
— the league’s second most profitable team last season — have a rather large budget with
which to purse free agents. To top it off, they may even have a few prospects to consider
The Utah Grizzlies
Rebounding from a frightening 2000-2001 season, the AHL Grizzlies (Dallas’s affiliate) had a
solid season under new Head Coach Don Hay with an early postseason exit attributed to the
team’s inability to play a full 60 minutes of solid hockey. Sound familiar? In any case,
the season looks pretty good for Stars prospects there, although admittedly a significant
portion came from experienced AHL’ers like Jim Montgomery, Greg Hawgood, and Cameron Mann
and from newly departed Roman Lyashenko.
The most impressive forward prospects this season at Utah were Niko Kapanen (13
goals, 28 assists) and Steve Gainey (16 goals, 18 assists). Niko was the best young
player at camp last season, and earned himself a roster spot on the Dallas Stars. However,
players don’t get much leeway to make an immediate impact breaking into the NHL, and Kapanen
failed to make much of an impression in his limited stay here. Fortunately, his first North
American stint was not all bad. After being relegated to Utah, Kapanen soon won over
Grizzlies fan with his great quickness, hard work, and instincts. He immediately emerged as
a leader and fan favorite. Make no mistake, this little dude has sweet moves, and he may
well get another shot next season.
Steve Gainey has big skates to fill, but the timing of his game rounding into shape couldn’t
be better. Gainey looks feisty as ever and chipped in a nice chunk of Grizzlies offense
this season. Although he lacks the same natural tools and intimidating presence of his
father, Bob Gainey, he has displayed much of the same heart. There are even some who
contend that he has more natural offensive ability than Bob did. With his dad, Bob Gainey,
stepping down it is remarkable timing for him to enter the next stage of his career. After
emerging as a solid minor leaguer this season, he is poised to showcase. Although
unmpressive during a brief look-see in a Stars uniform this year (5 games), he did show a
bit of his nasty side (7 PIM’s) and his nose for getting himself in the thick of things. As
Stars GM Armstrong remarked, “I think we have to have players like that to fill out the
bottom part of our roster. They bring energy. They bring enthusiasm. Those are usually the
guys when the coach wants to shake things up they shake it up with that level of player or
Bruising Swedish wing Marc Kristoffersson also showed some potential coming to North
American hockey this season. Kristoffersson has never been a spectacular scorer, but his
style is said to be well-suited to North American hockey. Kristoffersson managed to put in
6 goals and 10 assists, and he is an imtimidating presence and potential checking line
player. He can actually shoot hard and drives the net effectively — a set of skills which
may make him worthwhile on the lower lines. Since the bottom lines appear to have the
greatest number of holes coming into next season, it might be time to give a shot to this
unusual combination of size and skill.
Diminutive right wing Justin Cox had good numbers in the OHL, and he has come around
to producing decent numbers in the AHL this season. Though his +/- is pretty miserable, he
does have talent and — if he improves more next season — he may well get a shot sometime
in the future. It’s doubtful that his performance has quite impressive enough to warrant
NHL consideration at this point, but a good showing at camp and start to next season may
change things for Cox.
Barett Heisten, newly acquired from the Rangers for Lyashenko and Rucinsky, has the
potential to be a very nice prospect pickup for the Dallas Stars. Heisten was drafted in
the first round pick (20th overall) during the 1999 draft, and he has shown the two assets
the Stars scouting has place the most focus on — quickness and size. Scouts project that
Heisten could be a 20 goal scorer in the NHL someday, which should place him on the Stars #1
line soon enough (kidding). He has amazing quickness grabbing loose pucks, works well in
the corners, shakes off defenders, and is a stellar playmaker. Though he lacks that NHL
calibre scoring touch, he could be an outstanding 3rd or 4th line addition to the Stars in
the near future.
Austrian forward Gregor Baumgartner also looked solid in limited playtime with the
Grizzlies this season (10 goals, 10 assists in in 34 games), though he needs a little more
opportunity to showcase himself. Baumgartner does have talent, however, and he was the
Grizzlies’ lone representative at the AHL All-Star Classic. Gregor may be worn out on North
American hockey, however, and there is a strong belif he will return to Europe next season.
At this point, he seems like a long-shot for the Stars.
And what more can we say about Jon Sim? It’s make it or break it time now. Or was
that last season?
The Grizzlies young defense looks excellent, sporting the likes of John Erskine,
Jeff Macmillan, Dan Jancevski, and Andre Lakos. Most Stars fans are
now familiar with Erskine, who spent a considerable chunk of time in the NHL at the end of
the season and grew gradually more and more impressive and confident with every game. He
hits hard, he’s patient with the puck, and he occassionaly makes boneheaded plays.
Fortunately, his blundering puck movements tapered off as time went on, and the great hits
just kept on coming. Expect Erskine to make an apperance next season with the Stars and to
move from the “prospects” to “graduated” list here on the left hand side.
Even so, Jeff Macmillan is a guy who could give Erskine a nice run for his money. Though not as big
and intimidating, he’s more clever with the puck while still being very consistent defensively. He had nice numbers this year with the
Grizzlies (6 goals, 9 assists, +12), and he looks so confident, so comfortable, so smooth
moving that puck.
Jancevski and Lakos also both look comfortable in the AHL, and may get to move into a more
high profile role next season with the team. Lakos also got some nice experience in the
Olympics playing for Austria this year, and he adds to the Stars core of young, steady
blueliners. We haven’t talked much about Andre Lakos in past articles, but he should
definitely be added to the core of promising young Dallas defensive prospects. He’s not
considered a dirty or nasty player, but he loves to hit and has quite a slapper.
One of the Stars best known and most ancipated young Pat Verbeek clones is young Steve
Ott. Since we’ve reported on him so much in the past few years, there isn’t a whole lot
more to say about his feisty, irritating playing style. However, we should acknowledge that
the time is fast approaching for one of Canada’s best young antagonizers and the perpetual
OHL all-star to make his NHL bid. Could Ott, who scored 43 goals and compiled 178 PIM’s
last season, break into the NHL centering the Stars weak 4th line? Time for the OHL player
to move on to the AHL? Stay tuned.
For all the flak Stars management got last season for drafting goaltender Jason
Bacashihua in the first round, he sure looks like a terrific pickup now. We previously
reported on his strong play in the World Junior Championships as team USA’s goalie. In
addition, in his first ever OHL season, all “Cash” did was lead the OHL in shutouts and
claim the second best goals against average and save percentage. In 46 games, the dynamic
young goalie had a GAA of 2.34, a save percentage of .921, and 5 shutouts.
Another rookie, Daniel Volrab had unspectactular numbers this season for the WHL’s
Saskatoon Blades (13 goals, 28 assists, 41 points in 72 games). But the top WHL draft pick
still boasts a promising set of tools, and he may garner the ice time necessary to turn a
few heads next season.
No Stars prospect has looked more impressive this season than young Finnish LW Anti
Miettinen. In the (relatively) low-scoring Finnish hockey league, Miettinen produced 19
goals, 37 assists (56 points) in 56 games this season and was +32 for HPK Hameenlinna.
Already one of the best young players in Finnish hockey, Miettinen was 3rd in the Finnish
League MVP voting with the second most first place votes. In addition, Miettinen has made a
nice showing in international competitions like the Karjala Cup and World Championships.
Miettinen is a stellar passer and explosive skater who doesn’t shy away from physical
contact, and he has blossomed into one of Finland’s best new offensive players. The only
knock on the young forward’s game is his lack of straightforwardness. He is very tricky and
patient with the puck, but some believe he takes too much time and isn’t aggressive in getting himself in front of an opponent’s net.
Still, he looks like one of the more promising forwards for the Stars and, despite his great finesse, the sooner this guy comes to North
American the better.
Finnish forwards Teemu Elomo and Jussi Jokinen have also caputred some
attention this season. Elomo has compiled respectable numbers for the Finnish League Blues
(12 goals, 14 assists), and Jokinen emerged with a stellar World Junior performance as one
of his team’s scoring leaders. Both probably need more seasoning, but they are certainly
not out of the picture.
Another guy who might put it together and make a nice addition to the Stars is Swedish
sniper Joel Lundqvist. Sometimes described as a more physical Huselius, Lundqvist
put together “ok” numbers in the Swedish Elite League this season, and he averaged around a
point every 2 games. He has a wonderful shot and seems to possess that scoring knack so
rare in Stars propsects. He needs to gain some more consistentcy finishing if he’s going to
make the Stars, however.
Russian forward Artem Chernov continues to fall on our rating scale. Since being
paired with less talented linemates this season, his production has become very
average. Still, we should not give up on him on yet, as his Czech linemates played almost
the entire season passing only to each other as if Chernov was not there and one of those linemates was none other than former Stars prospect Pavel Patera.
Newly drafted Yared Hagos moved up in the Swedish Elite League this year, but he
has received little ice time and he has not produced significant numbers. Expect to see more of him in coming years, however.
Though still extremely young, Czech defenseman Michael Blazek looks like a promising
player. He has recorded very nice numbers as a defenseman (6 goals, 12 assists in 42 games)
, and he could turn into a very nice play for the Stars.
Offensive talent Mike Ryan continued his display of goal scoring prowess this season
with 24 goals and 15 assists (in 36 games) this season for Northeastern University. He
still scores in bunches and lacks consistency, but that isn’t so uncommon for young
goalscorers. He is going to be a senior now, and he may be on the Stars radar very soon. This kid
looks to be one of those make or break types who is either able to produce at the NHL or
effectively useless. Anthony Aquino of Merrimack is a very similar player who
compiled very similar numbers this season, and — although younger than Ryan — has oodles
of offensive talent as well.
On a different front, promising sophomore goalie Dan Ellis contributed yet another solid season for
the Univeristy of Nebraska-Omaha. Ellis ended up on the second All-CCHA Team (behind Ryan Miller), earned the CCHA Defensive Player of the Week Award three consecutive weeks, and won
the CCHA overall champion of the Perani Cup 3-stars award (given to the player who was awarded the most “star of the game” awards at the end of the season). Ellis, often under
fire, also set a new school record in saves with his nation leading total of 1098 saves.
Ellis finished the season with a 2.48 GAA and .919 save percentage playing 40 games.
Geoffrey Ussery contributed to this article.