Dallas Stars Rookie Camp Review
From September 8 through September 12 (excluding September 11), the Dallas Stars held their Rookie Camp at their practice facility in Dallas. Mostly, the players participated in drills, but there were a few scrimmages spaced through the sessions. Attending the camp were many Stars prospects as well as five invitees.
Headlining those attending were the 2000 and 2001 first round picks of the Dallas Stars, Steve Ott and Jason Bacashihua. Ott appeared to be on a mission the entire camp, playing with a level of intensity common in a game. He was hitting, taunting his opponents, and generally being his annoying self. In addition, he was one of the quicker players there. Ott flashed a lot of skill to go along with his grit. In drills and scrimmages, the feisty Ott showcased an excellent shot and good hands for tipping pucks in front of the net as well as nice passing instincts. At times, other players were able to knock the puck off his stick a bit easily, so he needs to work on better protecting the puck. In the scrimmages, Ott had a man glued to him most of the time, limiting his effectiveness, but he was still able to shake free and contribute. All in all, Ott performed well above the other prospects there. It is clear he intends to seriously attempt making the Stars’ roster at camp.
Bacashihua, otherwise known as ‘Cash,’ looked much improved from last year’s camp in which he looked very disinterested. ‘Cash’ showed off an excellent glove hand, plus superb quickness and mobility. Also, he appeared very driven, even getting visibly angry after he was interfered with in a scrimmage. Not all was perfect though. With his rather compact style, he was a little off on his angles and too deep in the net, trying to rely on his reflexes a bit much. It is not incurable, but he needs to work on that before he will be ready for NHL duty. As well, his stickhandling is decent, but perhaps a little practice would help there, too.
Three of the Stars’ 2002 draft picks attended the camp as well: Martin Vagner, the 1st round pick, Trevor Daley, a 2nd round pick, and David Bararuk, the 5th round pick. All around, Vagner appeared to be the best defenseman attending the camp. His fluid skating lent him good speed and mobility, which he used well at both ends of the ice. His coverage defensively was excellent, and he dished out a few hits, though he could have been a bit more physical with his size. Vagner showed a high amount of ability in the offensive end as well. It appears that his shot was underrated coming into the draft as he has a low, hard, tippable shot, and his one-timers are nice as well, though he could probably improve them a little further. On the passing side, Vagner shone too, but he did have a tendency to make blind passes, putting his side into trouble. Still, Vagner had a very good showing in his first Rookie Camp with the Stars. When watching Trevor Daley play one thing comes to mind: speed. Daley’s skating is simply amazing, even when compared to Vagner’s excellent stride. He can reach top speed very quickly and retains the ability to cut even at these speeds. More amazing is his ability to stop completely and restart in a completely different direction in almost no time flat.
Daley was a wizard in all facets of the offensive side of the game; his passing and shooting were great. He also carried the puck very well with his speed and ability to stickhandle, very reminiscent of current Star Sergei Zubov. The one concern about Daley is how his size will lend him to play in the NHL. Daley did not have any problems with the physical side of the game in scrimmages despite his small size as he was hitting and receiving hits without issue. He did allow some players to drive the net unmolested, so he still needs to improve his defensive coverage a bit. Being a fifth round pick, it is hard to gauge what to expect from Bararuk. He showed a lot of offensive ability with his shot, passing, stickhandling, and explosive speed, but he was a little lacking on the defensive end. With a little more work it could be a non-issue, but right now, it is hard to say where he fits in. Still, he is a gifted player, if a bit small. 7th rounder Bryan Hamm was also supposed to be on hand, but he did not seem to be present in the drills and scrimmages.
Most of the camp’s roster was filled with players who spent part or all of the year with Utah in the AHL. Most of this group is made up of gritty, character leader type forwards, like Justin Cox, Barrett Heisten, Jeff Bateman, and Brett Draney. Each of these hard-working forwards performed decently in the camp. Each of them had different strengths and weaknesses, but they all have progressed from the year before. Cox is remarkably quick and showed improvement offensively, but he is still underdeveloped physically and that may prevent him from jumping to the next level. Heisten looked like one of the more NHL ready players, being solid all-around and very aggressive, but his accuracy was off on his shooting as he was missing the net often. Bateman has definitely improved from the previous year, his shot is better, and he appears to be more consistently intense. He still can be handled physically and needs to shoot when the opportunity presents itself however.
Draney was one of the more aggressive players there. He is likely limited offensively, but his heart and drive are unquestionable. He challenges people much larger than himself and drives the net hard. The question is whether he knows where to draw the line to keep from being penalized. Marcus Kristofferson had a rather impressive camp. He has improved his defensive coverage from the previous year, and his offensive game looked improved as well, especially his accuracy (though he still couldn’t seem to elevate the puck). Despite his size, he could have been more aggressive physically. All in all, Kristofferson made nice strides, but he’s missing something before he can be a regular NHLer; he either needs to get a little meaner or add more proficiency on one side of the puck.
Two defensemen from Utah were present at the camp as well, Jeff MacMillan and Dan Jancevski. MacMillan had his usual camp: nothing spectacular but remarkably solid and mistake free. It’s a shame that he’ll get little chance with the defensive depth of the Stars. He could easily be a reliable lower pair defenseman. Jancevski looks much better for his year in the pros last year. His anticipation and offensive contributions look improved, and he still plays the same solid, physical defensive game. Yet, his skating still remains an issue, as he can be beat when caught flat-footed by speedsters.
There were three more Dallas draftees in attendance at the camp, only one of which really left a major impression. Daniel Volrab was the best of this last group by far. Volrab still has intensity problems and physical development issues, but his skills and awareness are fine. He was the best stickhandler there and could protect the puck very well despite his size. When it came to passing and shooting, Volrab had two worlds. His passing instincts were great, and he completed a lot of dandy passes, but his shot was weak, likely due to his lack of upper-body development. His coverage on defense was fine when his head was in the game. A positive sign was that he was asking the coaches for advice when he made an error, but he still has a way to go before he can be considered sure-fire.
Mike Smith was one of the other draftees that attended. The big goalie looked good at times and terrible at others. He was quick for a big goalie, but like most big goalies, there are big holes there when he moves that can be exploited no matter how quick he is. One of his bigger assets is his swift glove hand. The biggest issue is his handling of low shots. Smith almost always spit out a rebound, which has to be improved before he can make an impact in the pro ranks. The last draft pick remaining was a checking winger from the QMJHL, Dale Sullivan. Sullivan showed good awareness defensively and a lot of hard work, but he did little else special there.
What was left over on the roster were tryouts from various leagues. The best of these tryouts was forward Fraser Clair from the OHL. He was a remarkably quick, hard-working forward with a very hard shot. His accuracy and overall offensive ability are questionable, but overall he seemed very reminiscent of former Star Jamie Langenbrunner. Another decent tryout came from a small, quick defenseman from the QMJHL, Maxime Fortunus. Fortunus displayed admirable offensive instincts and was relatively reliable defensively, but his issue was that bigger players could overpower him easily due to small his size. He did not perform badly, but he did little to show he could overcome his size deficiency. He might have helped his case with a little better showing in the offensive end. The other tryouts from various leagues, Blaz Emersic, Ryley Layden, and Greg Chambers did little to distinguish themselves there. Emersic did show an ability to create offense from little, but his defensive coverage looked spotty at best.
In the end, six players didn’t get to attend training camp. Blaz Emersic and Fraser Clair were sent to Utah, where they will join the Grizzlies. Both may be strictly Utah signings, so whether they can be claimed as Stars property is uncertain. As well, Bryan Hamm, Maxime Fortunus, Greg Chambers, and Ryley Layden were returned to their respective junior teams.
Altogether, there were some signs of hope at this year’s camp. There are some higher-end prospects than have graced the Stars system in recent memory, and this is without any of the top prospects from Europe in attendance. The system still looks dominated by smallish character players, but it’s starting to come around a little bit. It will be interesting to see where the Stars lie a couple years down the road.