#1 John Erskine: Erskine spent the second half of last year developing with the Stars and despite the setback of being demoted, which truthfully, is in large part due to his two-way contract and waiver exempt status, he is among the closest of the prospects to being a full time member of the club. His game already lends itself to that of a serviceable #6 defenseman, and he can only improve. Some prime minutes in Utah certainly will not hurt, but it was expected that he would be on the Stars’ roster. The Robidas acquisition changed that.
#2 Steve Ott: Combining his outstanding junior numbers, potential, and strong push at camp lands Ott in the second spot. Ott made a strong push toward being on the starting roster, but ultimately depth won out, resulting in Ott’s demotion to Utah. This is probably the best turn of events because it gives Ott time to adjust his skills and tenacity to the pro game with higher minutes, and that can only make him a better NHLer down the line.
#3 Jason Bacashihua: Bacashihua worked his way to the top of the charts with strong showings in his first and only OHL season and the WJC for Team USA. His camp was strong, but there are still a few things he needs to work on before becoming a NHL goaltender, namely positioning and consistency. Bacashihua is a very competitive player and has the makings of a ‘big game’ goalie, and he has the physical tools to go along with that. He will play as Utah’s backup, and is likely still a little ways away, but his potential earns him this spot.
#4 Niko Kapanen: The little Finn again beat out all comers to lock down the only truly open roster spot on the team. Kapanen plays a smart two-way game and uses his speed and skill to be a nice weapon on offense. His passing is better than his shooting, which is improved over last year. On the defensive end, Kapanen can close gaps and get in position quickly and is also good on face-offs. He is also not afraid to get into things along the boards despite his small size.
#5 Mike Ryan: Another player who has earned himself a spot based on potential, Ryan has put together a lot of potential since his draft day. He has become a constant threat on offense while playing a more responsible and complete game. His leadership attributes have blossomed as well, making him all the more attractive a package. However, he is still very lanky, and that may be what keeps him back. He’s still at least a couple years off, but there’s a lot to be hopeful about.
#6 Antti Miettinen: Miettinen followed up a breakout season in the SM-Liiga with a sputtering start to this year. Part of the issue may be due to his off season surgery, but in truth, the team around him hasn’t been much better. Still, he is in a slump at the moment, but hopefully, this skilled offensive and sound defensive player can work out the problems and get back to last year’s form.
#7 Trevor Daley: The big surprise at the Stars’ camp this year was the play of 2nd rounder Trevor Daley. He impressed Tippett, who is fond of quick, offensively gifted blue-liners, with his marvelous skating ability and offensive smarts from the blue-line. He did have quite a few defensive lapses, but he was still in a running for a spot until Philippe Boucher returned from his injury. Once Boucher returned, Daley was sent back to juniors, but he still beat out some of the Stars more established defensive prospects.
#8 Joel Lundqvist: This smooth Swede has had a nice start to his sophomore season in the SEL coupled with his respectable rookie campaign. A very skilled and gifted player, Lundqvist also brings a physical edge to his game to put together a nice package that looks very NHL compatible. Lundqvist has the potential to develop into a rugged sniper with some playmaking ability if he can continue to progress in the SEL, but even without a whole lot of development, he could probably hold down a lower line position in a few years.
#9 Dan Ellis: Another in the Stars stable of goalies, Ellis is the least well-known outside of the Stars system. However, Ellis has been quietly developing into a capable goaltender in the NCAA. He is arguably even the best goaltender in the wake of Ryan Miller’s departure to Buffalo. Ellis has good reflexes and plays a smart positional game. He has pretty much carried his team over the past two years and still posted very good numbers. He likely has the potential to be a #1, or at least a high-end backup, down the line.
#10 Martin Vagner: The first round pick this year didn’t stick at camp very long, but he still is an impressive package. Vagner is an excellent skater and very sound defensively with a good amount of offensive upside to could be developed. His offensive instincts need to be honed a little, and he needs to add a physical element to his game to better utilize his physical gifts, but all-together there’s a lot to be hopeful for. He’s a little bit of a project, but he has a lot of potential.
#11 Steve Gainey: The younger Gainey might have had a serious shot at the team until the Stars decided to bring in veterans to fill the lower lines. That closed the window on him. Without multiple spots open, Gainey with his limited offense just could not work his way past the other contenders. A very sound positional player with a bit of a dirty edge to his game, Gainey might be able to work his way onto the Stars within a year or two depending on their moves, or otherwise, he will probably have to make it elsewhere if at all.
#12 Jeff MacMillan: A perennial bridesmaid but still a very good player in his own right, Jeff MacMillan again lost out to the Stars defensive depth. MacMillan brings a steady, no-frills game to the ice, making few mistakes but also not doing anything particularly spectacularly. His physical game has improved over the years. All-together MacMillan has the makings of a low pair defenseman who’s not a liability in any defensive situation. Ultimately, there just may be too much depth for him here.
#13 Tobias Stephan: The newest addition to the goalie collection, Stephan is a young Swiss goalie who has shown enormous potential in international competitions. With superb reflexes, Stephan is a very similar goalie to the others in the system. He looks to have earned himself a starting position at the age 18 in the Swiss Elite League with good numbers and is already adapting to the pro game. A few years down the line, the goalie situation looks very good between Stephan, Ellis, and Bacashihua.
#14 Marcus Kristofferson: Kristofferson’s first year in North America was not the best, but it went a long way towards showing the kind of game Kristofferson can play. His biggest assets are size, speed, and versatility. His biggest weakness is his versatility as well. As of yet, Kristofferson has yet to settle himself into one role. He likely would best be suited to being a skilled grinder with his size and abilities, but he first needs to play more physical and improve his defensive coverage. He’s a project, but he could still be a serviceable lower liner.
#15 Dan Jancevski: Another defensive defenseman in the Stars system, Jancevski is going to be harder pressed to get minutes this year with the return of Erskine and the addition of Komarov. Jancevski is a lot like Erskine, except he doesn’t play with the same brutal edge. However, Jancevski has the better offensive instincts of the two, but they still are limited. Jancevski plays a solid, physical defensive game and can contribute on offense. Still, he needs to improve his skating and should improve how he handles shifty forwards.
#16 Anthony Aquino: One of the Stars more skilled prospects, Aquino opted out of his senior year of college to play junior hockey. If he’s not signed by the deadline, he will become a free agent via the Van Ryn loophole. A shifty skilled sniper, Aquino was afraid he was going nowhere in the Stars plans with their depth, so he forced the Stars hand. He didn’t show all too much at camp and his early OHL performance hasn’t been jaw dropping, but he still has something the Stars really lack in nearly ready prospects: scoring ability.
#17 Jussi Jokinen: Jokinen had a great WJC and a solid rookie season in the SM-Liiga last year. Early in the SM-Liiga season, Jokinen has been posting high assist totals on a hot line. Jokinen plays a to the net game and has a nice shot which lends him generally more towards goal-scoring exploits. The addition of assists to his repertoire is a nice sign. If he keeps his pace up and shows well at the WJC again, Jokinen could well be on his way up.
#18 Barrett Heisten: The biggest faller, Heisten went into camp as a front runner for a spot and botched the chance completely. He was not very good in his preseason games, making poor decisions frequently, and seemed to struggle even in the early camps at times. He is still not a lost cause, but this skilled grinder has a lot of ground to make up before he can consider having a legitimate shot at the Stars roster after his lackluster showing in camp.
#19 Alexei Komarov: The surprise signing of the summer turned out to be a surprisingly good defenseman. Komarov plays an intelligent positional defensive game, not unlike that of Zubov in the defensive zone. Komarov tends to stay back, but he does have enough speed to join the rush. He uses his long reach effectively in defending, tying up sticks and poking pucks away. He still needs to work on physical attributes though as he has an underdeveloped upper-body it seems. He’s still a stay at home defenseman, but he brings a different element than the others.
#20 Artem Chernov: Barely holding on based on his showing a couple years ago, Chernov has struggled mightily since moving to Avangard Omsk. The move was a huge error in his career as he was shuffled to lower line duty on a deep team at first. Now it seems he is not getting along with the coach and has been demoted again. For a prospect that once appeared a steal with great potential, Chernov’s struggles have dimmed his shine. There’s still hope for him to turn it around, but it’s fading fast.
Thanks to those who caught my brain lapse in calling Stephan an Austrian when he’s actually Swiss. It was an honest mistake that I somehow got that mixed up.