Progress Reports on Stars Prospects Ranked 1-10

By Geoffrey Ussery

Almost all of the Stars prospects’ seasons are over, and it is time for assessment. With another year of experience under their belts, the prospects are that much closer, or in some cases, that much farther away, from seeing their dream of playing in the NHL realized. With the new ranking based on the 2002-03 season in place, the progress reports on prospects now ranked #1 through #10 by the Stars’ editors of Hockey’s Future can be presented. For comprehensive statistics, please consult the recent statisics article.

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Steve Ott

C

1

1

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Steve Ott’s first professional year was a mix of promise and frustration. Coming into the year with high expectations, Ott had a solid training camp and pushed hard for a roster spot with the Stars with his tenacity and offensive promise. In the end, however, Ott was surpassed by an older prospect, the Stars’ stellar rookie Niko Kapanen. Thus, Ott’s professional career began with the Utah Grizzlies of the AHL. There the young pest did not really live up to expectations as he had a tendency to take dumb penalties, and his offensive production was not near that expected. Still, the Stars organization remained high on the first round pick, and when injuries decimated depth players, Ott was given a chance to play in the NHL. He was tentative at first, but by the end of that stay he had begun to adjust, even scoring a goal in the final game of that stint. Returning to Utah, Ott’s play improved from earlier in the year but was still not all that impressive. Again, injuries gave Ott a chance in the NHL when high-dollar forward Bill Guerin suffered his thigh contusion. In this stay, which turned out to be through the end of the playoffs, Ott looked far more comfortable. He produced very well for his ice time, earning limited time with some of the Stars’ higher profile players, and above anything, he brought energy, desire, and grit. Despite his reputation for ill-timed penalties, they were not there in his play this year with Dallas, even managing to goad opposing players into taking some. With him sticking around to the end, an opening-day roster spot for this agitator seems nearly guaranteed for the upcoming season. If he is not on the roster, given his play this year, it cannot be too far behind. Hopefully, he will be able to stick and continue to progress with the big club next year.

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Antti MiettinenLW24Up 2 positions

Arguably the Stars’ most talented prospect overall, Finnish superstar Antti Miettinen had yet another excellent season in Finland’s SM-Liiga. In fact, if it were not known that Ott is so close to sticking with Dallas, he could even be #1 on this ranking. Powered by two strong lines, HPK was a dominant regular season team, but Miettinen stood out the most even though he did not lead his team in scoring. After a slow start, Miettinen came on to still contend for the point title, playing his brand of fine all-around hockey. In December particularly, Miettinen was on fire scoring 10 of his 25 goals in the regular season, earning player of the month honors. In this case, Miettinen showed the one thing that may be worrisome, a hint of streakiness. However, over the balance of the season, Miettinen was seen as the best overall player by the league and fellow players, winning each honor quite handily. The Lasse Oksanen trophy awarded by the league had only twice before been given to players near Miettinen’s age, those being Montreal captain Saku Koivu and Florida goaltender Jani Hurme. Additionally, the player vote naming Miettinen the best player was among the most lopsided in the history of the award. Apparently, Miettinen has already earned the respect of the players in Finland with his balance of skill, smarts, strength, and attitude. His willingness to hit got him into trouble in the playoffs, where he was suspended for a kneeing incident, but he still compiled respectable numbers for his team, which finished third. After the Finnish season was over, Miettinen was invited to compete for Finland’s World Championship team. However, the team was quite heavy with NHL talent this go around, and Miettinen saw very limited minutes, recording only one point in 8 games. With two very good seasons under his belt, this late round pick may be on his way to North American shores in 2003-04. He has little left to prove in Finland, and his talent would be welcomed in the relatively weak Dallas system.

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Jason
Bacashihua
G33No change

One thing is certain about young goalie Jason Bacashihua. He is not ready for the NHL yet. He has tons of promise, but at the moment that is clouded by his high level of inconsistency. He did show off some of his assets in this pro first season, namely his reflexes, in day-to-day action for the Utah Grizzlies. Also, in his one game in the playoffs, he did a good job keeping the Grizzlies close before they finally lost to Wilkes-Barre. Thus, the bright spot is that there is a good foundation with his physical attributes and big game mentality. However, the downside is the maddening level of inconsistency reflected in his rather average goaltending numbers for Utah in the regular season. Plus, his technique needs some improvement. The technique should come in time, but for “Cash” to succeed, he must get his mind in gear and compete hard every game, and work just as hard between games to keep his edge. Right now, how well Bacashihua will fare in the NHL is in his hands. He is a reach to become a new incarnation of his idol Ed Belfour, but he might become like the Canucks’ Dan Cloutier. Yet, if he cannot expunge the wild swings from his game, he will be lucky to reach that level. The next year will be key for Cash because if he finds his groove, he could be right behind Marty Turco in 2004-05.

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Trevor DaleyD46

Up 2 positions

Despite putting up good numbers as the captain for Sault St. Marie, Trevor Daley had an incredibly rough year. On the good side, the slick skating defenseman managed to post 20 goals in the regular season for SSM, making him one of three defensemen in the OHL to do so this season. He also hovered around averaging a point per game during the regular season. More amazing was that the short, but stocky, defenseman posted over a hundred penalty minutes, showing he is not afraid to play the body and get a little dirty. All that looks very good, but it was the things away from the ice that made Daley’s season difficult. First, Daley was invited to the development camp for team Canada’s WJC squad and stuck around until the end, only to be among the final cuts in what was his last chance to compete. Daley was a tad disappointed, but played extremely well for SSM in the games following his cut. Still, he had hopes of making the team, but just fell short in the end. Next came the incident where then coach John Vanbiesbrouck used a racial slur to describe the defenseman. This resulted in Daley taking a brief hiatus from his team before returning after Vanbiesbrouck stepped down as coach. The final straw came in the playoffs, where a knee injury in game 1 of his team’s only series forced him out of the playoffs entirely. Still, the fact remains that he was close to making the Stars this year due to a Philippe Boucher injury. Providing that his knee or the hardship he suffered do not affect him adversely, Daley might be able to find a way onto the opening roster if summer moves allow it. Otherwise, he will probably step into a big role for Utah next season.

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Joel
Lundqvist
C55No change

Among the most talented prospects in Sweden, Joel Lundqvist enhanced his status among the Stars top prospects with an all-around very good year. In the regular season, Lundqvist started to shed his image as a hard worker whose offense came only part of the time. The young center became a more consistent threat all-around. He started to shoot more and thus score more while also displaying good vision and enough mean, physical play to make him a player to watch out for at all times. Though he played well all season, he was more dominant in stretches, like in the early season. He was among the point leaders then, but gradually the veterans came on to fill out the leader board. For a player of his age, however, his numbers were quite good. His play earned him some play with the Swedish national team where he did very little, but the honor was still a nice one. For a spell, it looked as if Lundqvist was going to be completely silent in the playoffs as he started the early series with little production. But once he found his touch, he was again among his team’s scoring leaders and key players. His team eventually put everything together and went on the win the SEL League championship. Altogether, this year was one of nice progress for the Lundqvist. He could still add some more muscle to his frame and make improvements in his game, like face offs and a bit more consistency, however. It might be in his interest to stay in Sweden at least one more year to work on things, but he would be welcomed in North America if signed.

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John ErskineD62Down 4 positions

John Erskine is now starting to see the problem that depth can pose. Much like defensemen Ric Jackman and Brad Lukowich before him, Erskine is stuck behind a deep defensive unit and seeing limited minutes whenever he does play. This summer may be just the thing Erskine needs to finally stick though. With a tight budget and both Derian Hatcher and Richard Matvichuk needing to be resigned, it is completely possible that one of those two does not return for the next season with the Stars. If this does happen, there is no better candidate than Erskine to step in to replace the physical presence provided by either one of those two. While Erskine will probably be limited in offense to less than that of Matvichuk’s average production at best, his game is more one of punishing hits, intimidation, and defense. He does get a bit over-emotional at times and still needs some refinement in his coverage though it has vastly improved since his entry into the NHL. Erskine is a good team guy and learns quickly, so in time he should fit in, provided he gets the chance.

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Martin VagnerD79Up 2 positions

When he was drafted, Martin Vagner was a good skating defensive defenseman with decent offensive upside. This year has seemed to change that completely for whatever reason. During the regular season, Vagner suffered a massive loss of confidence, and this killed any chance he had at making the Czech Republic’s WJC team. However, when he emerged back out of his shell into a player that could have an impact on a game, it was a completely different one. His offensive game withered, but his physical game was much stronger than before. Often, Vagner had been criticized for not being physical enough due to his size. Now, it seems not to be as much of an issue, but the disappearance of his offense is a different problem. Perhaps he will be able to find his touch again next year to go along with the physical presence he has developed. Vagner has also had the tendency to get frustrated this season and take some untimely penalties. Still, he turned his season around for the playoff run and has helped his team to a long playoff run. All around, this season has been a disappointment for the first round pick. First, Daley passes him on the charts at camp, and then he goes through mighty struggles for the bulk of his season. In spite of everything, Vagner’s potential still remains very high, it just remains to be seen exactly what type of player he will be.

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Jussi
Jokinen
LW/C87Down 1 position

Jussi Jokinen was one of the year’s biggest success stories. Given his age, he had a very good level of production in the Finnish SM-Liiga. For most of the regular season, he played on what was essentially the team’s second line. This year, his game had more of a playmaking flavor than the past season, showing that he was a more versatile player than may have been previously thought. He has very good hockey sense and a knack for scoring as evidenced by his 6 goal output for Finland at the WJCs. Last year, Jokinen was very much a straight line player, but with the boosted confidence, he showed much more of his range of skills, especially stickhandling. His versatility is not just in skills but also position. Generally a LW, Jokinen played C for both Finland in the WJCs and his SM-Liiga team in the playoffs. He won many key draws for Finland in the WJCs, so this is an additional bonus to his game. In the playoffs, Jokinen played primarily on the fourth line, and his production dropped as a result. This did show a willingness to fit in with his team, however, and the team had success, as it was the runner up to the championship. A little more progression is probably necessary before he comes to North America, but Jokinen does have talent that cannot be taught. If he can add some muscle to his body to go with his innate talent, there is a chance he could make it to the NHL, potentially in a scoring role.

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Mathias TjärnqvistRW912Up 3 positions

Probably the biggest story in the Stars’ system this year is Mathias Tjärnqvist. A couple of years ago, he attended camp, and coach Ken Hitchcock raved about him. He returned to Sweden and had a decent year, but when the next year started misfortune struck. He came down with a severe case of mononucleosis, limiting his play to only 6 games for that season. After the disease passed, he trained diligently and got back into game shape for this season, when he had terrible luck again. This time, he had to have an emergency appendectomy. It just seemed as if he were cursed. Then, when Tjärnqvist returned to the lineup, he immediately landed on the top line of his club. A two-way player who likes to get down and dirty, Tjärnqvist matched his career high in points in fewer games, and he continued his solid play in the playoffs as well. That play got him noticed, and he was invited to the tryouts for Sweden’s WC team. Apparently, they liked his effort as he was selected to represent Sweden. As Sweden’s team became set with NHLers returning, Tjärnqvist found himself lining up with superstar Peter Forsberg and rookie Henrik Zetterberg. He meshed rather well with these two, but he still did not record many points. This had to be a pleasant experience for the young winger who has suffered so much hardship nonetheless. Because of his age, Tjärnqvist might be on the list of European prospects that the Stars would consider bringing over from Europe. His size and physical two-way style of game make him well suited for the NHL, and if he is signed, he could probably compete for a roster spot.

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Yared HagosC1011Up 1 position

Another Swede who had a solid season was Yared Hagos. At the moment, Hagos proves to be more of a smothering defensive forward with a bit of offensive pop. He plays a very responsible game and is a natural leader. He tends to pass more than shoot, but he has good vision. Yet, his greatest asset is size, already being around 6’1” and 205 lbs. Hagos had a decent year number wise in the second tier of the Swedish system, where he had to play because his team was demoted from the Swedish Elite League the year before. At the WJCs, Hagos was a leader for Sweden and a strong defensive presence. Thus, Hagos’ true worth tends not to show up on score sheets. He is one of those guys that any team needs to succeed. Next year, Hagos will return to the SEL with a little more experience under his belt. With the increased competition, his numbers may drop some, but again, he likely will be a depth player that is an important player on defense and chips in offense when he can. While he is not likely to ever become an offensive dynamo, he could become a defensive forward capable of shutting down the NHL’s more physical forwards in time.

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