Stars prospect camp report

By Geoffrey Ussery

The Dallas Stars
prospect
camp was held for six days from July 22 to July 27 in Dallas. In attendance were a
good
number of prospects from overseas, especially Finland, as well as most of
the
Stars prospects playing in North America. There were also some veteran
players
and players from the local NAHL team, the Texas Tornado, on hand. The camp
opened with a focus on skill-oriented drills for the skaters and work on
technique and positioning for the goaltenders. Some more competition-style
drills were spaced throughout the camp, such as two-on-two play restricted
to
one zone of the ice.

After five days of
intensive
drills, the players on hand for the Stars prospect camp finally got a chance
for
a bit more competition. Split into Team White and Team Black, the players
went
at one another for two periods of unconventional hockey. The first period
was
played three-on-three, and the second period was played
four-on-four.

Team Black consisted
mostly
of the Stars higher quality and more experienced prospects. In goal for Team
Black was large Swiss goaltender Tobias Stephan. The blue line was
anchored by top prospects Trevor Daley from Sault St. Marie of the
OHL
and Martin Vagner from Hull of the QMJHL. There was also a defenseman
from the Texas Tornado on Team Black. The prominent forward skaters were top
prospects Steve Ott and Antti Miettinen from HPK in Finland.
From
Dallas’s AHL affiliate, the Utah Grizzlies, came Jeff Bateman,
Justin
Cox
, Brett Draney, and Barrett Heisten. 2003 second round
pick
Brandon Crombeen and Tuomas Mikkonen from JYP in Finland
skated
for Team Black as well. 

Team White had a few
notable
prospects as well, and this team contained current Star Aaron Downey. On the
blue line for Team White were Utah defenseman Dan Jancevski and 2003
eighth round Finnish draftee Niko Vainio. The forward corps was based
on
several players from Europe, specifically center Yared Hagos from
Timrå
in Sweden, Jussi Jokinen from Kärpät in Finland, and Marius
Holtet

from Bofors in Sweden. Other Stars prospects among the forwards were
recently
signed Moose Jaw left wing David Bararuk and 2003 sixth round pick
Francis
Wathier
from Hull of the QMJHL. The remainder of the team was composed
by
minor leaguer Mike Sgroi and a few players from the Texas Tornado, including
the
goaltender.

At the end of the game,
Team
Black had skated to a 9-6 victory. Team White held a 5-4 lead after the
first
frame, but Team Black outscored its opponents by a margin of 5 to 1 in the
second frame. Unofficial scoring for each team follows in the tables at the
end
of the article. Players are only mentioned if they recorded a
point.

Over the balance of the
camp, Hagos was the most outstanding player. He flourished in the drills and
had
a very strong showing in the scrimmage. For a player that stands at
6’1"
and weighs 205 lbs, Hagos showed very quick feet, giving him remarkable
agility, acceleration, and speed. His puck control was good, though
sometimes in
attempts to make flashy moves he would lose his handle on the puck. Hagos
was
consistently among the players giving the most effort and to good effect. He
was
very solid defensively and quite dominant physically. He displayed crisp
passing
and a good shot among his offensive talents. In the scrimmage, this
well-rounded
package helped him to stand out from the other players on his team even if
he
did not lead them in scoring. Overall, it was an excellent showing for the
large
Swede.

The other forwards that
shone at the camp were Jokinen and Heisten. Jokinen was very good in
all
the events from the skill-based drills to the scrimmage. His puck control
was
very smooth, and he was excellent on offense. He was able to get shots off
seemingly at will and showed good power and accuracy with his shot.
Jokinen’s
passing was also noticeable, but he was a far better sniper. He worked hard
and
was reliable on defense, so much so that he frequently played on the back
end
during the scrimmage. Heisten was a bit of a surprise despite being a former
first round pick. During the skill-based drills, Heisten did not appear to
be
the most skilled individual, but all around, his talents were respectable.
Whenever a bit of competition was involved, however, Heisten stood out. He
appeared very driven and was putting in a tremendous amount of effort to be
the
best. He managed just that in the scrimmage, where he was the top scorer.
While
no one particular thing stood out about Heisten’s game, he did put
everything
together in a package that made him among the best in competition.
Hopefully, he
can carry this on and improve on last season. 

Unlike Jokinen, who was
reliable at both ends, Holtet exhibited dazzling offensive talent but had
lapses
in his defensive coverage. During the drills, Holtet was among the most
visible
players because of his high-tempo, skilled game and outstanding shot and
release. His skating was also quite good, and he was making moves at high
speed.
During the scrimmage, however, Holtet shirked his defensive
responsibilities,
and as a result, he was nearly invisible since he hardly left his
zone.  

Top forward prospects
Ott
and Miettinen were also noticeable at the camp. Ott seemed to be everywhere
at
once, bringing his trademark kinetic style to the camp. He was giving it his
all
and was often the first player to complete the drills. While he did not have
the
success of some of his counterparts, Ott was still impressive. He displayed
his
good package of skill and energy in both the drills and the scrimmage. If he
did
not seem to be fighting the puck at times, he probably would have stood out
more. In the scrimmage, Ott probably missed three or four chances he
normally
would have buried. In stark contrast to Ott’s style of play, Miettinen was
impressive because of his relaxed style. His game just seems to flow
naturally.
Miettinen was not left behind on the skill drills, but he did not have one
particular skill that was significantly better than the others were. He does
not
really do anything flashy, but the mistakes were rare. Miettinen was usually
in
perfect position and seemed to have no problem gaining or retaining control
of
the puck. His offensive skill was admirable in all facets, but he does not
look
like a true playmaker or sniper. Overall, Miettinen appeared a very well-rounded player, and it was hard to tell if he was even trying since his game
was
so smooth.

Recent picks Crombeen
and
Wathier were on different ends of the spectrum regarding their skills.
Crombeen may have been a reach in the second round of the 2003 draft, but he did show nice
fundamentals.
His straight-line speed, shot, and work ethic were terrific. His play along
the
boards and defensive coverage were also things that stood out. However,
Crombeen
does need significant work on his agility and puck control. In the
scrimmage,
Crombeen was among the best players since he drove the net and used his shot
to
great success. It is way too early to tell if he will ever be anything in
the
NHL, but he should be one to keep an eye on. Wathier was a different matter
entirely. He is an extremely raw player whose real upside appears to be that
of
a crash and bang player on the lower lines. He did not appear significantly
skilled, nor were any aspects of his game outstanding, except for his
effectiveness when playing in traffic. 

The remaining forwards,
most
of who will be playing in Utah this year, all had rather average camps with
some
outstanding moments. From Utah, Bateman, Draney, and Cox all have made
strides
since last year, but their talents at this point are still better tailored
for
the AHL, especially when the Stars depth is considered. Making the team will
probably be difficult for these guys, but their enthusiasm was contagious. They
gave everything they had. Bararuk
appeared to have put on some bulk from last year, but he did not appear as
dynamic an offensive player, perhaps because he bulked up. He is a one who
will
probably benefit from some playing time in the minors. The last forward from
Europe, Mikkonen looks like an intriguing pick. Overall, he did not stand
out,
but there were moments where he looked like he had another level. With the
Stars
system the way it is, there should be ample time for him to play in Europe
to
see if that is true.

On the back end, both
Trevor
Daley and Martin Vagner were flying. Daley was perhaps the most gifted
player
offensively at the camp. Certainly, his speed and agility were unmatched by
any
in attendance. That he was able to keep the puck under control at full
flight was impressive. Once in the offensive zone, he was more of a shooter
than
a passer, but he does have excellent vision to go with a great shot. His
defensive coverage is improved a little over what he showed last year, but
it
still is not really NHL level. Though he will push hard for a spot at camp,
time
in the AHL may help with this. Oddly, Vagner, another defenseman, was the
closest to matching Daley’s speed. Vagner had a tough year, but there still
looks to be a ton of promise. His main problems at the camp were his gap
control
and puck control. He can rush the puck, but he cannot hold on to the puck
like
Daley can. He is more suited to being a first pass defenseman who jumps into
the
play. His physical play was up a notch from the year before, and he still
had
the same good shot. Hopefully, he starts to use it more because it could
only
add to his game. Likely, his problems are mostly mental, and if he can
resolve
them, who knows how good he could be.

While not to the level
of
Daley or Vagner, Jancevski had a very good showing as well. Jancevski’s main
issue is a lack of straight-line speed. Once a player is by him, they are
gone.
However, his lateral movement is much better since he was able to keep up
with
Daley going one-on-one. Able to handle opposing players physically or with
positioning, Jancevski looked very solid in his own zone. Once he managed to
get
into the offensive zone, he also showed a very hard slap shot that managed
to
find the net a few times.  John
Erskine
, who is from the same mold of defensemen as Jancevski, attended for a few days of the camp, but did not compete in the scrimmage.
He
was not spectacular, but the no-frills way that he got things done made him
appear to be more NHL-ready than the other defensemen present. He was there
more
for a tune-up than actual competition.

The last Stars defensive
prospect in attendance was young Finn Vainio. That he managed to produce in
the
scrimmage was somewhat surprising since he was not that great in the drills.
He
was very raw and awkward-looking. A lot of this probably has to do with his
extremely lanky body, being 6’1" and only 180 lbs. At times, he was
nearly
falling over himself, and this showed itself most in his puck control. His
defensive coverage was poor, and he was often being beaten to the outside.
The
one shining hope was in his skating, which was very smooth. He will
definitely
need development time in Finland before a better assessment of his potential
can
be made. That he was willing to come over so soon, however, says a bit about
his
aspirations.

The only Stars goalie
prospect on hand was Stephan. His height made him stand out quite a bit
since
few of the skaters approached or matched it. Bent at the waist, his back was
even with the crossbar. Being a big goalie, it would be expected that his
agility may suffer, but that was not the case with Stephan. His lateral
mobility
was excellent. Couple that with his size, and he was nearly impossible to
beat
low once he was down. Stephan appeared to be quite adept with his glove hand
though he was rarely tested there. He also showed proficiency with his poke
check. Perhaps his biggest asset was his calmness; even after allowing what
could be considered a weak goal, he rarely seemed ruffled. The one big
problem
in his game was a tendency to allow goals through his five-hole. He had
issues
with his angles as well, but that is somewhat expected since he is used to a
different ice surface. 

The camp really was a
great
learning experience for those involved. It gave the North American players a
little more focus on improving skills while giving the European players a
taste
of the North American style of play. Hopefully, all the players involved can
make this have a positive impact on their games.

Prospect News and
Notes

In the month since the
draft, some changes have come in the Stars system. The most notable changes
are
the additions of SM-Liiga regular season MVP Antti Miettinen and Swedish
forward
Mathias Tjärnqvist to the North American ranks. Both will be in training
camp
with the Stars and should make the race for the final few spots on the Stars
roster all that more interesting. Miettinen signed a two-year contract and
is
willing to work his way through the AHL ranks if necessary. Tjärnqvist
signed a
one-year contract and is now working out in Sweden with his former team. In
this
same line, defenseman John Erskine was recently re-signed to a one-year
contract.

In
addition, recent third round draft pick Matt Nickerson has had a
change
of plans. The huge defenseman has opted to enroll at Clarkson rather than
the
University of Michigan since Clarkson is offering Nickerson more playing
time
and a larger scholarship. He should have an important role on the team from
the
outset and could end up playing against the opposition’s top forwards like
Dartmouth’s Hugh Jessiman

Scrimmage Scoring

Team Black 

PlayerGAP

Barrett
Heisten
235
Brandon
Crombeen
213
Justin
Cox
202
Trevor
Daley
112
Martin
Vagner
022
Brett
Draney
101
Unknown Tornado
Defenseman
101
Antti
Miettinen
011
Tuomas
Mikkonen
011
Steve
Ott
011

Team White 

PlayerGAP

Mike Sgroi213
Niko Vainio123
Aaron Downey202
Yared Hagos112
Marius Holtet011
Dan Jancevski011