Stars WJC preview

By Geoffrey Ussery

The month of December is an intriguing one for
prospects as there are several international events, most notably the World U-20 Championships. The Stars have placed representatives in three
separate World U-20 Championships, the Baltica Brewery Cup, and the Lotto Cup in
Slovakia. However, as has been the case for much of this year, injuries have
figured prominently in Stars prospect news.

More Injury News


The injury woes in the Stars prospect system continue to
grow. The most glaring loss is that of talented goalie prospect Tobias
Stephan
, who was expected to be Switzerland’s starter for the World U-20 Championships
based on his strong season in the Swiss Nationalliga A. In his play in the
professional league, Stephan suffered a hip injury that eventually forced him
into surgery to repair the damage. He is expected to need six months to rehab, so his competition in the remaining Nationalliga A season and
any international competition, including the WJC, are out of the question.

Another injury to a prominent prospect occurred before the
Stephan injury. In Utah’s December 3rd game against Houston, Antti Miettinen
was blindsided by Jan Vodrazka and suffered a separated shoulder in the
collision. He was expected to miss four to six weeks from the time of the
injury, so he could conceivably be returning to action for the Grizzlies in a
couple of weeks. Still, Miettinen was knocked out of AHL play after only seven
games in which he produced three goals and three assists.

Not all the news is grim, however. After sitting out since
May, Janos Vas made his return to hockey in early December. He first
played two games for the junior team of the MIF Redhawks before moving up to
the SEL team for a single game. After that, he joined up with Team Hungary for
the World U-20 Championships, Division IB. It appears that his knee is not
really affecting his play since his return, but he will need time to work
himself back into a playing rhythm.

World U20 Championships Preview


The Stars have two players on the Czech Republic team. One
of the players is recent second round draft pick Vojtech Polak, who is
expected to be a key cog in the Czech’s offense. Though Polak has not put up inspiring numbers in the Extraliga this year for Karlovy Vary, he has
not been playing in a huge role for the senior club. In international junior
tournaments for the Czech Republic, Polak has consistently been one of the most
dangerous offensive players for the Czech Republic and this is not expected to
change. The other player skating for the Czech Republic is 2002 first round
pick Martin Vagner. After being completely passed over for last year’s
tournament, Vagner has most likely gotten himself a spot because of his strong
playoffs last year and good start to this season before his shoulder injury in
October.

The Stars also continue their tradition of placing a player
on the Finnish national team. This year, center Jarkko A. Immonen will
be the lone representative on the Finnish squad. A talented, two-way center
that has been dominant at the junior level this year, Immonen will probably
center Finland’s second line, and his production will likely be very important
if the Finns are to succeed at this tournament.

For Sweden, the Stars have a player in Loui Eriksson
who is essential to Sweden’s relatively slim medal hopes. Eriksson has
continually been a key offensive player for Sweden in international
competition, and that has to continue in this tournament to help out the
Swedes. His speed, work ethic, and talent have shone at times, and this could
be quite the coming out party for what some have viewed as a risky pick.

Reviews of Division I World U-20 Championships


In addition to the main WJC, the Stars had a player at each
of the two recent Division I World U-20 Championships. Janos Vas competed for
Hungary in the IA pool, and Marius Holtet played for Norway in the IB
pool.

In the IA pool, Vas was probably the most important player
for a severely outmatched Team Hungary. In the five games of the tournament,
Hungary was outscored 46 to 8 in five losses. Vas, only recently back from
his injury, did not manage a goal, but he did post four assists. He is playing
the same physical style he did before his injury as well, earning 18 penalty
minutes in the tournament. His four assists placed him second on the team in
scoring, and his 18 penalty minutes co-led the team. Even though his team was
destroyed on the scoreboard, Vas finished the tournament with a –1 plus-minus
rating.

Just like Vas, Holtet was viewed as a key player for Norway
as the IB pool play started. He started off with a huge bang, scoring four
goals and adding an assist for Norway in their first game of the tournament.
His production dropped significantly after that as he managed only another goal
and two assists in the final four games for Norway. Norway finished second in
the pool behind Belarus. Despite the inconsistency in production, Holtet’s
talent and high-energy, physical game drew considerable attention from NHL
scouts in attendance. In the end, Holtet finished with five goals and three
assists to go with ten penalty minutes and a +6 plus-minus rating.

Baltica Brewery Cup and Lotto Cup Reviews


In the Baltica Brewery Cup, a four nations EuroTour event
featuring Russia, Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic, two Stars prospects
competed for Team Sweden. Yared Hagos made his first appearance for the
Swedish national team, and Joel Lundqvist was a late addition as a
replacement for injury. Hagos had the more outstanding tournament of the two.
He was used primarily as a defensive forward, playing in a checking role and on
the penalty kill and excelled. His strength and physical play were great assets
along the boards and in traffic. Though he did not score, he did finish the
tournament with a +1 rating and two penalty minutes. To contrast, Lundqvist has
been expected to be an offensive asset in all his appearances with the national
team, but he has been mostly invisible. In this tournament that continued,
though he at least managed to bring a physical presence. Lundqvist again
finished pointless but had a +1 rating and four penalty minutes. Lundqvist’s
performance this year continues to be disappointing after his strong season
last year.

At the Lotto Cup in Slovakia, goaltender Mike Smith
was invited to join Team Canada. He was the secondary goaltender for the
tournament, but in the game he started for Canada against Austria, Smith made
31 saves on 32 shots and was named player of the game for Canada in his 4-1
win.

Strong AHL Start for Ellis


Smith was not the Stars goaltending prospect who made some
noise recently. With Smith in Slovakia and Jason Bacashihua in Dallas
while Ron Tugnutt nurses an injured knee, Dan Ellis started back-to-back
games for the Grizzlies. His AHL debut was especially impressive as he recorded
47 saves in a 6-0 shutout victory over the Manchester Monarchs. The following
evening, Ellis again faced the Monarchs, but this time he did not come out with
a victory. In the second game, Ellis saves 30 of 33 shots in a 3-2 overtime
loss. This gives Ellis a goals against average of 1.45 and a save percentage of
0.963 after his two AHL starts.

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