It was a disappointing season for the Dallas Stars as they failed to qualify for the postseason despite winning 42 games over the course of the National Hockey League's 82-game docket.
Moreover, a new coach in the AHL caused an abrupt upheaval in tactics and resulted in the Texas Stars finishing last in the Western Conference by a sizable margin and posted the second worst record in the entire league. Further down the ladder in Idaho, the Steelheads were the only sub-.500 team in the ECHL to qualify for the Kelly Cup Playoffs and were dispatched by Las Vegas in the second round after a closely fought series. Outside of the organization, few prospects were privileged to compete in long playoff runs.
In the OHL, the Niagara IceDogs stocked up talent and made a push for the OHL Championship and a chance to compete in the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
Among their grandiose acquisitions, Stars prospects' Jamie Oleksiak and Brett Ritchie paid dividends early and often. Niagara went 12-3 against Eastern Conference foes Oshawa, Brampton and Ottawa before losing the J. Ross Robertson Cup to the London Knights. Ritchie, though knocked down a depth chart peg from his previous stomping grounds in Sarnia, played some of the best hockey of his young career. He tallied three goals and 11 points in 20 playoff games and played the game like a man on fire. An effective forecheck game wrapped in increased physical stylings showed a side of Ritchie that had only been seen in spotty flashes previously. The test will be whether he can bring the same consistent effort to the rink every night during the next regular season as a focal point of the opposition.
After managing 21 points in 28 games, Jamie Oleksiak's point production dropped significantly in the playoffs, where he posted only four assists in 20 games. Offensively, it's been a bit of a struggle for Oleksiak at times, as he doesn't possess a ton of confidence with the puck when forecheckers are buzzing around him in his own zone. His defensive game exhibits positional integrity regularly and his long reach can keep attackers at bay with relative ease. At 6-7, one would expect more in the way of truculence, but Oleksiak is predominantly docile, even in post-whistle shenanigans. It doesn't appear as if anyone can generate much of a rise in Oleksiak – at least not regularly – but on the flip side, he plays a clean and efficient game. He only took two minor penalties in the entire OHL playoffs – both stick fouls.
Saddled with the hopes of the Miami University hockey program, Reilly Smith delivered all season long and into the postseason. In the CCHA tournament, the Redhawks participated in four games, including a victory in the third place game. Smith notched ten points in those four contests including both goals in their 6-2 defeat at the hands of eventual champion Western Michigan. Unfortunately for Smith and the Redhawks, he couldn't find much more than shin pads in the first round of the NCAA Tournament versus UMass-Lowell and Miami was ousted early in overtime, 4-3. Though abbreviated, Smith had an impressive explosion in his final collegiate games. He signed with the Stars late in March and played in a few NHL games before the regular season ended.
Alex Chiasson, amid the turbulent atmosphere of the Boston University hockey team, also had a quality playoff run though not quite as deep as he would have liked. In the quarterfinals, he scored five points against New Hampshire in a series that went the distance – and then some. Chiasson potted the double-overtime clincher in game three of the series to advance the Terriers to the next round. Though they would lose to Maine in the Hockey East semifinals and Minnesota in the NCAA Tournament, it wasn't for Chiasson's lack of effort. He was a standout in all of the games and earned an entry-level contract from the Stars in the process.
While the numbers don't necessarily suggest it, Patrik Nemeth was a big help to AIK before they were bounced in the seventh and deciding game of the semi-finals against Skellefteå. Nemeth notched just one assist in 11 playoff games (not a stark contrast to his three assists in 46 regular season games) but saw a noteworthy boost in ice-time and slid up the depth chart in a time when most junior-aged players might slide down. Physical and sound defensively, Nemeth was even throughout the playoffs and last month he inked his first NHL contract.
Many prospects, as previously noted, failed to qualify for the playoffs when both Dallas and Texas didn't make the cut. A couple of prospects made deep runs but were not overly significant factors in their respective teams' success such as John Klingberg of Elitserien runner-up Skellefteå or Alex Guptill who was held in check in Ann Arbor. In juniors, Matej Stransky and his Saskatoon Blades were swept by Alex Theriau's Medicine Hat Tigers who, in turn, were swept in the next round. Troy Vance's Victoriaville Tigres were swept out of the first round by perennial struggler Baie-Comeau. Meanwhile, Jyrki Jokipakka kept Ilves from being relegated in the SM-Liiga A.
Texas-native Austin Smith, after a remarkable year at Colgate, signed a two-year entry-level deal. Matej Stransky, a WHL breakout player and puck-possessing Czech forward, signed a three-year deal with Dallas in early April. John Klingberg signed his three-year agreement, but will remain in Europe for another season before coming over as he isn't physically ready to handle the rigors of the North American game quite yet.