Draft success leads to quality and depth in Dallas Stars’ system

By Mike Farkas

Cody Eakin - Washington Capitals

Photo: The off-season acquisition of center prospect Cody Eakin, pictured here with the Washington Capitals, strengthened the the Dallas Stars' organizational depth down the middle. (courtesy of Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon SMI)

 
After a series of very promising drafts, the Dallas Stars prospect pipeline is glowing radiantly as hockey seasons across the Northern Hemisphere begin to get their respective sea legs before the ponds freeze over this winter. Still lacking a stable full of blue-chip stallions, the club from Dallas can trot out an impressive lineup of high quality players at any position.

Their 2011 draft class saw every player earn an NHL contract within one year, which is not a plain feat by any means. The top two choices from 2010, Jack Campbell and Patrik Nemeth, are getting their feet wet in North American pro hockey and four out of five of the Stars’ picks from 2009 are set for major roles in the organization whether it is at the NHL or AHL level. The reinforcements are pouring in yearly for Dallas and if their sharp-eyed ways continue with the 2012 draft – a draft that saw them select five times in the top-75 picks and nine times in all – they could be in prime position to be a consistent force for years to come at the AHL and NHL level.

Left Wing

While the Stars have a number of versatile wingers at their disposal, in terms of pure left wingers, they are a little light in numbers. This prompted the organization to introduce a feisty, little piranha to the mix in the form of Antoine Roussel. Roussel, who will play for Texas (AHL), is in the mold of Steve Ott but more accurately compares to fellow prospect and free agent signing Mathieu Tousignant. Not a great fighter by any means, Roussel will drop the gloves and anything else it takes to stir the pot.

There’s a better fighter on the left side named Luke Gazdic who is still looking to grow as a player overall. Matt Fraser, also no stranger to the rough stuff, will hope to match his lofty goal scoring totals he set as a rookie in the AHL last year. Armed with a good shot and a solid frame, Fraser will be counted on to finish plays on a team that may be somewhat limited on offense.

Curtis McKenzie will finish out his senior season at Miami University with the hopes of capping his up-and-down collegiate career with an entry-level contract. Meanwhile, Alex Guptill blew the doors off the CCHA as a freshman in 2011-12 and will be expected to do even more in 2012-13 as he will need to account for a couple of notable graduations from Red Berenson’s Ann Arbor-based program.

Center

The organization made it a point to augment the center position as best it could during the offseason, making marked improvements. They acquired young two-way centerman Cody Eakin from Washington and drafted big, tough, Czech center Radek Faksa in the first round of the NHL Draft. Eakin is expected to spearhead the Texas offense under new head coach Willie Desjardins, while Faksa – the OHL’s top rookie scorer last year – will be looked to as an elite player in the Ontario circuit.

The Stars invested draft picks in three more natural centers in the 2012 Draft, though whether they end up remaining there throughout their respective development paths remains to be seen. Devin Shore, at times imposing, is always looking to slip finesse passes through the defense. Mike Winther is already a feared finisher at the WHL level and his one-timing ability on the power play is a sight to behold. Then the speedy Gemel Smith has a motor that just will not quit as he continues to work on his offensive skills, which are already noteworthy after his 60 points in 68 games at the OHL level last year.

Emil Molin hopes to become a bigger part of his pro team, Brynas of the Swedish Elite League, in 2012-13 as he has little left to prove at his country’s junior level. Scott Winkler, who did become a bigger part of his team’s offense last year, is still pursuing an entry-level contract from the Stars. The Norwegian forward spent much of last year at right wing for Colorado College and set career-highs in the process – the most notable of these: games played, 31. If Winkler can stay healthy, he can be a very good two-way player at the WCHA level.

Mathieu Tousignant has some added competition within the organization suddenly with the summer signing of Roussel, a transaction which was likely an indictment of Tousignant’s play last season. The agitating forward is looking to keep his head above water and earn his new coach’s respect early in the season to avoid watching games from the pressbox or being shipped to Idaho (ECHL). Tristan King is likely destined for another year at the ECHL level as he does not appear destined to become an NHL player.

Right Wing

The Stars boast an embarrassment of riches at the right wing position in their pipeline. Alex Chiasson, a playmaking winger from Quebec and Boston University, will turn pro this year and should quickly become a major part of the Texas offense. He already has pro size and once he adjusts to the speed of the game, it will not be long before he cracks the Dallas lineup. Reilly Smith, a veteran of three NHL games and three seasons at Miami University, is a noted finisher who readily finds open spaces in the defense. How quickly he will be able to make the adjustment to the professional level remains to be seen. The former Redhawk captain did need an adjustment period at the collegiate level before he took off and became an elite NCAA player.

Niagara IceDogs acquisition Brett Ritchie showed the impressive amount of potential he holds with his late season OHL push that put the league on notice of his abilities. Now, Niagara will count on him for a full season’s worth of goal scoring and give him the chance to become one of the finer players in the league. Though on a far weaker team out west, Matej Stransky will try to drag the Saskatoon Blades to the playoffs after he blew up for 81 points in 2011-12. Stransky, a Czech import, possesses similar characteristics with the aforementioned Ritchie in terms of finishing ability, puck protection, and board play. Another big-framed goal-scorer was selected in 2012 by Dallas by the name of Branden Troock. Troock is a project power forward that has a lot of room to improve still but must remain healthy to have any chance of maximizing his potential.

After a quality finish to his 2011-12 season, much-maligned prospect Scott Glennie embarks on a pivotal year in his development in Cedar Park. Unfortunately, Glennie has yet to differentiate himself from the pack in a positive way – quite the opposite in fact, as he has become the first to rent space in Willie Desjardins’ dog house. Austin Smith, who gained a lot of notoriety by leading the nation in goal scoring as a senior last year, will try to find a prominent role with Texas as he becomes a freshman all over again. Smith is very versatile and has some skill to spare, but how well he translates offensively to the pro circuit is a valid question.

Hard working, two-way forward Colton Sceviour is hoping that he will get a shot at an NHL training camp before too long. Sceviour, a tenured Texas Star, has played a fairly even brand of hockey despite the revolving door of coaches that have stood behind the bench in recent years.

Defense

Towers of power Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth headline the Texas Stars blueline in 2012-13. Both defensive players have different areas of their respective games to advance while likely seeing copious amounts of ice time. Nemeth, a physical, defensive standout, has shown the ability to carry the puck on a rare offensive foray or two and might be able to polish some untapped offensive savvy. Oleksiak is more of a gentle giant and will be encouraged to use his size and strength a lot more to eviscerate opponents. Conventional wisdom suggests that he may be brought along a little slower to allot him the time to fully round out his game so he can be an impact player at the NHL level when the time comes.

With a pro season already on his resume, Brenden Dillon returns to the Stars lineup in 2012-13 and will get a strong look from Dallas decision-makers should an NHL season be salvaged. Dillon is a positional defensive player that is not shy about physical contact and has drawn rave reviews for his composed nature as a youngster.

Over in Europe, former seventh-round pick Jyrki Jokipakka has been very impressive in the SM-liiga despite the team that he plays for. The chatter in many hockey circles is that the Stars may have plucked a steal from the prospect tree. While the Finnish defender’s ceiling is not earth shattering, he probably is not far off from being ready to take on NHL minutes if the portion size is small. Staying in Finland, 2012 draftee Esa Lindell has been no slouch himself. Early reports have him among the top of the pack in terms of ice time among junior-aged Finnish defensemen, which is a huge step for Lindell who had no SM-liiga experience coming into the year. He looks to be an odds-on favorite for national team duty at the World Junior Championships later this year.

A 2012 second-round pick, Ludvig Bystrom rejected an opportunity to join the Plymouth Whalers (OHL) over the summer and remained with MODO (SEL). The smooth skating defenseman will try to penetrate the MODO lineup as much as he can, but failing that, he will receive ample amounts of ice time at the J20 SuperElit level.

With Bystrom turning away a junior invite, the Stars have just one CHL defenseman and it is the formidable Troy Vance from Victoriaville (QMJHL). The hard-hitting defender will look to improve his offensive skill while polishing his steady defensive game before turning pro next season. Former QMJHL player Hubert Labrie will strive to become an AHL regular this year, while Jace Coyle will compete with him for the limited spots available on the blue line in Cedar Park.

Late draft pick Dmitry Sinitsyn has joined UMass-Lowell and is ready for game action after what effectively was a year off in 2011-12. Offensive defenseman John Klingberg is back in Sweden with Skelleftea but will not be back from hip surgery for another few weeks yet.

Goaltending

After a trying junior career, Jack Campbell is ready to turn the page on his hockey career and is set to become a fixture in the Texas Stars lineup for 2012-13. His main competition for starts is the recently-inked Christopher Nihlstorp, a 28-year-old netminder from Sweden. Campbell, the heir apparent to the Dallas crease, should be able to eventually wrestle the job away from the goalie who is just a few months away from being the oldest in the organization.

In other “wrestled away” news, Tyler Beskorowany has forfeited his place in the American League for the Nihlstorp/Campbell combination and is back in the ECHL. It is never good news to be heading back to the NHL’s Double-A affiliate at age 22, but if Beskorowany can restore his ECHL All-Star form of 2011, he may give the Stars’ brass something to think about this summer.a

Recent draft pick Henri Kiviaho is expected to feature prominently in the Finnish junior system, while undrafted signing Maxime Lagace has been outplayed by Antoine Bibeau initially out on Prince Edward Island which has sprung discussion that Lagace may be headed inland before he capsizes.

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