Dallas Stars minor league system well-stocked with young talent

By Mike Farkas
Matt Fraser - Texas Stars

Photo: After notching 37 tallies a season ago, Matt Fraser is again leading the Texas Stars in the goal-scoring department in 2012-13. (courtesy of John Rivera/Icon SMI)

 
Another season, another bench boss in Cedar Park, Texas, where the Dallas Stars top minor league affiliate hones its skills and patiently waits. On their third coach in as many seasons, some of the more seasoned Stars have seen a number of different looks, schemes, and systems while a talented group of rookies is learning the professional game for the first time. Past the quarter pole, the Stars seem more than competent. They stand second in the division and fifth in the tight Western Conference.

Former Dallas associate coach, Willie Desjardins, has brought a more defensive-minded scheme to the young Stars and is demanding a lot from his defensemen and centers especially. Their offense does not have a lot of zip to it, mainly relying on the cycle and creating off the wall – which actually suits a good amount of Stars prospects as luck would have it. Still, the Stars of 2012-13 will not be confused with the aggressive, firewagon team of last year under any circumstances. They are much more disciplined and cautious.

As one might expect, it is a bit crowded down there on the farm and the combination of AHL signings and NHL squabbles has pushed some prospects to the margins.

AHL

Matt Fraser, LW, 22

It was going to be very tough for Matt Fraser to match his rookie goal total of 37 this season, but he is still leading the club early on with 11 markers. His overall game is improving and so is his skating, which will make him a legitimate possibility for a call-up in the future. His stat sheet reads similar to that of a Cy Young Award winner, meaning that he is almost exclusively a trigger man. There is not a ton of dimension to Fraser’s game, but he is a competitor that is not afraid to be physical and is a noted marksman to boot.

Largely a second liner and power play player, Fraser is often balanced with a strong, defensively-conscious linemate or two for balance and safety. Colton Sceviour has been that guy recently, to be precise. The leader in club shots has adapted fairly well to the new system overall and is a quality prospect despite going undrafted as a junior.

Antoine Roussel, LW/C, 23

The French-born winger is about as well liked as his French-speaking predecessor Mathieu Tousignant was. Pest du jour Antoine Roussel makes a living out of being annoying and it is hard not to notice some of his antics on the rink. With that said, he puts himself and his team in too much hot water sometimes to be a net positive. He has been given 90 minutes of official-mandated vacation time through 31 games when no one else on the team is even at 50 yet. Sometimes his relentless style knocks the opponent off their game, other times it puts his team at an unnecessary disadvantage. A recent game against Oklahoma City saw Roussel direct the puck towards the opponent’s cage long after a whistle, putting his mates down two men while protecting a 2-0 lead in the third. He is rebellious without a cause too often.

Naturally a fourth liner, Roussel has found himself some ice time in this lineup despite his drawbacks. He can sneak on to special teams units sparingly as well, uncommon for a player of his reputation. With six goals and five assists already (surpassing his nine points last year in 61 games), Roussel, to his credit, is putting in some goals on a team that could use them.

Luke Gazdic, LW, 23

From the Erie Otters, Luke Gazdic is a fighter that sees regular time in the lineup. While he does not exactly have the skills to be a forward in the Ryan Malone mold like he had once hoped, Gazdic is a respected tough guy in the AHL ranks. His game is simple and not out of the ordinary for the job requirements of a brute. With a goal and a helper through 25 games this year, Gazdic has been subdued all over the score sheet and could be looking at career lows across the board.

As long as Gazdic keeps up his punishing ways both with and without gloves, he will keep his ahead well above water in quality leagues.

Cody Eakin, C, 21

A draft-day acquisition from the Washington Capitals, Cody Eakin has been the Stars best player so far this season. He is the engine that makes the team go offensively and defensively. His high energy style and attention to detail have been welcomed with open arms on a team that was hurting for center depth. He leads the team in assists (11), points (21), plus/minus (plus-10), shorthanded goals (2) and he is second in shots on goal. He plays in every situation, takes important faceoffs and given the style of play Texas employs, a lot is asked of Eakin from goal line to goal line and he handles it all with refined style.

A heady, two-way forward that brings a lot of net positives to a roster, Eakin has freshened up a group of centers that were inching along or idling in place at the pro level. The Winnipeg native makes it fairly obvious that he has been to the big show and should be first in line to return to it when the doors open again.

Reilly Smith, LW/RW, 21

Right around the time Americans were sitting down to Thanksgiving dinners, Reilly Smith had just meager portions on his statistical plate. Goalless in his first 16 contests, plus three more from his brief stint with Dallas in 2012, Smith was in some kind of slump. Finally in late November, Smith snapped his funk and has not looked back. Now looking a lot more like the prospect that lit up the NCAA circuit for 30 goals last season, Smith has 10 goals in his last 15 games and is tied for second on the team in goals.

The Toronto native is primarily used on the left side now with Cody Eakin and, recently, Alex Chiasson on the Texas top line and they have worked out quite nicely. With Eakin especially, he has been terrific. They both have good speed and while they are both more likely to finish a play than create it, they have meshed exceptionally well. The 6'1 winger is not a rugged customer, in fact, he still looks rather thin on the ice, but he has the talent and the shot to be a high quality player now and in the future.

Alex Chiasson, RW, 22

First-year pro Alex Chiasson is steadily working his way into the coaching staff’s good graces as 2012 winds down. The college-product started out in more of a depth role and was even scratched at a point, but he has been steadily improving his game and now can be found working the top lines. He is a big winger that does good work along the boards, though he still has not developed to the point that he is overpowering anyone yet. He is a complimentary piece at the moment, but once he heats up, he figures to be tough to cool off.

Despite his position and stature, Chiasson is not a shoot-first type of player, instead he opts to distribute from the wing which makes him a slightly rarer prospect as it were. While there is lots of developmental time still to push through, the Quebec-born prospect does not appear to be on his way to becoming the prototypical power forward by any stretch of the imagination. Chiasson, though, possesses some of the biggest upside in the Stars pipeline.

Scott Glennie, RW/C, 21

Never a dull moment or nothing but, depending on how you look at it. The curious case of Scott Glennie has been wrought with twists and turns going right back to the unexpected draft selection itself. His second pro season has not at all been smooth sailing through calm seas either. He has only appeared in 13 games – registering a modest three points – and none of those games were during the first month of the season. Typically, a nagging injury will prevent Glennie from being 100-percent and playing, but this time, a lack of conditioning was the reason behind his perpetual scratching. This news, which is from a Dallas Stars’ beat writer, probably ranks near the bottom of a “ways to impress your new coach” list.

The former top-10 pick has been a disappointment so far and that remains unchanged through 2012. He has an uphill battle ahead of him to even maintain a regular spot in the Texas lineup. He has been moved around the lineup from fourth line to first in his baker’s-dozen worth of games so far but Head Coach Willie Desjardins has evidently not seen enough to make him stick (just four games this December). Glennie is in the uncommon position of being a top pick on an entry-level deal wishing the lockout would end: not so he can finally play in the NHL, but so he can piece it together in the AHL.

Colton Sceviour, RW, 23

A seasoned vet as far as Dallas prospects go, Colton Sceviour continues to toil in the American Hockey League waiting for his big NHL break. Sceviour may very well be in the NHL at this point if not for the lockout. However, he also missed the month of October but not for the same reasons as the aforementioned Glennie. Sceviour had blocked a shot with his hand in the first preseason game of the year and the break he got was a bad one. But the fourth-year pro returned swiftly and scored early in his first game back. He already ranks fourth on the club in goals (8), third in points (17), and third in plus/minus (plus-five) despite missing about a quarter of the year to date.

Sceviour is an industrious player that finds himself in all situations at multiple positions. His versatility cannot be overstated and he is valuable utility player for coach Desjardins. His clean and efficient style has been utilized in a top-six role this season and he is a more-than-competent defensive conscience to a scoring line.

Austin Smith, RW, 24

It is something of a surprise that one of Dallas’ older prospects spent a majority of his season in the ECHL, especially considering the year he had as a senior at Colgate. Luckily, he has not missed a beat as a pro and the transition has been a smooth one. Although recently reassigned to the AHL, he still leads all ECHL rookies in goals with 16 – a figure that is also good enough for seventh in the entire league – in just 20 games. He played in all situations for Idaho and was a cut above for them all season long.

At better than a point-per-game pace, a plus-12 rating, and even the veteran of his first pro fight, there was little surprise that Smith was recently reassigned to Texas. Once he makes a convincing case that he fits Willie Desjardins’ system, Smith should become a fixture in the lineup. One might expect him to start on the lower lines as an energy forward and utility man who is capable of potting timely goals, and he has been active early on in that role with six shots in two games since rejoining the Stars.

Jamie Oleksiak, D, 20

Fresh off of his 20th birthday, Jamie Oleksiak already has more than two dozen professional games under his belt. He is fitting in better and better in Texas and is logging more and more time as a result. Offensively, he is coming along nicely. He is the club leader among blueliners in points (13) and is tied for the overall team lead in helpers (11). He has been adjusting to the speed of the game and cutting down his turnovers. His first pass is simple by the nature of the team’s play but smart by virtue of Oleksiak’s development.

On the other side of the puck, Oleksiak is on top of things. He is a regular on the penalty kill and has been getting more involved physically. If there was a knock on Oleksiak, it was brought about when his phlegmatic style juxtaposed against his mastodonic stature. While those concerns may not be totally alleviated, he showed an unexpected flash of bellicosity when he pummeled San Antonio’s 6'4 defense ace Alex Petrovic in a recent match. He still needs some seasoning but he is cooking up nicely for Joe Nieuwendyk and crew.

Patrik Nemeth, D, 20

Another pretty massive defenseman, Patrik Nemeth hails from Sweden and is making a good impression on the North American game as a rookie. He has not taken the world by storm quite yet but it is not because he lacks the physical traits to make it happen, his reticence seems to be purely mental. His game is there in pieces: good defensive play here, good transitional rushes there, with a couple of crunches along the way. However, it has yet to be wrapped up into one big package consistently. This is certainly not uncommon for a European-trained player 27 games into his North American pro career though.

Once Nemeth breaks through this barricade of sorts, he will be a force to be reckoned with like Oleksiak. Nemeth shows that he can handle the puck through the neutral zone very well and gets pucks to the cage adequately. The Stars play the game a little more passively than some other AHL clubs so the best chance for Nemeth to dish out hits is on his own back wall, as opposed to massive open-ice dismemberings that may have occurred under different circumstances. He is still a little shy, but the tools are all there awaiting a sharpening.

Brenden Dillon, D, 22

Back when training camps were supposed to kick off, Brenden Dillon was widely-believed to be a player that was a good camp away from the NHL. Instead, he finds himself logging a lot of minutes in the AHL for Texas and is putting together another very good season. His numbers don’t lend themselves to any special talents or traits, in fact, they fit pretty comparably to his fellow rearguards. He does take a fair amount of penalties, but they are usually a result of physicality as opposed to being out of position or lazy. He is an all-situation player that is fitting in nicely in the calmer, more defensive setting that coach Willie Desjardins has laid out for him and his mates.

Dillon is gaining a lot of experience in a boosted AHL circuit which should benefit him quite a bit. He is able to be challenged defensively by a higher level of talent and learn to transition right back against it. Though it is becoming a bit trite to use “solid” to describe a player, Dillon does not bring a lot of other words to mind. He can get himself into a little trouble with the puck in his own end, sometimes isolating himself from the play and obscuring passing lanes along the way. Other than that, he looks like he is just about ready to handle NHL action in a depth role or continue to log major minutes in the AHL.

Hubert Labrie, D, 21

Hubert Labrie seems to have taken a step back as a result of the NHL lockout. He was relegated to the ECHL for 22 games this season and is waiting for a lengthy call-up – which may have finally come in December. Texas cut ties with one defenseman (veteran Cam Barker) and that might keep Labrie, who has skated in each of the Stars' last four games, out of Idaho for good. He did not look out of place in the AHL before and is plenty capable of handling big minutes in the ECHL at this point in his career. The defensive-minded defenseman only had one even strength point this season with Idaho, but he ranked third among all blueliners with a plus-10 rating. He was also a fixture on a penalty kill that ranks among the league’s best clicking at over 84-percent. Labrie is getting stronger now that he has had a solid string of health which will help him handle whatever is asked of him at the AHL or ECHL level.

Jack Campbell, G, 20

Jack Campbell is another first round pick that has had a pretty rocky development so far. This season, his first as a pro, has proved little different. The Stars signed a Swedish vet (Cristopher Nilstorp) to share the duties in the AHL with Campbell but Nilstorp has gotten the bulk of the action. Campbell has appeared in 14 games this season going 4-4-2 with a 3.24 goals against average and .886 save pct. Nilstorp, a soon-to-be 29-year-old, by comparison, gives up 2.15 goals per 60 minutes while stopping 916 shots per thousand. The numbers certainly do not favor Campbell, but the upside is higher with the former first rounder.

Nilstorp has adjusted fairly quickly to the North American game (after surrendering four of his first five decisions) and that has left the young Campbell riding more pine than he is used to. Though the games played number looks fairly close, the minutes played are not: Campbell has about half as many as his Swedish competition. As a result, there has been no momentum or rhythm for Campbell, a player who is used to playing much more often. While statistics are not the best way to measure any player, Campbell is right there with Nilstorp in October and most of December, respectively. Campbell’s .929 save percentage in his first four December outings led to nothing but a 0-1-1 record and more undeserved questioning of the rookie. Stars fans will wait anxiously to see if Campbell is afforded a meaningful opportunity behind the most well-structured team Campbell has seen in his career to date.

ECHL

Tristan King, C, 22

Back in the ECHL for a third consecutive season, Tristan King is picking up goals at a pace he did not even enjoy in juniors. With 10 goals and 18 points in 21 games, King is a big part of the Idaho power play. King is in the last year of his entry-level deal and it is unclear if his relationship with the organization has been damaged by his request to move from Idaho last year. Though, with a new coach at the helm for the Steelheads, it seems as if King is not having much difficulty. He still does not appear to be a major piece in the organization’s future at this point. He appeared in 11 AHL games back in the 2010-11 season and has not seen the American circuit since.

Mathieu Tousignant, C, 23

In terms of antagonizing the opposition, undrafted signing Mathieu Tousignant has been replaced in Texas by Antoine Roussel. Meanwhile, Tousignant is making the best of it with Idaho. He has 11 assists and 13 points in all to go along with a club-high 69 penalty minutes. The 23-year-old agitator is in the final year of his deal and is unlikely to be kept based solely on the fact that he is being used mostly as a third liner at the ECHL level after enjoying a regular spot in the AHL last season.

Jace Coyle, D, 22

Undrafted free agent Jace Coyle could not crack the Texas roster after 48 games with the club last season. He has logged 16 games in Idaho and registered a goal and 10 helpers while serving as a depth defenseman. Coyle is another player that is on the final year of his deal and he has not impressed or developed particularly well since being culled out of the Western Hockey League a few years ago. He has some issues with defensive zone coverage and decision-making that leave some wanting. Barring injury or moderate mishap in Texas, it seems as if Coyle is stuck behind a glut of players that have shown more in the last couple years to warrant high minor and pro roster spots.

Tyler Beskorowany, G, 22

Another product of the signing of Cristopher Nilstorp, besides taking minutes from Jack Campbell, is demoting Tyler Beskorowany to the ECHL once more. The former ECHL All-Star in 2011 has not been at his best in 2012-13. He has platooned with Josh Robinson this season and despite similar numbers (2.70 goals against average and .907 save percentage for Beskorowany versus a 2.74 goals against and .915 save percentage for Robinson), the Stars second-round pick from 2008 is just 7-6-0-2 on the year while Robinson is a mighty 11-1-1-1. The team got off to something of a slow start but was sparked in November and the whole team is playing better as a result. Beskorowany is still dealing with the inconsistency that plagued back to his junior days; as a result, he is trying to keep his job and his head above water in the ECHL.