Dallas Stars organization locked and loaded in mid-season Top 20

By Mike Farkas

Jack Campbell (left) and Jamie Oleksiak - Dallas Stars

Photo: Goaltender Jack Campbell (left) and defenseman Jamie Oleksiak remain the top two prospects in the Stars' pipeline. Oleksiak is one of several young guns who have seen time in the Dallas lineup this season (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Despite a bit of flux in recent years from ownership on down, the Dallas Stars have made it a point to restock their organizational depth with quality prospects. They continually bolster one of the better prospect stables in the league and have a great mix of talent and player types that can fill virtually any role that opens up in the organization in the near future.

With six players appearing on the list that were taken in the second half of the draft or not drafted at all, the Stars scouts have done a brilliant job of finding diamonds in the rough and they have been graduating to the NHL roster in recent years to much acclaim.

1. (1) Jack Campbell, G, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 11th overall, 2010

With a tumultuous junior career fading into the background quickly, Jack Campbell is starting to get settled into the pro game. He took to the driver’s seat recently in Texas (AHL) because of an injury to Kari Lehtonen, which required the aid of Cristopher Nilstorp and Richard Bachman to prevent the dam from breaking in Dallas, but also because he is earning his time. With the rhythm has come success. The last two months have seen Campbell compete in 14 complete contests, compared to just five in the previous two months before that. Since the calendar flipped over to 2013, Campbell has flipped the switch. He is 10-6-1 with a 2.18 goals against average, .919 save percentage and two clean slates over that stretch.

Generally speaking, the Texas Stars are systemically better off than last year and anything that Campbell has backed before. Due to injuries and the mass player shifting caused by the end of the labor dispute, the Stars defense has varied from strong to piecemeal but the goaltending has been consistently strong. Of AHL teams that have used three goalies on a fairly regular basis, only one other team can claim all three exhibiting save percentages of .906 or greater (Springfield). Campbell’s improved play has been a big factor in that, as the other two goaltenders have played at a higher professional level and the rookie Campbell is proving that he can hang with them at the very least.

While he adjusts his sights to the speed of the pro game, Campbell should soon gain an edge on many with his terrific attitude towards the game and his stellar athleticism. His ability to play the puck is just icing on the cake. His play in the crease bears a resemblance to that of former first overall pick Rick DiPietro and the strange script of the hockey world sees DiPietro on his way down and Campbell very much on the rise.

2. (2) Jamie Oleksiak, D, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 14th overall, 2011

The only place Jamie Oleksiak has remained stagnant is in the Stars’ Top 20, where he continues to hold the number two spot. Otherwise, the 6'7 defenseman cannot seem to settle in any one spot. Two teams in the USHL in 2010, collegiate hockey at Northeastern in 2011, two different OHL teams in 2012, and now he has spent time in both Texas and Dallas at the professional level here in 2012-13. Oleksiak continues to climb the ladder and is quickly justifying his draft position in the process.

Before the NHL got its act together, Oleksiak was logging big minutes down in the AHL and he became well-versed in all playing situations. He leads all Stars skaters in assists with 23 in 48 games and is fourth with 29 points despite an extended call up to Dallas. His plus-20 rating is nearly double that of any other defenseman on the team (Patrik Nemeth, plus-11, and Tyler Sloan, plus-8, are next in line). The figure is still tied for seventh in the entire AHL. His terrific play in the AHL spurred a ten-game recall to Dallas in the first half of the NHL campaign and then another recall in late February.

While it looked as if the speed of the NHL game took Oleksiak by surprise, he still showed flashes of promise and is probably fairly close to polishing his game to a shiny finish – at least the first coat. At the NHL level, his decision-making process is sped beyond its means and turnovers and/or goals against ensued as a result. However, that could be said for many rookies that are fresh out of junior hockey. Oleksiak now has 14 games with Dallas this season, but even if he is returned to the AHL, it is expected that Oleksiak will take the valuable knowledge he gained from his NHL experience and use it against his AHL foes for the rest of the season.

3. (3) Alex Chiasson, RW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 38th overall, 2009

Another rookie who has not disappointed in the pro circuit is winger Alex Chiasson. After just a brief taste of the action late in 2012, Chiasson has been fully immersed in the Texas lineup and looks terrific after a slow start. His pace recently has been especially torrid, as he registered 15 points over the course of a dozen starts to vault him all the way up to third on the club in points. Unfortunately, the hot streak was ended forcefully by Oklahoma City’s Theo Peckham late in a mid-February contest that kept Chiasson out of the lineup until March 5th.

Before the injury, things really began to click for Chiasson in all facets of his game. He was used sparingly on the lower lines to start the season and he was sluggish on top of slumping. Realizing that the competition for playing time is fierce at the pro level, Chiasson began to show the coaching staff and his teammates what he could do and his improved work ethic brought about a better, more complete and more confident player. The Quebec native took on more responsibility (including faceoffs, despite being a winger) and more ice time as a result and he has not looked back. The 6'3 Boston University product has come a long way in a very short time as a rookie and is considered the best forward prospect in an organization that provides a lot of competition for such a title.

4. (10) Brett Ritchie, RW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 44th overall, 2011

The meteoric rise of Brett Ritchie is not anything surprising so much as it is the splendor of desire colliding with potential. Collisions, in the more traditional sense, are a bigger part of Ritchie’s game as well these days and they complement his torrid goal-scoring pace very well. He is now establishing himself as a player that can constantly impose his will on his opponents and the Stars second round pick is regarded as one of the premier players in the Ontario League. He is looking at a top-10 finish in goals despite losing time to the World Junior Championships and losing teammates to the NHL or trades: notably elite defensemen Dougie Hamilton (BOS) and Jamie Oleksiak were lost to the NHL and his left winger, Mitchell Theoret (NYI), was jettisoned in a mid-season swap.

Niagara is depleted, but not yet defeated, as Ritchie and talented centerman Ryan Strome (NYI) have continued to set the world ablaze despite a weakened supporting cast. Ritchie showed flashes of greatness before, but never could quite string it together for any great length of time. Seemingly reinvigorated, Ritchie has gotten a chance to show his stuff at the Subway Super Series and the WJC. His skating has improved, his shot has improved, he is bringing his best to the rink almost every night and all his hard(er) work is paying off. While the traditional meaning of “power forward” may be somewhat antiquated, Ritchie has all the makings of a modern-day power forward for Dallas.

5. (4) Radek Faksa, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 13th overall, 2012

Czech center and first round pick Radek Faksa takes a minor tumble in the rankings and it is not only because of the exquisite play of Brett Ritchie; it is Faksa, himself, that is leaving a lot to be desired this season. The Kitchener Rangers have been winning tight games and their offense has not taken off despite some highly-regarded names populating their ranks. No team in the OHL’s Western Conference has lit the lamp less than Kitchener and Faksa – a better than point-per-game player and 29-goal getter last season – has mustered a paltry nine tallies and 31 points in 39 games this season.

While Faksa has helped keep the puck out of the net for the Rangers, his game has stagnated compared to the show he put on last season as a rookie. Similarly, in his second World Junior Championships, he was hardly noticeable as the Czechs were hastily and easily dispatched by the Americans in the first game of tournament play. Injury and illness have weighed heavily on the two-way, hulking pivot but the lack of imagination and determination in his game on a fairly regular basis is disheartening for a recent first round pick.

6. (9) Cody Eakin, C, 7.0B
Acquired from Washington June 22, 2012

Cody Eakin is under a lot of pressure to perform in the Lone Star State after the shifty and, above all, cheeky Mike Ribeiro was shipped to the national’s capitol for the young center who checks in at number six on the list. Eakin has been nothing short of marvelous for both Stars clubs in 2012-13. Despite being absent for some time at the AHL level, Eakin remains tied for third in goal-scoring on the team after notching a dozen each of goals and assists in 35 contests. He was the engine that drove the team in all situations. His tremendous work ethic, savvy forechecking and backchecking ability, and his burgeoning offensive skill-set made him the most noticeable player on the ice almost every night.

These same skills have translated very well to the NHL game. Already a veteran of 30 NHL games in Washington, Eakin looks comfortable and familiar with the terrain and has quickly established himself as a fixture in the Dallas lineup. With 11 helpers and 15 points in his first 27 games as a Star, he is among the team leaders in scoring despite seeing less than 12 minutes of even strength ice time per game and limited power play work. Production-wise, Eakin is one of the league’s top producers in terms of even strength points per minute in the NHL, all while being a fiery, two-way competitor on every inch of the ice.

7. (5) Alex Guptill, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 77th overall, 2010

The expectations were high for Alex Guptill after a fantastic freshman campaign that was topped off with CCHA Rookie of the Year honors. Unfortunately, Guptill’s on-ice play slipped a bit in his sophomore season, as can often happen with players that earn limelight early on. The point totals do not waver too much, two fewer goals in five fewer games, but the problem is that some of those games were not missed due to injury. For one weekend trip, Guptill was simply left home to think about what he has done – or has not done. His lack of emotion in games and practices left a bad taste in the mouth of coaching legend Red Berenson and as a result, Guptill got to sit and stew.

The end result seems to have been a positive one as Guptill has really started to gain momentum late in the season and is playing better all over the ice. He is showing more urgency in his game and the point totals are rising right along with his renewed zest. Guptill, who also had some issues with consistency with Waterloo (USHL), has a terrific skill-set, but still needs to add some maturity to the mix – as many young players do.

8. (12) Brenden Dillon, D, 6.5A
Signed as a free agent in March 2011

It has been a snowball effect for Brenden Dillon so far. Just a handful of years ago, he was not an especially noteworthy junior player on a not especially noteworthy junior team (Seattle – WHL) who was passed over in two NHL drafts. He exploded in his overage season and got a look (and a contract) from the Dallas Stars after that season concluded. He quickly made an impression in the AHL and now is looking like he has been in the NHL for years with his high level of play.

Dillon has been among the Stars best defensemen this year despite only coming into the year with one NHL game under his belt. He is among the leaders on the team in ice time and routinely faces some of the toughest competition in the Western Conference at even strength and on the penalty kill. The only other defenseman that has a plus rating on the team is Dillon’s usual partner, Stephane Robidas. His skating has improved quite a bit, he is using his size well to punish on-rushing attackers, he is showing surprising escapability and is making smart decisions with the puck in his own zone; he rarely looks like a rookie out there. Though he might not have the elite skill-set of a top-tier defenseman, Dillon is on the right path to becoming a perennial unsung hero down the road.

9. (7) Patrik Nemeth, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2010

Redoubtable defenseman Patrik Nemeth is adjusting to the North American brand of hockey and is acquitting himself rather well. Though he had something of a slow start adjusting to the new angles and the new style of play, he has really started embracing the game at both ends of the rink. He has missed recent time with an injury, but the brawny blueliner has started getting comfortable using his physical traits to dish out punishment. The 6'4 defenseman also has been picking his spots to jump into the play and into the rush, which he showed flashes of back in Sweden as well. With 46 AHL games under his belt, Nemeth has 11 helpers and 12 points to go along with his plus-11 rating.

He takes a slight tumble in the rankings, but that is not an indictment of his play certainly. It has been encouraging that Nemeth has seemingly grasped the North American game so readily and as he continues to find his way, the Stars will have him on a shortlist of players to call-up very soon. He will be counted on to be a strong part of the foundation of a team that has plans of going deep into the playoffs.

10. (6) Reilly Smith, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 69th overall, 2009

Reilly Smith signed a contract late last season and as a result of certain circumstances, the skilled forward ended up playing in the NHL before he stepped foot on AHL ice. Circumstances that include a work stoppage forced Smith to the minors for the first time and he performed quite well. He rates very highly on the team in points per game average thanks to a point total of 27 in just 38 competitions. Scoring has not come quite as easily for Smith at the NHL level so far, but that is to be expected to some degree.

He has been brought along slowly as far as NHL ice time goes. He plays in the bottom six at even strength and sees only limited special teams work. The toiling has helped him work on his defensive game while adjusting to the speed of the pro game. He has been pretty average and pretty quiet throughout the season; all in all, not a lot seems to happen at either end of the ice when Smith is out there, which is sometimes the best thing a coach can hope for with a rookie.

11. (11) Matej Stransky, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 6th round, 165th overall, 2011

After a terrific 2011-12 season, the expectations were high for Matej Stransky and the 2013 Memorial Cup hosts of Saskatoon (WHL). The big Czech import, though, got off to a very slow start and it seemed like a long shot that he could duplicate his 39-goal performance from the year before. However, as the season rolled along, Stransky picked up momentum and so did his team. With Stransky’s size and style, he can quite literally carry a team to victory or at least to the net. The hulking winger ended up exceeding his goal total from last season, as he clicked over to 40 – just nine short of the circuit’s top spot. He tallied a team-best 85 points and also led the team in plus/minus at plus-32.

While Stransky is not an explosive, flashy playmaker extraordinaire, he does play a North American pro-style game. He has a major league frame and uses it so well to protect the puck. He can make space for himself and whip a wicked shot on net from anywhere on the surface. He is already signed by the Stars, so anything he does in the WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup is just icing on the cake that was his WHL career.

12. (13) Matt Fraser, LW, 6.5B
Signed as a free agent November 2010

When an undrafted rookie posts a 37-goal season as a rookie in the AHL, it turns some heads. When he does it again the next year, it turns some stomachs of scouts that missed him in previous drafts. Matt Fraser, formerly of the Kootenay Ice of the WHL, is well on his way to posting another superb goal total on the big board at the pro level. Currently, Fraser ranks tied for second in the AHL in goals with 29 in 57 games. Last season, he also finished second (to Cory Conacher). There is no doubt that Fraser is a shoot-first player, he has 66 goals and 31 assists at the AHL level and even back in juniors he notched more goals than assists for his career.

This season, Fraser has improved his skating and his defensive play quite a bit which will make him all the more palatable to an NHL lineup. He did partake in a cup of coffee with Dallas this season, scoring one goal in three games and depending on how the roster mutates over the next six to 12 months, Fraser could see some time in a depth role shortly. He is becoming a better overall player and, believe it or not, a better scorer: his 14.6% shooting percentage last season has jumped to 17.3% this season.

13. (NR) Devin Shore, C, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 61st overall, 2012

The biggest jump in the Spring Top 20 goes to Devin Shore of the University of Maine. He was in uncharted territory fresh out of the draft, but is quickly making a name for himself on the collegiate scene. Shore stepped right into the program and was used heavily in the lineup. He can play wing and on the point of the power play. He is a terrific playmaker and puck distributor who leads his team in assists with 20 (no one else has more than 11).

Shore has impressed with his first-rate hockey sense and great attitude towards the game. His work on the rink can be under-appreciated by the score sheet sometimes; in layman’s terms, good things seem to happen a lot when Shore is out on the ice. Clean, skilled, and industrious, Shore’s presence on the ice could only be improved by adding some muscle to his frame and by working on his acceleration. The Stars are willing to be patient with the former Whitby Fury standout as they feel they might have a terrific contributor waiting in the wings.

14. (16) Emil Molin, C, 7.0D
Drafted 4th round, 105th overall, 2011

Another 34 Elitserien games and another single goal for Emil Molin, but on the international stage he was quite visible for Sweden at the 2013 World Junior Championships. He scored six points in six games while helping Sweden to a silver medal. He was a factor in all the games and his quick dashes made him difficult to contain. Unfortunately, his exposure to the top two lines at the WJC did not carry over full-time to Elitserien play. Once again, Molin was relegated to the lower lines, scratched all together or loaned to lower tier leagues to keep him in shape.

It is probably not exactly the year that Molin had hoped for, but it can be tough for younger players – especially those that rose through the ranks so quickly – to get a jump on veteran players at the men’s league level. The Stars have already signed Molin and, with his team expected to be eliminated early in this year’s playoffs, Dallas will have a chance to bring him over if a mutual agreement is made. Though he is still rather slender by North American standards, some ice time with skilled players may be just what the doctor ordered for Molin to stretch his legs a little.

15. (14) Jyrki Jokipakka, D, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 195th overall, 2011

It was more of the same for Jyrki Jokipakka in 2012-13. Again he was a major minute muncher, again he did all he could defensively on a horrid team (the very worst in the league), again he tried his best to spark some offense despite being a defensive-minded player and again he will strive to stave off relegation for his club Ilves Tampere. Ignoring the team-related maladies, it has been a successful season in the development of this young Finnish defender.

He plays a no-frills style on a very good skating base. He is positionally sound, has good reach and is certainly not a black hole when it comes to producing offense from the back line. The question remains, however, will he be any more useful to the Dallas organization than he will be in Finland? The Stars have already signed the former seventh round pick, so that indicates a high degree of interest but how his development will be handled from this point further remains very much in doubt.

16. (15) Ludvig Bystrom, D, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2012

Ludvig Bystrom increased his workload at the Elitserien level in 2012-13. Last season’s total of 20 games rose to 30 and his production rose from one assist to three goals, three assists. He is still learning the ropes in the big league and is still used very infrequently. On MODO, he is relegated to the fourth pairing of defense and sees about ten minutes of action per game. On the positive side, his six points in limited action is promising and, surprisingly, he is a plus-7 as well. Bystrom has been sent down from the senior team, however, as the playoffs approach in Sweden.

The offensive-minded blueliner was also missing from Sweden’s World Junior team despite a rash of injuries to many of their top defensemen. The Swedes won silver despite not having Bystrom, but it is interesting that Swedish hockey officials did not feel Bystrom would help the team defend its gold medal. Bystrom was drafted by the Plymouth Whalers (OHL) in the CHL Import draft but did not report and it is unclear if that invitation still exists. It seems more likely that Bystrom will try to become a regular at the Elitserien level or at least the Allsvenskan level as opposed to joining the Canadian Major Junior ranks.

17. (8) Scott Glennie, C/RW, 7.0D
Drafted 1st round, 8th overall, 2009

The faint signs of hope that Scott Glennie showed at the end of last season have been largely extinguished in yet another injury-laden season. When he has been in the lineup, he has been all over the place as he does not have a permanent spot for various reasons. He has just two goals and four assists in 23 games, numbers that are below the mark for a 22-year-old top-10 pick. It has been a frustrating few years for all parties involved and the lack of progress and desire from Glennie hastened his plummeting from the upper reaches of the list.

He has the tools and the speed to be a good player at the AHL level certainly but he just cannot put it all together unfortunately. The draft pick was moderately criticized at the time and given Dallas’ organizational needs going into the 2009 Draft, those grumblings have not at all been relieved. In fact, the discontentment is being exacerbated by the fact that Glennie’s former linemates with the Wheat Kings (Philadelphia's Brayden Schenn and Columbus' Matt Calvert) are both NHL regulars at this point. With a player like Glennie, sometimes it can suddenly just click and all come together, but the time to answer questions of “if” and “when” is dwindling.

18. (18) Scott Winkler, C/RW, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 89th overall, 2008

Another player that has been bitten by the injury bug during his development is Scott Winkler. Luckily, he has received enough repellant over the past two seasons to jump back on to the radar. Now in his senior season at Colorado College, the 2008 draft pick is having his finest season yet and is in strong contention for an entry-level contract. His 13 goals this season beat his aggregate total for his first three years combined and his 27 points and 39 games played are both career-bests as well.

The Norwegian forward has emerged as a top-six player with the Tigers at both center and right wing. Though he does not possess a world beater’s skill-set, he is a competent, smart player that can be handy at both ends of the ice. Given Dallas’ penchant for keeping utility players around, they might just see enough in Winkler to give him a contract. Though, he will not have a lot of time to prove himself in the pro game, as he is already 23 years old.

19. (NR) Mike Winther, C/LW, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 54th overall, 2012

Despite a downturn in individual points on a team that had trouble putting up points in the standings throughout the second half of the season, Mike Winther debuts on the Top 20 list. Though he was unable to build on his 32-goal campaign in 2011-12, Winther was once again among the team leaders in goals (22) on a team that mixed and matched line combinations enough that the scoring remained rather balanced, if not restrained (five players had 20 goals, none more than 25).

Winther bounced around the lineup, but almost always remained in the top six. He could be found on the wing of the first line or generally as the second line center behind Mark McNeill (CHI) and played effectively at both ends of the rink most nights. He is lightning quick in two areas: his acceleration and his release, which are tough assets to keep down for too long. If Winther can find himself in a more prominent, more permanent situation next year he might just be able to better his sophomore campaign before his junior career expires.

20. (19) Troy Vance, D, 6.0C
Drafted 5th round, 135th overall, 2011

Troy Vance entered his third season in the QMJHL with the Victoriaville Tigres, but a mid-season trade sent him to Prince Edward Island. Vance, seemingly, has a better chance at accruing more playoff games with the Rocket, which will be a good chance to showcase his talents against the league’s most talented players. Vance has adjusted well to the tempo of the QMJHL game and is getting more involved offensively by making better passes and reads. His stature in the league as a quality defensive defenseman is backed by the desire of a team with championship aspirations to acquire his services.

A big, mobile defenseman, Vance plays a pretty simple game. He makes good decisions but there is good reason to believe that he will be in for a long learning curve at the much faster pro level. What little offensive skill he has likely will not translate much at all except for his breakout passes which are adequate. He will need to embrace his size more consistently and be ready for a battle both in the upcoming playoffs and at the pro level if he wants to embark on a long, worthwhile career in hockey.

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