Europe and NCAA well-represented in Dallas Stars prospect pool

By Mike Farkas

Curtis McKenzie - Miami Redhawks

Photo: Senior winger Curtis McKenzie finished the 2012-13 season third in points and first in penalty minutres for the Miami Redhawks (courtesy of Tim G. Zechar/Icon SMI)

The Dallas Stars are not afraid to delve into the European ranks at the pro or junior level. In fact, many of the Stars best defensive prospects were drafted out of Europe and have worked their way up the ranks fairly quickly. Former Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk, a Cornell alum, did not at all mind going for NCAA or NCAA-bound players. As a result, the Stars boast a pretty impressive pipeline coming in from the college ranks.

NCAA

Alex Guptill, LW, Michigan Wolverines (CCHA)
Drafted 3rd round, 77th overall, 2010

Despite better statistics, Alex Guptill’s season was slightly less inspiring than his freshman campaign that saw him capture CCHA Rookie of the Year honors. With the University of Michigan, Guptill appeared in 38 games and netted 36 points. He did most of his damage in conference play, netting 33 points in 32 CCHA games, good for second in the conference despite being on a rather average U of M team.

Though Michigan did turn it on in the playoffs, as they trekked all the way to the CCHA Final vs. Notre Dame. Thanks, in part, to the efforts of Guptill who had five goals and five assists in six CCHA tournament contests. It was a nice finish to a season that was a little uneven in terms of consistency and effort from Guptill. At one point, the sophomore was left home for a weekend set due to his poor demeanor.

It remains to be seen if the Stars will sign Guptill and bring him to the AHL or if they allow him another year to potentially dominate the new college conference setup.

Curtis McKenzie, LW, Miami Redhawks (CCHA)
Drafted 6th round, 159th overall, 2009

It was a revival of sorts for Curtis McKenzie as a senior at Miami University. He hit double digits in goals for the first time in his career and was third on the team in points with 24. McKenzie was elevated to top line duty often with winger Riley Barber (WAS) and center Austin Czarnik. His physicality, forechecking and corner work was instrumental in the line’s success within the confines of a defensive system.

The former sixth round pick does not have a high-end skill set but he plays a pro-style game and that is why he was tendered an entry-level contract by the Stars. He will be able to jump into a depth role with the AHL’s Texas Stars before possibly auditioning for part-time NHL work. Miami’s coaching staff spoke highly of McKenzie’s contributions, especially in his senior season.

Devin Shore, C, Maine Black Bears (Hockey East)
Drafted 2nd round, 61st overall, 2012

Maine Blackbear Devin Shore burst onto the Hockey East scene as a freshman. His keen hockey sense and puck distribution abilities quickly made him a favorite of coaches and fans alike. He ended up leading his team in assists (20) and points (26) in 38 games. As the season progressed along, so did Shore. Maine was bounced in the first round of the Hockey East tournament, but through no fault of the Ajax, Ontario native: he scored two of Maine’s three goals in their two games versus UMass-Lowell and had the lone assist on the other.

Good things seemed to happen when Shore was on the ice, to put it quite simply. His work rate and determination are tough to match and his skill level is catching up quickly. He was used in all situations with Maine as a freshman and even tried his hand at quarterbacking the power play from the blueline. The extremely versatile forward is primed to explode in his sophomore season and some even feel that his sophomore campaign could be his last before he turns professional.

Scott Winkler, C, Colorado College Tigers (WCHA)
Drafted 3rd round, 89th overall, 2008

It took until his senior season, but Scott Winkler finally avoided the bite of the injury bug. He set career highs nearly across the board: 42 games, 13 goals (more than his previous three years combined), 28 points and 50 penalty minutes (more than twice as many as the previous three years combined). With him being regularly available in the lineup, Winkler built on the success he had as a junior. His versatility and two-way play was on display as he played a more prominent role in the Colorado College lineup.

The right-handed Norwegian is already 23 years old, so age is fast becoming an issue and he has yet to secure an entry-level contract from the Stars. The organization was quick to lock down McKenzie after his season ended, the significance being that they are both utility type forwards and one could speculate that it may have been one or the other. Winkler has enough to him that he can catch on in professional hockey somewhere, but we won’t know until the summer where that is, assuming the Stars pass on his exclusive negotiating rights.

Dmitry Sinitsyn, D, UMass-Lowell  Riverhawks (Hockey East)
Drafted 7th round, 183rd overall, 2012

After nearly being thrown right to the fire last year, Sinitsyn only saw spot duty as a freshman in the Hockey East. The Riverhawks were a surprise team that won the Hockey East title and went all the way to the Frozen Four, succumbing only to the eventual National Champion (Yale) in overtime on the antepenultimate day of the NCAA hockey calendar. Sinitsyn was limited to just a baker’s dozen worth of games, scoring twice and penalized twice.

The cyclical nature of collegiate athletics should propel Sinitsyn into a regular role next season where he’ll be able to show off his composed offensive game and wicked slapshot.

Europe

Henri Kiviaho, G, KalPa U20 (SM-liiga Jr. A)
Drafted 5th round, 144th overall, 2012

After another season at the Junior-A level in Finland, Henri Kiviaho is primed to move on to the top of the heap in 2013-14. For the second straight year, he bested his backups in juniors and was the club’s playoff starter. Unfortunately, it was a middling year for KalPa and they failed to qualify for the main playoff tournament.

The KalPa coaching staff is happy with his individual progress despite the lack of team success. He has improved his positioning this past season and isn’t overplaying passes nearly as much as he has in the past. If he continues to make strides with his technique and improves his consistency, he could make an impression as a backup next season in the SM-liiga.

Emil Molin, C, Brynas (SEL)
Drafted 4th round, 105th overall, 2011

Skilled forward Emil Molin continues to see limited ice time at the Swedish Elite League level with Brynas. While this type of development path isn’t at all rare, it can be a bit disappointing especially in light of the World Junior Championships performance that he had. Molin was bounced down to the junior level for a handful of games and was loaned to the Allsvenskan level for a few as well this season. He’s still yet to really find his groove in terms of production at the pro level but he hasn’t been afforded any great stretch of consistent opportunities either. He only made a brief cameo in one Elitserien playoff game before Brynas was ejected early on.

Molin is already signed by the Stars, so the organization has some degree of say in his developmental path. It seems likely that he’ll spend at least one more season trying to ply his trade at the Elitserien level before coming over to play in the American Hockey League full time.

Ludvig Bystrom, D, MODO (SEL)
Drafted 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2012

Passing up a chance to play in the Ontario Hockey League, puck-moving defenseman Ludvig Bystrom remained in Sweden to become a regular in the Swedish Elite League. He appeared in 30 Elitserien games, tallying three goals and three helpers while being a plus-7. He didn’t get nearly as much playing time in Sweden as he would have in the OHL, but the competition level was certainly higher. Unfortunately, he was sent back to juniors before the Elitserien playoffs began. Further, despite a bevy of injuries, Bystrom wasn’t named to Sweden’s World Junior Championships team four months ago.

Bystrom has a myriad of options available to him next season. The best case scenario for him, of course, is the Dallas Stars, but he can also be assigned to Texas (AHL), he can remain in MODO (SEL) and, probably least likely of all, he can jump ship to play juniors for Plymouth (OHL). It’s not at all strange to see European prospects hop across the pond to get a taste of North American pro hockey after their European schedule ends and Bystrom has done just that. Depending on how he’s used (if he’s used), we might get some light shed on Bystrom’s immediate future.

Jyrki Jokipakka, D, Ilves Tampere (SM-liiga)
Drafted 7th round, 195th overall, 2011

It was another successful season for steady Finnish blueliner Jyrki Jokipakka. However, his team had to stave off relegation for the second straight season. Again, Jokipakka was a major minute eater for the mangy Ilves club. He led all club d-men in points (fourth overall in scoring) but playing on the top pair of a team with a minus-74 goal differential, he couldn’t avoid being a league-worst minus-29. The 21-year-old certainly isn’t a blue-chipper in terms of tools, but he’s a consistent performer that plays a smart, composed game.

The Stars have already signed their 2011 seventh round selection and it appears as if he’ll come to Texas (AHL) to finish off the 2013 season. Next season, it seems likely that he’ll have a regular spot in the Texas lineup.

John Klingberg, D, Skelleftea (SEL)
Drafted 5th round, 131st overall, 2010

It ha’s been a strange road for John Klingberg. This is the first season in a while where Klingberg has been able to sit still, so to speak. He played all but one game this year in the Swedish Elite League for Skelleftea and was a big part of their postseason success. Klingberg was certainly more than a bit player in Skelleftea’s regular season and upon returning from injury, he played a good deal of minutes. He posted 13 points in 25 games during the regular year and that point per game average qualifies as elite for a defenseman in the Elitserien. In the postseason, his ice time went up (just short of leading the team) and he helped Skelleftea steamroll to an Elitserien championship.

The puck-rushing, mobile defenseman is still rather adventurous on the ice but he’s dynamic and a scoreboard changer in Sweden. Now that he’s back on track in terms of health and development, we may finally get to see him fulfill the upside that he possesses from the back end. He’ll join the Texas Stars now that his season in Europe has concluded – should he appear in a game, it will be his first pro game in North America.

Esa Lindell, D, Kiekko-Vantaa (Mestis)
Drafted 3rd round, 74th overall, 2012

Esa Lindell has all but graduated from the junior tiers in Finland and he split the season between the SM-liiga and the second-tier, Mestis League. He was unable to get on the board in the senior league and was a team-worst minus-9 in the process. In the Mestis League, he netted four goals and six assists in 22 contests. The offensive-minded defenseman is still very raw overall, and downright coarse in terms of his defensive awareness and coverage. Though, it is promising that he’s playing the pro game (regardless of level) as an 18-year-old.

Next season, he’ll try to establish himself as a full-time SM-liiga defenseman with Jokerit.