Despite a resolute late push by the now-younger Dallas Stars in the regular season, they were unable to clinch a playoff berth for the fifth consecutive season. And once again, upheaval was afoot. The Stars sacked head coach Glen Gulutzan after two seasons but not before canning general manager Joe Nieuwendyk as well. Conversely, at the minor league level, the Texas Stars enjoyed a very successful regular season and won a playoff round.
The Texas Stars crashed hard in the second round to rival Oklahoma City, falling in five and ailing every step of the way. The Stars had their work cut out for them. Curiously, Jack Campbell was not handed the starting nod at any point despite some uneven play from Cristopher Nilstorp.
Top prospect Alex Chiasson ended up switching over to center due to injuries and had trouble adjusting to a fairly new position during a tough playoff series. His play suffered tremendously and many goals went in against his club while he was on the ice.
Matt Fraser scored twice in nine games, but the pace seemed to be too high for him defensively. The constant line juggling did not help his cause very much and he looked to be struggling to find his normal, soft scoring areas.
Additionally, Scott Glennie was used all over the lineup to no tangible production. He was pointless in nine contests. That said, he was often used in more of grinding/checking role and he was solid, if unspectacular, with this blueprint.
On the backend, Kevin Connauton’s puck-rushing and outlet passing turned some heads in a positive direction. He may have been Texas’ best player over the course of the playoffs and has certainly earned a much closer look at NHL training camp in a few months. Though he is a work in progress defensively – in some small part, evidenced by his team-best five points but team-worst minus-7 rating – the Stars will not be turning away players that can move the puck forward accurately.
On the flip side, another recent acquisition impressed defensively: Cameron Gaunce. Despite going scoreless, Gaunce is showing that he can be a meat-and-potatoes defensive player on the backend. Perhaps he will be able to continue offering a sound defensive foundation for Connauton to work off of at the NHL level as well.
Patrik Nemeth missed the playoffs with an injury.
Austin Smith capped a quality regular season (27goals and 50 points in 38 games) with a long playoff run down in Idaho. He finished second on the club in goals with seven as the Steelheads advanced to the Western Conference Finals. Smith, a skilled finisher, got off to a hot start in his first pro playoffs, scoring five goals and adding one helper in the six-game battle with Colorado. Smith usually teamed up with Austin Fyten and former Devils first round pick Adrian Foster to pace the Idaho offensive attack.
Short playoffs abound for many Stars prospects. Goaltender Maxime Lagace had been relegated to the backup’s role as Prince Edward Island (QMJHL) was sent packing by Val d’Or in six games. Lagace played just 27 minutes in the series – just long enough to give up a goal. Brett Ritchie took a trade-tattered Niagara (OHL) team into the playoffs but was dispatched in five by Oshawa. Ritchie scored four points in four games. Matej Stransky and his Saskatoon Blades (WHL) were swept out of the first round by Medicine Hat for the second consecutive year. Stransky was held pointless. The powerful winger did get a chance to show his stuff (and score) in the Saskatoon-hosted Memorial Cup later in the spring. Mike Winther could barely get warmed up for the second season before his fifth-ranked Prince Albert (WHL) club was swept by Red Deer in the first round.
Cody Payne of Plymouth went on a longer run but he himself was knocked down to the lower lines and his production suffered. Payne, acquired in an exchange for Jaromir Jagr, registered just two points in 15 postseason contests and was held off the board (save his minus-4 rating) in the final two rounds.
In Owen Sound, the Attack had their offensive onslaught led by the speedy, hard-working Gemel Smith. He paced the team with seven goals in 12 games before a second round exit. Thanks to the ante-upping by Zach Nastasiuk as well, the Attack were able to push past Sault Ste. Marie before bowing out to the ornery Plymouth Whalers. Smith’s quickness opened up time and space for him in the Greyhounds defense in the first round (where he registered eight of his 10 points). The Whalers were a different animal and were able to stifle much of the Attack offense with brute force. The diminutive Smith was not able to operate at full effectiveness.
Out west, Memorial Cup runner-up Portland saw overager Taylor Peters have a quietly effective playoffs in his last junior hurrah. The late season signing by Dallas contributed nine assists in 21 contests but offensive production was not his primary role, especially on the powerhouse Winterhawks. Peters is more of a defensive specialist and penalty killer who takes key defensive zone draws. His lone goal of the WHL playoffs was, fittingly, of the shorthanded variety. Peters also displayed fair ability to move the puck through the neutral zone and gain a territorial advantage for the WHL champs.
Over in Europe, Ludvig Bystrom was an integral piece on a silver medal winning junior club from MODO. In the postseason of the top junior circuit in Sweden, Bystrom led all blueliners in points with six in seven games. Despite his production, MODO was upended by HV71 in the Final. Bystrom will move to Farjestad in the newly-rebranded SHL (Swedish Hockey League) in 2013-14.
At the men’s league level, mobile defenseman John Klingberg made a nice impression on the league in the half season that he played. That high level of play continued into the playoffs for Skelleftea. He had a single tally and three assists in 13 games for the eventual champs. Klingberg was able to push the puck forward offensively without compromising his own end as much. He was a plus-9 in the postseason, second best among all defensemen. While playing almost 19 minutes per night, Klingberg was only out for two even strength goals against and no rearguard was able to attempt nearly as many shots as he did. He jumped across the Atlantic for a single AHL playoff contest where he was a minus-1. For next season, Klingberg is on the move again, as he will return to the SHL with Frolunda.
Notes & Signings
Aforementioned overager Taylor Peters was the only player to recently receive an entry-level contract from the club. Many of the Stars prospects had already been locked up.
Follow Mike Farkas on Twitter: @MichaelFarkasHF