With already one of the league’s finest prospect pools, the Dallas Stars left the 2014 NHL Draft with the first bluechip defensive prospect they have had in quite some time. In all, four 2014 draftees make the list, three of which man the blueline. After such a defense-heavy draft, the prospect pool is becoming more balanced and deep at all positions.
Besides Dallas’ trip to the postseason for the first time in six years, the organization experienced another positive when the AHL’s Texas Stars captured the Calder Cup Championship. This provided a lot of additional valuable playoff experience for the talented group of youngsters which could go a long way in their development. Despite not having a top-10 pick on the list (Valeri Nichushkin graduated, Scott Glennie failed to qualify), the Stars feature an excellent prospect group that has a lot to offer in many different roles down the line.
1. (1) Jack Campbell, G, 8.0C
Drafted: 1st round, 11th overall, 2010
Despite an injury-stricken season, Jack Campbell remains on top of an impressive Dallas prospect group. When Campbell was able to take to the crease, he was stellar. Though the sample size is very limited, he led the AHL with 16 games of 1.49 GAA and .942 save percentage hockey. One quarter of his games ended in shutouts, while he captured 26 of the 32 points on the line. Though his club captured the Calder Cup as AHL champs, Campbell’s postseason role was limited thanks to veteran Cristopher Nihlstorp. Campbell is once again projected to take the reins in 2014-15 with a chance to help his team repeat as champions.
Similar to Rick DiPietro in his athletic style of play and impressive puckhandling, though Campbell certainly hopes to avoid the excessive amount of ailments that DiPietro sustained over his career. Campbell has progressed nicely since his junior days and will likely see some spot duty at the NHL level as well should injuries occur.
2. (NR) Julius Honka, D, 8.0C
Drafted: 1st round, 14th overall, 2014
The Stars first selection in the 2014 Draft makes his debut at No. 2 on the list. Julius Honka, the smooth skating Finnish defenseman, had an impressive season with the Swift Current Broncos (WHL) in 2013-14. He notched 16 goals and 56 points from the backline in 62 games. He was one of the highest rookie scorers in the league as well as one of the highest scoring defensemen (Garrett Haar’s 45 points and Dmitry Sinitsyn’s 44 points were the next highest totals). He was named an Eastern Conference Second-Team All-Star for his efforts. Honka has already been signed and will likely return to Finland next season to continue his development.
The young Finn looks like a Tobias Enstrom clone. He is on the smaller side but is a splendid skater with remarkable smarts. He moves the puck well and might have a bigger offensive upside than Enstrom. Defensively, he is still growing, but the upside is certainly there and that growth was shown over the course of the season. Players with his type of mobility and hockey IQ do not often stagnate defensively – not unlike Enstrom. Honka is the best defensive prospect the Stars have had in approximately a decade.
3. (2) Brett Ritchie, RW, 7.5C
Drafted: 2nd round, 44th overall, 2011
Strong forward Brett Ritchie has progressed notably since his draft year in 2011. Ritchie’s size and skill make him a high-level prospect. After a 40-goal junior season, Ritchie jumped right into a top-six role at the AHL level. In 68 games, Ritchie notched 22 goals and 48 points. He added on another seven goals and 11 points in 13 postseason games on his way to a championship. At 6’3 and 220 pounds, Ritchie has a pro-style body and will get a long look at an NHL roster throughout the 2014-15 season.
When the former second round pick is on his game he is a force. He can hit, win board battles, control the puck and beat goaltenders with an impressive wrist shot. He has developed into an impressive player that is adapting well to the professional game. The bulky right winger seems destined to play a top-six role in the NHL in the near future.
4. (3) Jason Dickinson, LW/C, 7.5C
Drafted: 1st round, 29th overall, 2013
Even if the statistics do not do it total justice, Jason Dickinson had an appreciable breakout season in 2013-14. Of course, 78 points in 68 games is nothing to write off. However, on the offensive juggernaut that was Guelph (OHL), it ranked just fifth on the club. Dickinson’s game progressed terrifically and it coincided with a full-time move to center – a big win for the Stars prospect pool. In addition to being a terrific skater and playmaker, Dickinson has rounded into a two-way player. Guelph ended up losing the Memorial Cup Championship to Edmonton (WHL).
Dickinson could be the center the Stars have been seeking in their prospect pipeline for a while. He is a swift, smart player who can do everything on the rink. His speed and vision can create a lot of opportunities for his linemates. Dickinson’s versatility should be a valuable asset to the organization for years to come. The 2013 first round pick was signed to an entry-level deal in May.
5. (4) Jamie Oleksiak, D, 7.5C
Drafted: 1st round, 14th overall, 2011
Yet another first round pick finds himself in the top quarter of the Stars Top 20 list. 2011 top pick Jamie Oleksiak might not be progressing as rapidly as some might have hoped, but he will get a strong look at an NHL job as he embarks on his third year of professional hockey. Still a young man at 21 years old, Oleksiak needs to continue adapting to the speed of the game at the NHL level. The former collegiate and OHL participant played a major role en route to the Stars’ Calder Cup championship win. He played in all 21 postseason games, collecting five assists and a team-best plus-13 rating.
At 6’7 and very mobile for his size, Oleksiak’s upside is very high. He has been at least somewhat overwhelmed at the NHL level in his small tastes of it and his offensive game at the AHL level is inconsistent. He is still developing as a player and shows flashes of his lofty upside, but it’s unclear exactly what kind of player he may become at the NHL level. His decision making will need to become quicker if he wants to be a top-four defenseman in the NHL.
6. (5) Devin Shore, C, 7.5C
Drafted: 2nd round, 61st overall, 2012
Much like Jason Dickinson, Devin Shore’s anticipated breakout season went off without a hitch in 2013-14. Shore jumped from 26 points in 38 games in 2012-13 to 43 points in 35 games in 2013-14. Even if he had not scored any goals, he would have led the team in points. If the University of Maine was more relevant on the national scene, Shore would have likely been in the Hobey Baker discussion. He was voted captain of the Black Bears for his upcoming junior season.
Shore’s best asset is his hockey sense. He has a terrific feel for the game and can process the happenings on the rink quickly and accurately. Unsurprisingly, he is a crisp playmaker who can quarterback a power play adeptly. His skating stride lacks a lot of polish and his shot is not overpowering. His IQ and attitude should take him far when he turns pro. Look for Shore to be in the Hobey Baker conversation at the end of the 2014-15 season.
7. (6) Philippe Desrosiers, G, 7.5C
Drafted: 2nd round, 54th overall, 2013
Not at all atypical for goaltenders in their first season after being drafted, Philippe Desrosiers got off to a slow start. As the season progressed, he got better and better; to give further credence to that, in February, he became the owner of the QMJHL mark for longest shutout streak. He finished the season on a 19-4 run with a .931 save pct. Desrosiers and his Rimouski teammates were eliminated in a wild game 7 against the Armada in round two.
The 1995-born goaltender plays an active butterfly style. He is more athletic and battles more than some of the blocking-style butterfly netminders. His mobility in the crease is certainly an asset. He gets a strong push from side to side and does a good job keeping himself upright and stout while doing so. Desrosiers returns to the Q, projected to be one of the top performers in the league, with an entry-level contract in hand.
8. (NR) Brett Pollock, C/LW, 7.5C
Drafted: 2nd round, 45th overall, 2014
The terrific upside of Brett Pollock lands him in the top ten immediately after being drafted. A member of the 2014 Memorial Cup Champion Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL), Pollock jumped to 25 goals and 55 points after just four points in his rookie campaign. Pollock went on to lead the team in goals (11) during their run to the Ed Chynoweth Cup as WHL champs. With a firm top-six role all season, Pollock gained the ice time and the confidence to be a key player for the Oil Kings.
Pollock is a rangy power forward. He does not possess the grit of some old school power forwards, but he does great work coming off the wall in traffic. He shields off defenders impressively despite not yet filling out his frame. Pollock earns a high placement on the list because of his quick shot release and his ability to make space for himself in one-on-one situations. His vision and playmaking are not at all lacking either. Like many young players, Pollock needs to find consistency. Some shifts, or even games, Pollock blends in with the scenery. He did not have much experience coming into his draft year, so he could be primed to breakout further in 2014-15.
9. (7) Patrik Nemeth, D, 7.0C
Drafted: 2nd round, 41st overall, 2010
As with the players in the previous eight slots, Patrik Nemeth was a first or second round selection. Unlike the previous players, however, Nemeth scored the golden goal of the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs. The redoubtable Swedish defenseman took a big step forward in his development at the AHL level and even played for Dallas during their first round series against Anaheim. Nemeth played in just 37 AHL regular season games but was productive enough with 10 points and an impressive plus-19 to lead all team blueliners.
Nemeth did not tumble slightly in the rankings by his own accord. In fact, he is likely to beat Jamie Oleksiak into the NHL on a regular basis. Nemeth’s attention to detail on the rink beats most other defensemen in the system. He can do a little bit of everything: he can skate, he hits, he plays defense, and he can even jump into the rush in a timely manner. With the Dallas defense in need of some help, Nemeth could be a valuable addition sooner rather than later.
10. (10) John Klingberg, D, 7.0C
Drafted: 5th round, 131st overall, 2010
Pace-pushing defenseman John Klingberg proved that his half-season explosion with Skelleftea in 2012-13 was no fluke. He changed addresses once more in 2013-14 and played a massive role for Vastra Frolunda. His 11 goals and 28 points put him among the league’s top blueliners. Klingberg does his best work on the power play and as a coveted right-handed shot, he could see necessity-aided NHL duty sooner rather than later.
The diminutive Swedish defenseman brings a lot to the table offensively and on the rush. Klingberg is not shy about shooting the puck, especially on the power play. If he can be utilized in a puck-carrying role without having to face brooding power forwards too often, he may be an effective depth defenseman and/or power play quarterback.
11. (12) Cole Ully, LW, 7.0C
Drafted: 5th round, 131st overall, 2013
Kamloops’ (WHL) season was an unmitigated disaster, but Cole Ully’s season was delightful. The slippery offensive winger accumulated 30 goals and 72 points, factoring into a huge percentage of the club’s offense. Without adjusting for games missed, no forward even produced half as many points as Ully registered on the year. The Blazers had a hard time crossing the checkered line with the puck, but Ully and his linemates made it a tenable proposition.
At 5’11 and 164 pounds, the former fifth-round pick does not bowl anyone over, but he is stronger than his vitals might indicate. Moreover, he is a slick player who can bob and weave artfully. Not a speed demon, Ully’s puck poise and vision while seemingly gliding is reminiscent of a young Nicklas Backstrom. He rates high on technical skill and has the hockey sense to put it to good use. If size does not prevent him from handling the puck at the professional level, he has the potential for a promising career. The goal-assist ratio he had in 2013-14 might be a little misleading; his creative passing ability may be his best attribute.
12. (11) Ludwig Bystrom, D, 7.0C
Drafted: 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2012
Swedish second rounder Ludwig Bystrom embarked on his first season with Farjestad and his first full season in the SHL. The young defenseman acclimated well and kept out of trouble. He led his team’s rearguards in plus/minus with third pairing minutes. He saw some penalty kill time but was almost never used on the power play; not uncommon for young players who are not necessarily brimming with skill. Consistency and confidence are next in line for Bystrom: Consistency without the puck, confidence with it.
A mobile, two-way defenseman, Bystrom is still carving out his niche at Sweden’s top level. He has a little bit of everything in his arsenal, except maybe a potent shot from distance. As he gains more experience at the pro level, it will become clearer just what type of defenseman he can become at the next level, if applicable. He has an entry-level contract in hand and it seems fairly likely he will garner a quick AHL look at the conclusion of his Swedish season.
13. (NR) Michael Prapavessis, D, 7.0C
Drafted: 4th round, 105th overall, 2014
Following a better-than-assist-per-game Junior A season, the Stars selected wiry defenseman Michael Prapavessis in 2014’s fourth round. Prapavessis walked off with a boatload of honors, awards and accolades to conclude his 2014 season, including an OJHL championship and a best defenseman award. The Mississauga native saw his rights acquired by the OHL’s London Knights but appears set on spurning them to play NCAA hockey at RPI.
Prapavessis shows the potential for terrific mobility when he smooths out his stride. His best asset is his on-ice intelligence, as he makes great reads and anticipation plays with and without the puck. His vision as a puck distributor is advanced for his age and proved to be too much for his competition in 2013-14. The college docket should be beneficial to Prapavessis building on his frame and slowly gaining confidence in handling the physical rigors of a tougher level of play.
14. (13) Dmitry Sinitsyn, D, 7.0C
Drafted: 7th round, 183rd overall, 2012
After a limited amount of games in 2012-13, Dmitri Sinitsyn took an unusual step in his development route by being selected in the CHL Import Draft despite playing in the NCAA the previous season. Regina (WHL) brought him in and he quickly gained the trust and praise of his coaches. Sinitsyn was soon the go-to blueliner on the club. The coaches trusted him to lead his own pairing and even paired him with the inexperienced call-ups so he could cover for any miscues. The Russian defenseman led all Regina defensemen in points with 44 and, along with first-round pick Julius Honka, ranked highly in WHL rookie scoring.
Sinitsyn brings many tools to the table. His skating and puck skills rate highly, especially juxtaposed to his draft status. He progressed well defensively and played a lot of tough minutes for the Pats last season. He is a strong puck-mover, but is better known for his pro-level shot. Sinitsyn signed a KHL contract and is likely to play professionally in Russia for the next two seasons. The Stars will retain his rights until the 2016 offseason and can watch him develop further.
15. (8) Radek Faksa, C, 6.5B
Drafted: 1st round, 13th overall, 2012
Czech import Radek Faksa finished off a rather pedestrian junior career by being traded from Kitchener to Sudbury midseason. He recovered somewhat from a disastrous 2012-13 season with 21 goals and 48 points in 59 games. Still, he never did match the impressive offensive totals from his rookie season. Though the statistics won’t bear it out, the most successful part of Faksa’s season was his playoff run with Texas – he played quite well, despite four goals and no assists in 21 games. Though his participation was limited to that of a depth player, he was an effective two-way player and did not look at all out of place at the professional level.
It seems as if Faksa developing into a second line player is not progressing as hoped, but he certainly looks like a quality pro player. Faksa plays a heavy game and he has good defensive attributes to boot. He seems to work well with teammate Matej Stransky and shows promise of being a two-way center with a chance to be a physical but heady presence. If Faksa continues to get quicker and more physical, he could become a sturdy third line center down the line.
16. (16) Matej Stransky, RW, 6.5C
Drafted: 6th round, 165th overall, 2011
First-year pro Matej Stransky got off to a slow start in the AHL. Though that was not at all unexpected for the lumbering Czech winger as he is still something of a project after a 40-goal conclusion to his WHL career. As the year wore on, Stransky seemed more and more comfortable with the game and his skating has improved quite a bit. His numbers are modest at nine goals and 23 points in 65 games. However, like Faksa, he helped bring some offense and possession time to the lower lines during the Calder Cup run.
Stransky is never going to be a player who flies down the ice in transition and walks through an entire team to paydirt. However, he has the potential to be a great puck protector who can generate offense off the boards or coming late with a heavy shot. The former sixth-round pick has some hands but he will have to continue to tune them in order for him to make one-on-one plays at the next level.
17. (14) Branden Troock, RW, 7.0D
Drafted: 5th round, 134th overall, 2012
The big bugaboo for hulking winger Branden Troock has been his health. He had a reasonably healthy season with Seattle (WHL) in 2013-14 and did not disappoint. He was a point-per-game player through 58 contests. He joined Texas after the Thunderbirds were eliminated in the second round of the WHL playoffs, but took no more than a handful of shifts. Troock should get his fair share of games at the AHL level in 2014-15, but the competition is stiff at right wing – stiffer if Brett Ritchie is not in the NHL.
Another one of the large-framed offensive wingers that the Stars have collected in recent years, Troock is an interesting package. He is big and fairly brooding, but he can also skate very well for his size. He can create on the fly; he does not have to rely on just sticking the puck to the wall for an entire day to manufacture a chance. He needs to put it all together and, above all, stay healthy. Troock represents one of the more interesting sleeper picks in the system.
18. (15) Curtis McKenzie, LW, 6.5C
Drafted: 6th round, 159th overall, 2009
The only 2009 draft pick still residing on the list is former Redhawk Curtis McKenzie. Another one in a string of “heavy” wingers, McKenzie scored 29 goals in 159 collegiate games over four years, eclipsing double-digits one time. His rookie AHL season saw him find the twine 30 times (including the postseason). The 65 points that he registered ranked as the best among rookies. To complete a memorable campaign, the Golden, BC native captured the Red Garrett Memorial Award denoting him as rookie of the year as well as a Calder Cup championship. Perhaps not the most dynamic player in the system in terms of skillset, McKenzie has been a big piece of a number of winners since jumping onto the hockey scene with the proud Penticton (BCHL) program in 2007.
It can be difficult to predict who will work out as a complementary scorer on a top-flight line because that grinder piece rarely has an appreciated set of skills. McKenzie fits this description well. He has a strong nose for the net and is unafraid of trouble anywhere on the surface. He plays in front of the net on the power play and can mop up rebounds in front with no problem. Though his numbers are inflated by his linemates, this type of player is valuable at any level and if McKenzie can mold himself into a Chris Kunitz-type of winger, he will have a long career.
19. (18) Niklas Hansson, D, 7.0D
Drafted: 3rd round, 68th overall, 2013
Niklas Hansson got his feet wet in Sweden’s second tier Allsvenskan league. His 13 points and plus-7 rating was a fine showing and it helped propel Rogle to the Kvalserien, where they had a chance to gain promotion to Elitserien hockey. Unfortunately his club fell short, but he was the third highest scoring defenseman in the tournament. Hansson progressed into perhaps Rogle’s best defenseman last season. Coming into the 2014-15 season, the 19-year-old Hansson will wear an “A” as an alternate captain.
Hansson is a good puck-moving defenseman who has terrific vision. The young Swede has a nice shot that he can get on net quickly. He still takes some risks defensively that are regrettable but he is learning and evolving. His in-zone coverage has improved over the year. He is a capable skater but needs to work on his transition to backward skating, as it is well below the mark. His skating is not progressing at the same rate as his technical skills.
20. (NR) Aaron Haydon, D, 7.0D
Drafted: 6th round, 154th overall, 2014
Though the box score was not kind to Aaron Haydon, the Stars used a sixth round selection on the sizeable American defenseman. He only notched 16 points and a poor minus-39 rating in 61 games. Additionally, he was sequestered for over 100 minutes worth of penalties over the course of the year. The right-handed blueliner does have enough raw potential to warrant mention, however. Further, his statistics (namely the plus/minus rating) were not entirely a product of his own miscues, as he was a victim of circumstance as well.
On the plus side, he skates very well, especially laterally. As a result, he defends well on the rush and his in-zone coverage improved noticeably over the course of the year. His puck skills seem to have plateaued and there is a lack of confidence that seems to cloud Haydon’s mind when it comes to moving the puck. He turns the puck over often as a result, and he still has a very immature sense of timing. The Michigan native is a tough competitor and has a strong desire to improve but is remarkably inconsistent. If Haydon can pull it all together he could creep up the Top 20 in a hurry.