Stars AHL/ECHL 2008-09 review

By Mike Farkas

The Dallas Stars organization was in a transition period this past season regarding their minor league prospects.  After disengaging from their old AHL affiliate in Iowa, the Stars spread their pro prospects out all over the map.  They’ll be able to play under one system as one team in 2009-10 when the Stars introduce the Texas Stars, located in Austin, as their new farm team.  Until then, the Stars oversaw mixed results from a mixed bag of teams in 2008-09. 

Aaron Gagnon, C

It’s been something of a slow road for Gagnon in terms of professional development.  In 2007-08 he  split a season between the ECHL and AHL in 2007-08 and this finally cracked the AHL on a full-time basis with Grand Rapids, though with a few healthy scratches early on and later in a limited role.  Gagnon saw 61 games of action this year, potting eight goals and 19 points.  He spent a majority of the season on lower lines and his special teams work was limited to spot duty on the penalty kill. 

Gagnon seems to be relegated to the defensive forward role but he’s not a very physical presence.  He had 19 points in 61 games.

John Lammers, LW

Lammers made his return to the AHL after a 2007-08 that saw him participate in the ECHL and SM-Liiga A.  Lammers suited up 57 times for the Houston Aeros this year.  He finished fifth among Houston forwards in scoring with 12 goals and 26 points.  Lammers, though, has not had a strong playoffs – notching just three helpers in 12 games as the Aeros continue to press on in the American League playoffs. 

Lammers remains something of a goal-scoring project.  He hasn’t consistently impressed enough at any level to be considered a NHL-likely candidate at this point.

Raymond Sawada, LW/RW

It was the first full professional season for Cornell grad Sawada.  Sawada spent the vast majority of the season with the Manitoba Moose – a team that is still alive in the AHL playoffs.  Sawada did see a five-game NHL call-up that began with a goal on his 24th birthday back in February.  The 2004 second-round pick hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire in terms of scoring (six goals and 21 points in 52 AHL matches) but he can bring an energetic physical presence and a responsible defensive game.  The tenacious forechecker was recognized for his contributions when he was named the Moose’s rookie of the year this season. 

Sawada knows his role now and in the future.  He plays a style that would suggest he’s very close to being NHL ready, especially with a good training camp. 

Tyler Shelast, RW

Undrafted free agent Tyler Shelast went through his first professional season in 2008-09.  After a slow start with Hamilton (AHL), he was re-assigned to Idaho (ECHL) where he spent a good portion of the season.  In 31 games, Shelast gathered nine goals and 21 points but went scoreless as the Steelheads went winless in the postseason.  The Michigan Tech grad probably had his development hurt a bit by Dallas’ lack of AHL affiliate.  Things didn’t work for him in Hamilton during two stints – he registered just three points and a minus-two in 17 contests.  Shelast ended up being used because of injuries to Hamilton forwards. 

Francis Wathier, LW

The lone holdover for the Iowa Chops (AHL) after Dallas opted out of their agreement with the franchise, Wathier had a solid AHL season in 2008-09.  The grinder and fan favorite tallied 16 points in 77 games, but more impressively, 127 penalty minutes.  His 16 points narrowly outranked his fighting majors – which totaled 14 in all.  The physical, hard-working forward has had to earn his ice time at every level and has done a remarkable job filling his role with Iowa for the third year in a row despite the change in the scenery around him. 

Wathier will likely serve a similar role with the Texas Stars next season. 

Trevor Ludwig, D

Ludwig is yet another Stars prospect in his first year out of college and enjoying his first full professional season.  The positionally-sound defensive blueliner spent the better part of his 2008-09 campaign with Idaho (ECHL).  He notched a respectable ten points in 35 games there.  He went scoreless and even in 16 games with the Manitoba Moose (AHL).  A bit of praise, although indirectly, was given to Ludwig just on his assignment to Manitoba — the Moose’s management requested that only top tier players be sent to Manitoba to avoid any sort of favoritism regarding the mix of Vancouver and Dallas prospects.

Ivan Vishnevskiy, D

The Russian rearguard got his first taste of professional hockey with the Peoria Rivermen this season.  The offensive-minded d-man’s numbers aren’t exactly awe-inspiring (19 points and a minus-5 in 67 games).  For much of his time in Peoria, his play wasn’t exactly inspired either.  Vishnevskiy seemed almost bored with his time in the AHL.  If there’s one thing that kept him busy, however, it was improving his defensive play over the course of the year – which he did.  But it wasn’t until he was recalled to Dallas for the last three games of the season did we see what’s to come for the talented and dynamic Vishnevskiy. 

With Sergei Zubov’s future in some question, Vishnevskiy may have shown enough in his short stint to be penciled into the 2009-10 Stars starting lineup.

Matt Climie, G

Climie is another player who would have benefited if Dallas had its own farm team in 2008-09.  The rookie out of Bemidji State was sent to Idaho, where he had an excellent year.  In 42 games, Climie went 27-12-1 with a 2.30 GAA, .915 save percentage and the team’s only four shutouts (top eight in the ECHL in four major goalie categories).  Despite being swept out of the playoffs, Climie was rewarded for a good season with a late season call-up to Dallas, where he got into three games.  Climie still has a lot of bugs in his game to work out, including rebound control and not over-committing to cross-ice passes, but he made a good impression on the Stars coaching staff late in the year.

Climie will be auditioning for the starting job in Texas (AHL) next fall along with the newly-signed Richard Bachman