Dallas Stars Top 20 features a new number one prospect

By Mike Farkas
NHL: MAR 15 Blues at Stars

Photo: Dallas Stars prospect Brett Ritchie is developing into a scoring threat at the NHL level. (courtesy of Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire)


Emergence and trades combined with accelerated arcs and stalling players have mixed up the Dallas Top 20 prospect list quite a bit. With two slick, offensive-minded defensemen leading the way followed by some monsters in the middle portion of the list, the Stars continue to boast an eclectic mix of youngsters. While there are some projects hovering in the ranks, there is a lot of experience as well, as seven of these 20 have participated in an NHL contest.

1. (10) John Klingberg, D, 7.5B
Drafted: 5th round, 131st overall, 2010

Much ballyhooed Swedish defenseman John Klingberg finally made an appearance in North America and he turned some heads early. Joining the AHL out of the gate, it was quickly determined that his talents would be better served in the NHL. In just 53 games, Klingberg is fourth on the club in scoring behind the dynamic trio of Seguin, Benn and Spezza. A purveyor of offense, Klingberg is also plus-5 despite some defensive warts.

Smooth skating and excellent offensive skills have excited patrons of the American Airlines Center for much of the season. Clearly the most technically skilled Dallas blueliner in some time, Klingberg has been productive at even strength and on the power play. He is more than just an outlet passer too; he can carry the puck, walk the line and fire to score on mid-range shots. Klingberg has been a revelation and will likely command some Calder Trophy discussion when the time comes.

2. (2) Julius Honka, D, 8.0C
Drafted: 1st round, 14th overall, 2014

Julius Honka was allowed – through some technical circumstances – to join the Texas Stars immediately after his draft year. He has acquitted himself well to the AHL game as a somewhat small youngster. With 21 points in 53 games, he showed that he is not over-matched at this level from a skill perspective.

Sub-six-foot, under-200 pounds, Honka is elusive and exhibits a high level of escapability. One of the finest skaters in the draft class, the young Finn moves around the ice well and dishes the puck in a way that is sure to generate offense at any level of play. As highlighted at the WJC with Team Finland, Honka’s defensive play still leaves a lot to be desired. However, it does not appear as if the issues are from a conceptual perspective, as his hockey sense is very high. Honka will no doubt be coaxed into improving by the organization in short order.

3. (3) Brett Ritchie, RW, 7.5B
Drafted: 2nd round, 44th overall, 2011

A consistent development curve for Brett Ritchie has placed him on the upper reaches of the Top 20 list as a 21-year-old, part-time NHLer. Having shuffled back and forth between the AHL and NHL this season, Ritchie has given Dallas fans a taste of what might be to come for the budding power forward. In the AHL, he had a terrific season in 2013-14 and this year, he is one of six double-digit goal-scorers despite playing about half as many games as the pack. In the NHL, he has had the benefit of playing with the glimmer twins at times – Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin – including some work in the trenches on the power play with them.

A hefty load at 6’3, 220 pounds, Ritchie can bulldoze towards the net with limited resistance. As a lower line player, Ritchie can also bludgeon the opposition on the forecheck. He has a shot that can bore a hole in some goaltenders and good reach, as he learns how to protect the puck in space at the NHL level. The foreseeable future might just see Brett Ritchie and the previously-graduated Valeri Nichushkin dominate the right side of the Stars’ top two lines.

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

Jamie Oleksiak has split the season between the NHL and the AHL and has shown considerable improvement. He has seen only limited amounts of ice time this season, mostly at even strength, but did not look as out of place as he did in previous tries. Consistency and decision making are two of the bigger stepping stones for Oleksiak to try to get a handle on going forward.

A massive human, Oleksiak is very mobile for a player of his size. He owns a big shot and can bring it physically when the situation arises. The issue is not the tools, it’s the use and timing of them. Though he has nearly graduated from the prospect list as it is, Oleksiak’s training wheels should almost certainly come off after the season concludes.

5. (1) Jack Campbell, G, 7.5C
Drafted: 1st round, 11th overall, 2010

After such a promising 2013-14 season, Jack Campbell has fallen off considerably in 2014-15. More than just the team around him – which has gone through plenty of upheaval – or just statistically, he is fighting it this year. His own confidence seems rattled and, in turn, the confidence of the powers that be may have been shaken as well. To that point, the first round pick was relegated to the ECHL for the first time in his pro career to find ice time and his game. Assuredly, he torched the competition in the ECHL in seven games but has been saddled with 16 losses out of his 19 decisions in the AHL this year.

Campbell is an athletic goaltender who likes to play the puck aggressively. This hurt him just as much this year as it might have helped in other years.  Campbell’s game is well-known and though he is having a poor season, all hope is not lost as he still has lots of upside. With the backup goaltending carousel in Dallas, anything is possible with a strong training camp next season.

6. (4) Jason Dickinson, C, 7.5C
Drafted: 1st round, 29th overall, 2013

The Guelph Storm having lost a lot of the firepower from the previous season, Jason Dickinson entered the year with heavily-weighted shoulders. He has responded quite well. With 68 points in 53 games, he is second on the club in points while playing in every situation possible. Guelph is on pace to be about 100 goals lighter than last season, but are firmly a playoff team thanks to Dickinson’s wonderful all-around contribution.

With good size, superb skating ability and terrific hockey sense, Dickinson projects to be a very useful, versatile player at the next level. He can play wing or center and – in one specific case against Connor McDavid’s Erie Otters – even lined up at defense. Dickinson takes a slight tumble in the rankings, but through no fault of his own as he should be an impactful player in the AHL next season.

7. (11) Cole Ully, LW/RW, 7.5C
Drafted: 5th round, 131st overall, 2013

Cole Ully is one of the more technically skilled offensive forces in the WHL. With 90 points in 67 games, Ully is firmly a top-ten scorer in the league on the lowly Kamloops Blazers. After his center Matt Needham’s 73 points, no one else on the team has more than 41 points. Ully is the lead purveyor of offense for the club and that is no surprise given his previous performances.

Slippery and skilled, Ully has a strong understanding of how to make space for himself in the offensive zone despite being a smaller player. Assuming Ully turns pro next season, the biggest adjustment may be his shift from Mr. Everything to perhaps more of a depth player at first. No doubt Stars aficionados would love to see another fifth round choice become an impact NHLer and Ully seems like he is on his way.

8. (8) Brett Pollock, LW/C, 7.5C
Drafted: 2nd round, 45th overall, 2014

The Edmonton Oil Kings have been a different team this season, with plenty of talent from the Memorial Cup winners moving on to the next level. The focus has shifted to big Brett Pollock to provide the spark and he has responded very well. Only two players eclipsed 20 goals on the Oil Kings and Pollock’s 31 led the way. It was just enough too, as the Oil Kings slipped into the Eastern Conference wild card spot.

Pollock plays a big man’s game in terms of how he conducts himself. He is upright in his skating with kind of a rough first step. His shot is overpowering and pro-caliber and so is his board work. The 6’3 left winger can be a bully on the rink as well, throwing his body around and meddling in others’ affairs as needed. He needs to smooth out a game that is still a bit rigid, but this is another burgeoning brute with big upside in the Dallas pipeline.

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

Patrik Nemeth has missed nearly all of the season after an arm laceration suffered in an October game. He is just now getting back into game shape in the AHL and could see a return to the Dallas lineup at some point later this season.

A steady defensive-minded d-man, Nemeth is big and rangy. He has an extra plus to his game though in terms of his untapped offensive upside. His timing on joining rushes and his still somewhat raw puck- carrying ability will be assets down the line. That extra wrinkle to his game might be enough to loft him above being just a classic third pairing defenseman.

10. (7) Philippe Desrosiers, G, 7.5C
Drafted: 2nd round, 54th overall, 2013

After a bit of a rocky start, Philippe Desrosiers has really smoothed out his game with the Rimouski Oceanic. After a February that saw him limit opponents to less than a goal and a half per match, Desrosiers moved into the penthouse of the QMJHL’s goals against average category at 2.52. To boot, he is just one of six goalies in the league to sport a save percentage of .900 or better. This season further cements his status among the QMJHL’s high society of crease dwellers.

A butterfly goaltender who is quickly up and down, Desrosiers keeps his work rate down by not allowing quite so many second chance opportunities. The third goaltender selected in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Desrosiers is often forgotten behind guys like Tristan Jarry (PIT), Zach Fucale (MTL) and Eric Comrie (WIN), but as a student of the game with quality technique, Desrosiers could surprise down the line.

11. (NR) Mattias Janmark, C, 7.0C
Acquired via trade with Detroit in March 2015

Swedish center Mattias Janmark was a third round selection of Detroit’s back in 2013, meaning that General Manager Jim Nill and Director of Amateur Scouting Joe McDonnell should be well-versed in the young Swede’s exploits. Through three full SHL seasons, Janmark has been a consistent and productive player. He has reached the 30-point plateau in each season, including a career high 36 points in his first season with Vastra Frolunda in 2014-15.

Like so many European mid-to-late round picks of the Red Wings over the years, Janmark is smooth – even graceful at times – with a good head for the game but not overly big and physical. At 6’1, 189 pounds, Janmark does not play a big man’s game but he does play it both ways. He needs to be stronger on the puck and that may actually lead him to being a winger down the line. His best attributes are probably his vision and playmaking ability. He sets up a number of chances in any given game and understands the timing of rushes very well. Janmark obviously needs more time on North American ice to get a better feel (just eight AHL games to date).

12. (6) Devin Shore, C, 7.0C
Drafted: 2nd round, 61st overall, 2012

Another player who was off to a seemingly disastrous start, Devin Shore had just seven points in his first 16 games for the University of Maine before rattling off 28 points in his final 23. “Final” being the operative word, as Devin Shore promptly signed an entry-level contract after his season ended at the hands of a Vermont overtime winner. The season was somewhat disappointing in the sense that Shore was expected to challenge for a Hobey Baker nomination, building off of his super sophomore season. Alas, it was not a noteworthy year for the savvy center. His defensive game certainly improved, but he and his Black Bear mates did not drum up a lot of offensive fireworks.

What Shore lacks in flash, he makes up for in intelligence. He is a thinker who should be able to develop into a player who can play in any situation at any time. Perhaps the offensive ceiling has dropped a tad, but he is certainly not without skill. The biggest area of improvement for Shore is his skating ability, which luckily is a lot easier to fix than hockey sense.

13. (13) Michael Prapavessis, D, 7.0C
Drafted: 4th round, 105th overall, 2014

The numbers are not striking for Michael Prapavessis. He has just a single goal and seven assists in 39 games as a freshman, but it was on a particularly anemic RPI offense which featured no double-digit goal scorers. In fact, Prapavessis’s eight points were just two points shy of leading the team’s blueliners in scoring. As the season progressed, the wiry defenseman earned more minutes and special teams time from the coaching staff.

The freshman is thin as a rail still, but such a terrific skater that he can slip out of trouble with relative ease. To that point, he is also smart and very aware. The college schedule and lengthy offseason promotes a vigorous off-ice routine, which should benefit Prapavessis. Still very much a long-term project, the fourth round pick has adjusted well to the collegiate game.

14. (NR) Remi Elie, LW, 7.0C
Drafted: 2nd round, 40th overall, 2013

Liberated from a very conservative system in Belleville, Remi Elie finds himself on an offensive juggernaut playing with Connor McDavid in Erie. After being acquired, Elie went right up to the top line and has performed well: 35 points and a plus-18 in 24 games. Elie is a player type that most would expect to be an impactful playoff warrior, and he will get that chance in Erie.

A bigger player who has improved his skating quite a bit, Elie has big-league wrist shot power. He can play in a lot of different situations and be effective: from checking line winger to finisher, plus any special teams outfit. His strong and steady development arc places him in a very respectable spot on the Top 20 list for the first time.

15. (NR) Esa Lindell, D, 7.0C
Drafted: 3rd round, 74th overall, 2012

Esa Lindell is having a spectacular season in Finland for Ässät Pori. He logged the most average time on ice in the league this year and led all defensemen in goals with 14 and in points with 35 in 57 contests. It is a far cry from the five points in his first 63 games he played as a pro with Jokerit. Lindell is not shy about jumping into the rush and does a very good job of changing his angles and getting shots through.

Despite the gaudy numbers, Lindell is still a work in progress overall. He has good top speed and steps to things quickly, but his transition skating needs some work. His offensive skill sometimes comes at the cost of defense and he lacks the smoothness and puck-carrying ability of, say, a John Klingberg type. Certainly a player that is tracking upwards, but also still an unfinished product. Lindell will join the Texas Stars for a North American viewing this month.

16. (18) Curtis McKenzie, LW, 6.5B
Drafted: 6th round, 159th overall, 2009

After a good, not great, college career McKenzie won the AHL Rookie of the Year and is now splitting his second pro season between AHL and the NHL. It has been just about an even split in terms of games played, but the ice time is significantly different down with Texas. McKenzie plays more of a mucking and forechecking role with Dallas, learning how to adapt to the NHL game before a load of responsibility is dropped on his shoulders.

The former Miami University winger is gradually moving forward in all facets of his game. The key now, if he is an NHLer full-time going forward, is to learn the timing and the role. He is competitive and willing in the swampy areas of the rink which is already a plus for any line and style, but being on the same wavelength as highly skilled players is another challenge in and of itself. In the meantime, he is a hungry and physical player who could possibly play up and down the lineup as needed in due course.

17. (15) Radek Faksa, C, 6.5B
Drafted: 1st round, 13th overall, 2012

Radek Faksa is developing into a sturdy third line centerman as a young player. With ten points in 32 contests to start the year, Faksa has yet to find his offensive legs in the AHL, but he is routinely playing against the best the other team has to offer. His team-worst minus-13 rating is a product of those tough assignments.

A somewhat wide-base skater, Faksa needs to continue to get stronger on the puck to progress into a really useful NHLer. Faksa could develop into a strong third line center. Otherwise, it does not appear if the technical skills are going to allow for him to reach a regular top-six forward spot at the NHL level.

18. (NR) Mattias Backman, D, 7.0D
Acquired via trade with Detroit in March 2015.

Backman was a fifth round pick of the Red Wings in 2011 and came over to the AHL full-time – or so it would seem – in 2014-15. However, after being scratched for about a quarter of the games, Backman decided to head back to Linkoping (SHL) to finish the season. He returned to Sweden with a chip on his shoulder and notched a very noteworthy 17 points in 25 games.

Backman is a terrific skater, especially laterally. He is very light on his feet but shies away from physical confrontations. He is not poor defensively from a tactical point of view, but he has issues mostly related to physicality. Offensively, he is very aware; he skates and moves the puck in a sophisticated manner with his head always up. He certainly has upside but his limited strength and perhaps limited commitment to the North American game make him a question mark.

19. (12) Ludvig Bystrom, D, 6.5C
Drafted: 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2012

It was a trying year for 2012 second round pick Ludvig Bystrom. A new coaching staff in Farjestad cast aside some youngsters such as Bystrom and potential 2015 first rounder Oliver Kylington. His point production was essentially halved, down to five points in 38 games. He even saw a brief stint in Allsvenskan to help him find his game and confidence.

A mobile two-way defenseman, Bystrom has some untapped potential still in the tank. He has very good vision and passing ability to complement his skating but will be tested by the more rugged North American, smaller-rink style. He needs to keep his feet moving more offensively and defensively to make better use of his attributes.

20. (NR) Jyrki Jokipakka, D, 6.0A
Drafted: 7th round, 195th overall, 2011

Thanks to some injuries and the overall lack of depth on the Dallas blueline, Jyrki Jokipakka has gotten an opportunity to bring his low-risk, low-maintenance game to the NHL level on a regular basis. Not much of a point producer at any level, Jokipakka has nothing to be ashamed of with nine points in 40 games thus far.

No frills, defensive hockey is the calling card for the solidly-built Finn. He makes good reads, smart and conservative puck decisions and does a good job tying up sticks in front of his own net. Jokipakka can be a quality defensive player at any level of play. The only question becomes if he becomes replaceable if a player with more upside comes down the conveyer belt.