Stars Top 20 prospects

By Tanya Lyon

The Dallas Stars Top 20 prospects list features two players from the 2006 Entry Draft — defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy and forward Aaron Snow.

Only forward Loui Eriksson seems poised to immediately crack the Stars NHL lineup, but many others on the list are at a crossroads where they must jumpstart their development or risk not making it to the NHL.

Top 20 at a glance

1.Loui Eriksson, RW
2.Perttu Lindgren, C
3.Matt Niskanen, D
4.Ivan Vishnevskiy, D
5.Niklas Grossman, D
6. Vojtech Polak, LW
7. Aaron Snow, LW
8. Mario Scalzo, D
9. James Neal, C
10. Mark Fistric, D
11. Marty Sertich, C
12. Johan Fransson, D
13. Tobias Stephan, G
14. Rich Clune, LW
15. Yared Hagos, C
16. John Lammers, LW
17. Matt Nickerson, D
18. Tom Wandell, C
19. Marius Holtet, RW
20. Raymond Sawada, RW

1.Loui Eriksson, RW (21)
2003 entry draft, 2nd round

In his rookie season in the AHL, Eriksson quickly proved why he’s one of Dallas’ top prospects. He ranked second on the affiliate Iowa Stars in scoring, with 31 goals and 60 points in 78 games. He was especially potent on the power play, scoring 12 power play goals. Eriksson’s 60 points also ranked him among the AHL’s top 50 overall point scorers and 10th among all AHL rookie scorers. The 6’1, 183-pound right wing finished the season as a +20, which also ranked 15th in the AHL for plus/minus. Eriksson also proved to be a catalyst for the team, ranking second in the AHL for scoring the first goal with nine first goals of the game. Eriksson earned AHL Rookie of the Month honors for March 2006 and was voted the Iowa Stars’ Rookie of the Year last season. Eriksson has had success at every level of his development and now will certainly earn an extra look at the Stars training camp in September.

2. Perttu Lindgren, C (19)
2005 entry draft, 3rd round

Lindgren spent last season playing with Ilves Tampere in the Finnish Elite League and was successful in his first year at that level. He tallied 13 goals and 37 points in 51 games and was named the Finnish Elite League’s Rookie of the Year. The previous season at the junior level, Lindgren scored 41 points in 38 games in the same system.

Lindgren was signed to a three-year entry-level contract with the Stars in the summer of 2006 and will be at training camp. According to Stars General Manager Doug Armstrong, if Lindgren does not make the team out of camp, he will return to Finland and continue his development.

3. Matt Niskanen, D (19)
2005 entry draft, 1st round

In his first season playing for the University of Minnesota-Duluth, defenseman Matt Niskanen scored one goal and 14 points, which led the team’s blueliners in scoring. Niskanen is a talented offensive defenseman who was able to make the transition from high school hockey to playing a regular shift at the NCAA level. He played a regular shift with UMD and played especially well for the team in the playoffs, helping the team knock the defending champion Denver University out of the first round of the WCHA Tournament. There was a lot of speculation this summer that Niskanen might leave UMD and head to Iowa early, but he will give UMD at least one more year.

4. Ivan Vishnevskiy, D (18)
2006 entry draft, 1st round

The Stars first round pick in 2006 had a successful rookie season while playing for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL. The 6’, 178-pound blueliner scored 13 goals and 48 points in 54 games and was named to the Q’s all rookie team. Vishnevskiy finished seventh in the league in rookie scoring and was the only defenseman to make the top ten. The Barnaul, Russia native has been compared to All-Star Sandis Ozolinsh and like him, Vishnevskiy has tons of offensive potential but needs to work on his defensive game. Vishnevskiy will spend the 2006-07 back in the QMJHL, but the Stars hope that he will be able to replace Sergei Zubov in the coming years.

5. Niklas Grossman, D (21)
2004 entry draft, 2nd round

In his rookie AHL season, the stay at home defenseman scored just five points but had a +10 rating in 61 games. While Grossman’s point totals may not be impressive, he was Iowa’s most dependable stay at home defenseman. He missed 10 games early in the season with a shoulder injury, but returned and played strongly and was voted the Most Improved Player by the Iowa Stars coaches last season. Grossman spent the 2004-05 playing for Sodertalje of the Swedish Elite League where he tallied just two assists in 31 games was team captain for the 2005 Swedish World Junior team. Since being drafted, Grossman has filled out and now has good size at 6’4 and 201 pounds.

6. Vojtech Polak, LW (21)
2003 entry draft, 2nd round

The 6’, 183-pound Vojtech Polak rebounded from a disappointing 2004-05 season in the Czech league that saw him score just nine points in 42 games. That season he also missed the cut to make the Czech World Junior team. In 2005-06, he made the transition to North American hockey and played in his first season at the AHL level. He had a strong first half of the season but couldn’t keep up the pace in the second half. He finished the season with 12 goals and 34 points in 60 games. He finished the season seventh on the team in scoring and was one of just six Iowa Stars players to score a short-handed goal in the 2005-06 season.

7. Aaron Snow, LW (18)
2006 entry draft, 3rd round

The third round draft pick of 2006 spent the last two seasons playing for the Brampton Battalion of the OHL. Last season, Snow saw a huge improvement in virtually every area of play including goals scored and points scored. In 2004-05, he tallied just eight goals and 15 points in 61 games while last season he scored 30 goals and 68 points in 68 games and was a +11. He ranked fifth on the team during the regular season in points scored and continued to score for the Battalion in the playoffs, scoring four goals and four assists in 11 games. Snow ranked 14th in the OHL and first on his team with four short-handed goals. There is no doubt that Snow benefited from being paired on a line with Colorado prospect Wojtek Wolski (COL) and Islanders prospect Luch Aquino, but the question is how much. Snow will have a chance to prove he is a top line player this year when it is almost certain that his linemate Wolski will graduate to the NHL.

8. Mario Scalzo, D (21)
Free agent 2005

Scalzo has continued to prove critics wrong by being effective as an offensive defenseman despite his smaller size (5’9, 187) and he’s doing the same thing now that he is playing in the AHL. The rookie AHL defenseman is considered Iowa’s top puckmoving defenseman now that veteran Patrick Traverse has gone to the San Jose Sharks. He ranked eighth among all Iowa Stars in scoring with four goals and 33 points in 74 games played and was a +9. Scalzo benefited from the NHL’s new rules which favor speed and skill and ranked 32nd among all AHL defensemen in scoring in just his first AHL season. While Scalzo has proven to be offensively talented, he will need to add more muscle to his frame to prevent him from being overpowered in one on one battles and along the boards.

9. James Neal, C (18)
2005 entry draft, 2nd round

The 6’3, 190-pound Neal has played each of the last three seasons with the Plymouth Whalers (OHL) where he has steadily improved each season. In 2005-06, he ranked third on the team in scoring with 21 goals and 58 points in 66 games. His point total last season represented a 14-point improvement over the previous season while the 109 penalty minutes represented a 77-minute increase over the previous season. Neal turned up his performance in the playoffs, leading the team in points with nine goals and 16 points in 13 games. Neal has the potential to be a power forward but will need to continue to add strength and size to his 6’3 frame.

10. Mark Fistric, D (20)
2004 entry draft, 1st round

The 6’2, 232-pound defenseman has good size and is considered a steady defensive defenseman who is not afraid to play physically. Fistric has spent the past five seasons playing for the Vancouver Giants in the WHL. In 2003-04, he was awarded the Pat Quinn Defenseman of the Year award as Vancouver’s top blueliner but was sidelined for much of the 2004-05 season with two broken jaws. In 2005-06 with the majority of his injuries behind him, Fistric tallied 7 goals and 29 points 60 games while notching 148 penalty minutes. The Edmonton, Alberta native is expected to join Iowa for the 2006-07 season where he should provide a physical presence at the blue line.

11. Marty Sertich, C (23)
Free agent, 2006

Sertich was signed as a free agent by the Stars this summer after a very successful career at Colorado College. In 2005, Sertich won the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s best player. In 2005-06, he served as CC’s team captain, posting 50 points (14 goals, 36 assists) in 42 games. His 36 assists led the Tigers. While Sertich’s numbers were slightly off from his Hobey Baker winning junior season, his numbers were impressive enough that he was again a Top Ten Finalist for the 2006 Hobey Baker.

Sertich will try to surpass the pro numbers of another former Hobey winner who was signed by the Stars, Junior Lessard. He’ll likely begin with the Iowa Stars.

12. Johan Fransson, D (21)
2004 entry draft, 2nd round

A Kalix, Sweden native, Fransson was considered a promising offensive defenseman when he was drafted in 2004. However, he has not developed as quickly as was hoped. Fransson was a member of Sweden’s 2004 and 2005 World Junior team but had an average 2005-06 season, scoring 3 goals and 8 points in 50 games. The 6’1, 183-pound defenseman finished the season ranked 14th on the team and fifth among all defensemen in scoring. He’ll stay another year in Sweden. He has signed a contract with Frölunda and could use a full season in Elitserien before crossing the pond. This way he could step right into the NHL and contribute as a top 6 defenseman.

13. Tobias Stephan, G (22)
2002 entry draft, 2nd round

The top-ranked netminding prospect for Stars has yet to play a professional season in North America. Last season, the 6’2, 180-pound goalie played in his fourth season with the Kloten Flyers of the Swiss league. He appeared in 42 games as the team’s top goaltender and earned a record of 15-19-7. He had a 2.79 goals against average and earned five shutouts. Stephan has played over 40 games a season for three of the past four years for the Flyers and has been playing in a league filled with players with NHL experience as well as filled with many of the top European players.

Stephan’s consistent and solid play in the Swiss league may make him a possibility to take over for Marty Turco in the coming years if Turco again self destructs in the postseason. If the Swiss goaltender does make it to the NHL, then he will join the ranks of Martin Gerber and David Aebischer has the few Swiss netminders in the NHL.

14. Rich Clune, LW (19)
2005 entry draft, 3rd round

Clune has spent the past three seasons playing with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL. He has improved his point total and tallied more penalty minutes in each of his three seasons and last season was no different. In 2005-06, he ranked third on the team in points scored with 20 goals and 52 points in 61 games. Clune’s 52 points in 2005-06 represented an 18-point improvement over the previous season. The Toronto native was also an offensive catalyst for his team, ranking first on the team with 6 first goals. The 5’11, 195-pound left wing is a solid two-way player who was recognized in an OHL Western Conference Coaches poll as one of the top checkers in the conference.

15. Yared Hagos, C (23)
2001 entry draft, 3rd round

The 6’1, 206-pound Stockholm native adjusted to the physical play of North American hockey during the second half of last season, but will no doubt need another year at the AHL level before he can hope to move on. In 57 games with Iowa, Hagos earned seven goals and 22 points and was +1, good for only 14th on the team in scoring. Hagos spent the previous year with Timra of the Swedish Elite League where he notched 21 points in 49 games.

16. John Lammers, LW (20)
2004 entry draft, 3rd round

Lammers has spent the past five seasons in the WHL including four with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, but he enjoyed his most successful season playing with the Everett Silvertips. After being paired on a line with center Zach Hamill, Lammers led the team in scoring with 38 goals and 75 points in 70 games — a 28-point improvement over the previous season. The 5’11, 186-pound forward also led the Tips in power play goals (16), short-handed goals (4) and was named the team MVP. However, due to his struggles in previous seasons and while Hamill was sidelined, Lammers will have to work hard in 2006-07 to prove that he is capable of repeating his successful 2005-06 season.

17. Matt Nickerson, D (21)
2003 entry draft, 3rd round

In attempt to help defenseman Matt Nickerson develop, the Dallas Stars staff sent the 6’4, 235-pound blueliner to play with Assat Pori of the Finnish Elite League. The defenseman earned five goals and 13 points in 36 games and added a whopping 236 minutes in penalties. While Nickerson has good size and toughness along with it, he was able to work on the skill aspects of his game while playing in Finland. He earned time on the Assat power play and notched ten points on the man advantage. Nickerson will need to continue to work on his skating and find other ways to round out his game.

18. Tom Wandell, C (19)
2005 entry draft, 5th round

After missing nearly the entire 2004-05 season with a torn ACL, Wandell rebounded nicely in 2005-06. The 6’1, 183-pound center scored 19 goals and 39 points in 41 games while playing for Sodertalje’s J20 team. Wandell played six games with the men’s team and was scoreless. To continue his development, Wandell will need to make the transition to playing on the men’s team on a regular basis.

19. Marius Holtet, RW (22)
2002 entry draft, 2nd round

Holtet split the 2004-05 season between the Houston Aeros (AHL) and the Louisiana IceGators (ECHL). In the 2005-06 season, Holtet managed to stay in the AHL all season long. The Hamar, Norway native ranked 13th on the Iowa Stars in scoring with nine goals and 22 points in 68 games. The 6’1, 190-pound right wing will most likely spend another year in Iowa, but with continued development he could soon earn a spot on Dallas’ fourth line.

20. Raymond Sawada, RW (21)
2004 entry draft, 2nd round

The 6’2, 205-pound forward is known for playing physically and has excelled over the past two seasons while playing for Cornell University (NCAA). In his first season, he scored nine points and tallied 48 penalty minutes in 35 games, good enough for 15th on the team in scoring. This past season, he improved upon his rookie season by notching seven goals and 20 points and was ranked fourth on the team in scoring. It appears Sawada has continued his improvement and impressed the Dallas brass at the team’s rookie camp this summer.

Missing the cut

Brandon Crombeen, RW (21)
2003 Entry Draft, 2nd round

The 2004-05 season had been a successful one for Dallas prospect Brandon Crombeen. He scored 31 goals and 49 points in 63 games and was named to the OHL All Star team and won the JC Massie Trophy as the Barrie Colts MVP. But while his final year of junior hockey was a success, 2005-06 was a year of adjustment. The 6’2, 212-pound forward spent the 2005-06 season splitting time between the Iowa Stars (AHL) and the Idaho Steelheads (ECHL). Crombeen struggled offensively while playing for Iowa scoring just five goals and 12 points in 52 games but excelled at the ECHL level scoring eight points in as many games. While Crombeen did struggle offensively, he wasn’t afraid to drop the gloves and add a physical element every time he stepped on the ice. He ranked fourth on the Stars in penalty minutes with 97.

Note: Goaltenders Mike Smith and Dan Ellis, and right wing Junior Lessard no longer qualify for the list.

Kevin Wey, Zoran Manojlovic, DJ Powers and Martin Christ contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.