Balance and skill of Dallas Stars system evident in prospect awards

By Mike Farkas

Jack Campbell - Texas Stars

Photo: Goaltender Jack Campbell put together a strong rookie AHL season playing behind the Texas Stars, which captured the best record in the AHL’s Western Conference during the regular season (courtesy of Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

In the second edition of the Dallas Stars prospect awards we find a repeat winner on the blue line, another Stars prospect graduates into the NHL with a boom, and last year’s breakout prospect becomes this year’s most improved – much to the relief of Stars fans across the globe.

Most Improved: Jack Campbell, G, Texas Stars (AHL)

After a rather forgettable junior career, Jack Campbell had a lot to prove to justify the lofty draft pick the Stars invested in him. He had a slow start in his first full pro season, but once he started to get more consistent starts, Campbell shined. He had an impressive January and February that helped Texas to a division crown. When the calendar flipped to 2013, Campbell started to really show what he could and through the rest of the season he went 15-9-1 with a 2.40 goals against average, .913 save percentage, and two blankings.

Strangely, Campbell did not see any time in the short playoffs that Texas embarked on despite the struggles of European veteran Cristopher Nilstorp against Oklahoma City in the second round. In any event, it was a successful season for Campbell. He is getting technically better and is playing a more controlled game in the tighter confines of professional hockey. The starting role should be turned over to him next season which should help his rhythm and confidence while helping to unleash his grand potential.

Best Defensive Prospect:  Jamie Oleksiak, D, Texas Stars (AHL)

For the second time in two tries, Jamie Oleksiak is crowned the Stars best defensive prospect. Once again on the move, Oleksiak split the season between Texas of the AHL and Dallas of the NHL. It was clearly something of a rush job to thrust him into NHL duty so soon and he struggled to keep his head above water. However, he took what he learned from the speed of the NHL game and used it to aid him in the AHL where he finished strong and helped Texas into the playoffs. The mammoth two-way defender paced all AHL blueliners with 33 points in 59 games. In fact, his 27 helpers was the third overall on the team. Oleksiak will challenge hard for a full-time spot in the NHL next season.

Others considered for this award: The recently-acquired offensive-minded Joe Morrow and the impressive Brenden Dillon, who should garner some serious Calder consideration if points were not such a driving factor.

Prospect of the Year: Brenden Dillon, D, Dallas Stars (NHL)

Though the finish was not quite as he had hoped perhaps, Brenden Dillon put his name squarely on the hockey map this season. A fairly weak Dallas blue line pressed the undrafted rookie Dillon into some heavy lifting and he handled it splendidly. The Stars had a minus-12 goal differential on the year, but Dillon – who faced the toughest opposition more nights than not – finished the year on the plus side while playing the most even strength minutes on the team this year. His sturdy presence also impressed Hockey Canada officials and they tendered him an invitation to the World Championships. With Dillon’s improved skating ability, he did not look at all out of place on the big ice. Unfortunately, the Calder Trophy voting is largely statistically-driven and Dillon’s eight points in 48 games will not draw nearly the appreciation that it should.

Fastest Skater: Mike Winther, C, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)

Though unable to improve upon his lofty goal-scoring numbers from last season, Winther played an integral role in returning the Raiders to the WHL’s postseason. The Stars second round pick in 2012 is still something of an utility man and can be used all over the lineup because of his versatility and speed. Winther has a great first step and can motor around the ice effortlessly. His two-way play will be counted on even further when Mark McNeill (CHI) leaves the team next season to turn pro.

Others considered for this award: Industrious little forward from Owen Sound Gemel Smith and puck-rushing defenseman John Klingberg from Sweden.

Hardest Shot: Joe Morrow, D, Texas Stars (AHL)

The Stars may have exchanged their captain for youth but they kept his namesake. Hoping to improve their depth on the back line, Dallas acquired Joe Morrow from the Pittsburgh Penguins before the NHL trade deadline. Morrow is an offensive-minded defenseman that skates well and can push the play forward adeptly. One of Morrow’s best traits, perhaps his very best, is his booming shot. It is a heavy slapper that can find twine from distance or create voluptuous rebounds in front. His shot and offensive instincts will be a welcomed addition to the Dallas blue line in the near future.

Also considered for this award: Kevin Connauton, Dmitry Sinitsyn, and Jamie Oleksiak.

Overachiever: Gemel Smith, C, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)

While it is not for lack of effort, Gemel Smith’s skill set may be lost in translation if and when he turns professional. Smith shows flashes of high quality play, including some one-on-one evasiveness. However, the bread and butter of his game will likely be his skating, feistiness, and work ethic when he leaves the junior ranks. His 23 goals and 52 points in 61 games are impressive, they are not an improvement on his totals from last year.

Underachiever: Radek Faksa, C, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)

After a tremendous rookie campaign in the OHL and a first round selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, second-season expectations ran high for the Czech center. Unfortunately, Kitchener’s offensive flair never got off the ground and neither did Faksa. Limited by injuries to just 39 games, Faksa shaved 20 goals off of last year’s total and his points went down by more than half. Kitchener did not last long in the OHL playoffs either. Similarly, the Czech Republic was also discarded early in the World Junior Championships and the 13th overall selection did little to stop it.

Hopefully, Faksa will return at 100% next season and put this disappointing outing behind him. Alex Guptill was also considered for this booby prize.

Highest Risk/Reward: John Klingberg, D, Skelleftea (SEL)

Mobile, offensive defenseman John Klingberg returned to Sweden and returned from injury in 2012-13. He had a noteworthy season against tough competition in Sweden’s top league. He played a sizable role in 25 games during the regular season and he netted a goal and a dozen assists before helping Skelleftea to the league championship. He came over and appeared in one Texas playoff game but played just long enough to be a minus. He will return to Sweden in 2013-14 and play for Frolunda, the team that raised him in their youth system.

Klingberg can cover a lot of ground and push the play offensively, but he is undersized and injury prone. Additionally, he is a risk taker out there and feels the best defense is a good offense which can cause some coaches fits. He will have another year of high-level professional hockey under his belt at the age of 21 next season and all this experience is starting to add up and pay off.

Hardest Worker: Gemel Smith, C, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)

Given his stature and skill level, Gemel Smith needs to work as hard as he does every night to get noticed by NHL scouts. While it is unclear what kind of role he will have after he leaves the Ontario Hockey League, we see that he is a versatile, fast utility player that will go through a wall to make a play. Smith has earned everything he has gotten so far and no one expects him to take it easy on the throttle any time soon.

Breakout for 2013-14: Devin Shore, C, University of Maine Blackbears (Hockey East)

Devin Shore was relied upon heavily as a freshman at the University of Maine last year and he responded fabulously. He led the team in assists and that is a quantitative nod at how much better Shore makes his teammates. He is blessed with great hockey sense and seems to really enjoy the game. His coaches trust him enough to play him in many different situations and he rewards them with quality play and good decisions. He has the skills, smarts, and work ethic to really blossom next season into a premier player in collegiate hockey.