Stars Top 20 prospects, Fall 2007

By Derek Cheng

Matt Niskanen moves into the top spot on the Dallas Stars Top 20. Free agent Marty Sertich and 2004 first round pick Mark Fistric are the others who moved up the chart. There are seven newcomers to the list, including Nico Sacchetti and two others from the 2007 draft. Ten players spent significant time with the Iowa Stars, Dallas’ primary affiliate, in 2006-07. The Stars’ prospect system is top-loaded with defensemen, but overall there are only five on the list. Two goaltenders are near the bottom of the list, while the rest are forwards.

Dallas has not had a top-20 pick in 11 drafts. Four prospects on the list were signed as free agents.

Top 20 at a glance

1.  Matt Niskanen, D
2.  Ivan Vishnevskiy, D
3.  Mark Fistric, D
4.  James Neal, C
5.  Loui Eriksson, LW
6.  Chris Conner, LW
7.  Marty Sertich, C
8.  Aaron Snow, LW
9.  Niklas Grossman, D
10.  Vojtech Polak, LW
11.  Mario Scalzo, D
12.  Nico Sacchetti, C
13.  Sergei Korostin, RW
14.  Perttu Lindgren, C
15.  Richard Clune, LW
16.  Konstantin Pushkarev, RW
17.  Aaron Gagnon, C
18.  Tobias Stephan, G
19.  Richard Bachman, G
20.  Ondrej Roman, C

1.  Matt Niskanen, D, 20

Acquired: 1st round, 28th overall, 2005

Niskanen continues to be one of Dallas’ most promising prospects.  He has made the Stars roster out of camp as a 20-year-old rookie.  Last season, he turned pro after just two years of college hockey, playing in 13 regular season and 12 playoff games with the Iowa Stars.  Last year with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Niskanen earned WCHA First-Team All-Star honors as a sophomore after registering nine goals, 22 assists for 31 points in 39 games, good for second among defensemen in the league. He then signed an entry-level contract with Dallas and in 13 games with Iowa, he picked up 3 assists and a -4 rating. In the playoffs he fully demonstrated his ability to compete at the professional level, scoring twice and adding five assists. At 6’1, 195, Niskanen has a solid frame. He is a strong skater and has excellent vision to go along with a pair of soft hands. His passing and shooting skills are above average and he can play physical when necessary, being known to dish out big hits when the opportunity arises.

2.  Ivan Vishnevskiy, D, 19

Acquired: 1st round, 27th overall, 2006

In his second season in North America, Vishnevskiy had a terrific year. The Russian import set career highs in all categories with 14 goals, 37 assists, and 51 points in 60 games played, placing him second among defensemen on Rouyn-Noranda, behind only mid-season acquisition Mathieu Carle (MON). In the playoffs, he was a force, scoring 13 points in 16 games, as the Huskies powered their way to the third round before falling to the eventual champion Lewiston MAINEiacs. Vishnevskiy was a member of Team Russia for the 2006 ADT Canada-Russia Challenge, however did not have a strong showing in the two games scoring no points and a -4 rating. He also participated in the 2007 Canada-Russia Challenge, playing in six of the eight games and scoring one goal. Vishnevskiy is 5’11, a highly-skilled offensive minded rearguard. He is an effortless skater and moves the puck very well. Vishnevskiy has signed an entry-level contract with Dallas, but has returned to Rouyn-Noranda for the year. If he can learn to handle the physical game and improve his play without the puck, he has a solid future in the NHL as an offensive defenseman.

3.  Mark Fistric, D, 21

Acquired: 1st round, 28th overall, 2004

After completing a terrific junior career with the Vancouver Giants (WHL) as a solid stay-at-home defenseman, Fistric made a smooth transition to the AHL. With Iowa, he played in all 80 games, and contributed 24 points, along with 83 penalty minutes and a +3 rating. He was also a mainstay on the blue line in their 12-game playoff run, where he picked up 16 penalty minutes and a -3 rating. Fistric was named Iowa’s Most Improved Player and was selected by his teammates as the 7th Player Award winner. He is a safe and very intelligent player, rarely making a mistake with or without the puck and having a calming effect on his teammates. For a player his size, he has surprising speed and is a good skater overall. He is not as physically inclined as one would hope, but he does know when to use his muscle. At 6’2, 230 pounds, Fistric possesses good size and has the potential to be a hard hitter. He is back in Iowa this season.

4.  James Neal, C, 20

Acquired: 2nd round, 33rd overall, 2005

Neal’s 2006-07 season was cut short because of a knee injury that required surgery in February. But that didn’t stop the 20-year-old from posting career highs in every point category, to the tune of 27 goals, 38 assists for 65 points. In the playoffs, Neal powered the Plymouth Whalers to the league championship with 25 points in 20 games. His momentum carried on to the Memorial Cup tournament where he notched five goals and added an assist in five games, leading Plymouth in goals and coming second in points. He also won his second gold medal with Canada at the WJCs, though he did not register any points in six games. Neal is a prototypical power forward. He possesses a quick accurate shot and terrific passing skills, making him a dynamic offensive threat. He is also very tough and plays an aggressive game, sometimes to his detriment, as illustrated by the 42 penalty minutes he took in five Memorial Cup games. Neal projects to be a third-liner in the NHL and has begun his pro career in Iowa this year, going scoreless in three games.

5.  Loui Eriksson, LW, 22

Acquired: 2nd round, 33rd overall, 2003

Eriksson’s transition to North America has been smooth. Following a stellar rookie campaign with Iowa in 2005-06, in which he was named the team’s Rookie of the Year, he earned a position with Dallas in 2006-07 and scored a goal in his first game. He was re-assigned to Iowa for a 15-game stint, but was recalled in mid-November. Promoted to full-time NHL duty, he would go on to record 19 points in 59 games, while averaging just over 13 minutes of ice time and playing in the top six mix. He also suited up for four playoff games, tallying his first playoff point in the process. When the Stars were eliminated from the playoffs, he was returned to Iowa for their playoff run and he notched seven points in nine games. Eriksson is a slick skater with deceptive top speed and natural offensive instinct. A goal scorer by nature, he possesses good puck-handling and protection skills, as well as a quick wrist shot. Eriksson is back with Dallas this year. But he needs to improve on his overall body strength and consistency to become more effective.

6.  Chris Conner, C, 23

Acquired: Signed as a Free Agent, 2006

Conner spent four years at Michigan Tech, graduating in 2006. Never drafted, he began his pro career on an amateur try-out basis with Iowa in the AHL. After a strong showing which included a two-point effort in seven playoff games, he earned a two-year contract with Dallas. In 2006-07, he further proved that he could compete despite his diminutive size. In 48 games, Conner tallied 19 goals and 37 points, ranking him first among rookies on the team and earning Iowa’s Rookie of the Year award. During the season, Conner was recalled to Dallas on three occasions. He played a total of 11 games, picking up his first goal as well as a pair of helpers. Conner finished the season with Iowa and in the playoffs where he notched 7 points in 12 games. Generously listed at 5’8, 175, Conner’s main disadvantage is his lack of size. But he makes up for that with good speed, energy and hard work. He has shown some offensive upside, but it may not be enough for him to land a top-six role. Conner is likely best suited as a hard-working energy forward.  He has begun the year back in Iowa.

7.  Marty Sertich, C, 24

Acquired: Signed as a Free Agent, 2006

A product of Colorado College, Sertich was signed a two-year free-agent contract with Dallas after graduating in 2006. He made a smooth transition to the AHL, but his first professional season was plagued by injuries. Still, he was named Iowa’s Man of the Year, and the 5’8 center demonstrated he could be effective against bigger and stronger competition. He finished the season with 13 goals, 20 assists and 33 points in 44 games. He missed most of the playoffs, dressing for only two contests and registering one assist. The former Hobey Baker award winner has a clear size disadvantage, but his ability to create offense is remarkable and could be his ticket to the NHL. He is an extremely talented playmaker, blessed with tremendous vision, creativity, and a terrific ability to protect the puck for a player his size. He’ll needs to add some strength and improve his two-way game, something that can be done with another full and more importantly injury-free season in the AHL.

8.  Aaron Snow, LW, 20

Acquired: 3rd round, 90th overall, 2006

After a breakout year in 2005-06, Snow took a bit of a step back thanks largely to the graduation of former linemates Wojtek Wolski and Luch Aquino. He started the season with Brampton, but was traded to Belleville after just 12 games. In all, he recorded 41 points in 60 games in the regular season, but just three points in 13 playoff games. After the season ended, Snow was moved again, this time heading to Windsor where he will start the 2007-08 season. Snow is a terrific skater, possessing a strong stride and good acceleration. He has above average vision and moves the puck well. His best asset is his hockey sense, but he needs to prove he can contribute offensively without high-flying linemates, otherwise he will be destined for checker/grinder duties. Another season of junior hockey followed by some seasoning in the AHL should help Snow develop his game.  So far he has four points in eight games for the Spitfires.

9.  Niklas Grossman, D, 22

Acquired: 2nd round, 56th overall, 2004

At 6’4, 205 pounds, Grossman possesses the frame to be a solid defensive-minded rearguard. He was rock solid for Iowa in 2006-07, impressive enough to earn four recalls to Dallas. He played in eight NHL games, averaging just under 13 minutes of ice time. In the AHL, Iowa was a pilar of strength on defense, leading the team with a +7 rating. He is not known for his offense, but did contribute 10 points in 67 games. He was named Iowa’s best defenseman by local media. For a player his size, Grossman moves extremely well. He shows tremendous poise, patience, and confidence on the ice both with and without the puck. Though his offensive upside is limited, he does have a heavy slap shot, which is occasionally used on the power play. His main strength is his defensive game where he can use his long reach to his advantage to defend against attackers. Grossman should see more NHL playing time this season, but needs to cut down on errant passes and improve awareness.

10.  Vojtech Polak, LW, 22

Acquired: 1st round, 26th overall, 2004

Polak now has five NHL games to his credit, two coming in 2006-07. He was injured early in the season and was forced to spend over a month on the reserve list. After being activated in November, he was assigned to Iowa and went on to record 45 points in 67 games. His trailed off in the playoffs where he recorded just one goal in seven contests. Polak is an opportunistic, high-octane offensive minded player, as clearly demonstrated in his four-goal, six-point effort in a game versus Milwaukee in February. He is a slick stickhandler with creative dangle moves and very good offensive instinct. Polak’s main weakness is his unwillingness to play defense. He is still prone to excessive giveaways and sometimes does not use his linemates, showing selfish tendencies. He is not a physical player by any means and plays with low intensity at times. Much improvement is needed before Polak can land a permanent job in the NHL, but his offensive skill set undoubtedly makes him an interesting prospect.  Polak had an ankle injury to start the year, but is now in Iowa for the season.

11.  Mario Scalzo, D, 22

Acquired: Signed as Free Agent, 2005

Emerging from the QMJHL as a small offensive-minded defenseman, Scalzo has transitioned well to the AHL and has been a mainstay on the Iowa blueline in the past two seasons. In 2006-07, he recorded 25 points in 73 games, a slight dip from his rookie season totals. During the season, Scalzo was named to Team Canada for the 2006 Spengler Cup, his second straight appearance. In five games, he recorded one goal, coming in the championship game loss to Davos. His season finished with a three-assist performance in Iowa’s nine-game playoff run. Scalzo is a smooth-skating offensive-minded defenseman. He possesses a great deal of speed and does not hesitate to join the rush. He has improved his defensive zone play, but still has a long way to go before landing a permanent NHL job.

12.  Nico Sacchetti, C, 18

Acquired: 2nd round, 50th overall, 2007

Dallas didn’t have a selection until late in the second round of the 2007 draft, but they were able to net offensive dynamo Nico Sacchetti with that pick, 50th overall.  Playing for Virginia High School, Sacchetti exploded for 38 goals and 90 points in just 25 games in 2006-07. He also competed at the 8 Nations tournament for USA’s ’89 squad, registering three points in four games. A natural center, Sacchetti has tremendous skating ability, but lacks elite top speed. A gifted playmaker and slick puckhandler, he has a bag full of tricks to go along with heightened offensive instinct and a heavy, accurate shot. He excels on the power play and is very effective in the face-off circle. He does not possess great size, but his frame is well equipped with a powerful lower body. Sacchetti will be a freshman at University of Minnesota next year. He will likely be given ample time to develop there, focusing most on improving his defensive skills as well as bulking up. His offensive prowess is undeniable and he enters the list at No. 12 due to the high upside.

13.  Sergei Korostin, RW, 18

Acquired: 3rd round, 64th overall, 2007

Only nine Russians were selected in the 2007 draft, Korostin was the third, chosen early in the fourth round behind Alexei Cherepanov and Ruslan Bashkirov. He was a force at the U-18 WJCs tallying five goals and one assist, combining with Cherepanov to power Russia to a gold medal victory. Unfortunately Korostin’s season in Russia did not go quite as well. Moscow Dynamo’s head coach is known to have little patience for young players and he saw very little ice time. Having been promised ice time, he was also not loaned to the High League (Russia 2) for development purposes. As a result, he only saw seven games in the RSL. The rest of his season was spent with the Russian ’89 squad in various tournaments including the 2006 World Jr. A Championship where he notched six points in five games, the 8 Nations tournament, four points in four games, and the 4 Nations tournament, seven points in three games. Korostin boasts a ton of speed and has a tremendous ability to handle the puck at those speeds. He is a tenacious forechecker and his style is compatible with North American hockey. Korostin will continue to develop in Russia, mostly with Dynamo’s farm team this year. 

14.  Perttu Lindgren, C, 20

Acquired: 3rd round, 75th overall, 2005

During the 2006 preseason, Lindgren centered an all-Finnish line with Jussi Jokinen and Jere Lehtinen. He had a strong start but cooled off quickly, seemingly buckling under the pressure of the immense expectations on his shoulders. After being cut from the team, he rejoined Ilves Tampere in Finland. An ankle injury set him back early in the season, but he rebounded well, finishing with 26 points in 43 games. It was a much less productive season than his previous year, but he made up for it with a very strong playoff performance, notching six points in seven games, including four playoff goals which matched his season total. He was also part of Finland‘s 2007 WJC squad and played extremely well posting 10 points in six games, tied for the tournament lead.  Lindgren is a playmaker who plays a good all-around game. He has terrific vision to go along with above average speed. He handles the puck well and possesses a solid wrist shot. His main weakness at this point is lack of strength, which can be remedied with a good training program. He also still needs some time to get acclimated with the North American style.  Lindgren has been assigned to Iowa, and is scoreless in three games.

15.  Richard Clune, LW, 20

Acquired: 3rd round, 71st overall, 2005

After spending three seasons with the Sarnia Sting, Clune was traded to Barrie, where he had a breakout year. The native of Toronto scored 32 goals, half coming on the power play, and 78 points in 67 games, good for third on the team. It was his first point-per-game season. He also amassed 151 penalty minutes, a team high, and had a +18 rating. Clune carried his momentum into the playoffs and helped Barrie win a playoff round, finishing with seven points in eight games. After the Colts were eliminated from the playoffs, Clune signed a try-out contract with Iowa and got his first taste of pro hockey. Clune is a good skater and plays with an edge despite an average-sized frame. He is not afraid to go into the danger areas and is a terrific forechecker, always finishing his checks. He has put some muscle since being drafted, but still needs to bulk up a bit more. Another thing he needs to work on is his intensity. Clune is signed to an entry-level contract and will spend a full season in Iowa fine-tuning his game.  First he must serve a six-game suspension for leaving the bench to enter a fight in a preseason game.

16.  Konstantin Pushkarev, RW, 22

Acquired: Trade from Los Angeles, 2007

Pushkarev logged a lot of mileage this past season traveling between Manchester and Los Angeles before being traded to Dallas at the deadline. He spent the majority of 2006-07 with Manchester, 35 games in total, scoring 15 points. He made a good impression in 16 NHL games with the Kings, posting a pair of goals and assists. He went straight to Iowa after the trade and scored seven points in 15 games. In the playoffs, he tallied five points in 12 games. Pushkarev is incredibly shifty and is very competitive. His determination to win one-on-one battles often leads to good scoring chances. His main strength is his skating ability, but he also possesses a good quick release wrist shot and some playmaking ability. His main knocks are lack of strength and hockey sense. If he can improve in these areas, then he will be successful at the next level. But the clock is ticking for the 22-year-old and it’s hard to imagine the Kazakhstan native will be content toiling in the minors for much longer. He is entering the final year of his entry-level contract.

17. (NR) Aaron Gagnon, C, 21

Acquired: Signed as Free Agent, 2007

Gagnon was originally drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in the eighth round of the 2004 draft but was never signed. In 2006-07, he served as team captain for the Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL), leading the team with 42 goals, 80 points, and a +27 rating in 59 games. He also went on to tally eight points in Seattle’s 11-game playoff run. He received a lot of recognition in his final year including a nomination for the WHL Player of the Year and Most Sportsmanlike Player awards, as well as being named to the First All-Star team. His accomplishments did not go unnoticed and after his final year of junior eligibility, he signed a two-year contract with Dallas. Gagnon is a terrific skater with an explosive top gear and good balance. He protects the puck well and has quick hands that give him offensive flair. He will need to add muscle as he lacks the strength to compete in high traffic areas, but the 21-year-old native of Armstrong, BC could be a diamond in the rough.

18.  Tobias Stephan, G, 23

Acquired: 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2002

The top ranked goaltender prospect for Dallas signed his entry-level contract in 2005, but made his debut in North America in 2006-07. After backstopping the Swiss National team for several years and starring for Kloten in the Swiss-A league, Stephan finally spent a full season with Iowa backing up veteran goaltender Dan Ellis. He posted modest numbers in his rookie year, to the tune of a 10-15-0 record, 2.88 GAA, and .900 save percentage. He also made two relief appearances in the playoffs. At 6’3, 190, Stephan covers a lot of net. He plays a butterfly style, moves quickly, and possesses excellent reflexes. He is a very good puck handler and is quite calm, even in high-pressure situations. He has a weak five hole and needs to work on being more consistent before he can challenge for an NHL roster spot. Stephan will battle for playing time Iowa this year with Iowa-contracted veteran Philippe Sauve and Steve Silverthorn, though was already called up to Dallas in an injury situation.

19.  Richard Bachman, G, 20

Acquired: 4th round, 120th overall, 2006

Bachman was a first overall selection by the Chicago Steel in the USHL, but spent most of the 2006-07 season with Cedar Rapids following a trade. There he backed up Kent Patterson and had a solid 14-10-2 record, along with a 2.99 GAA and a .913 save percentage. In the playoffs, he played in six games and was virtually unbeatable, posting a 4-1 record with two shutouts, a 1.28 GAA and a .951 save percentage. A butterfly-style goaltender, Bachman possesses a quick glove hand, terrific quickness, athleticism, and great overall hockey sense. At 5’11, he is average-sized but covers the net well, especially the lower portion. He is patient and tries to let the shooter make the first move. He needs to improve on his rebound control and his puck handling skills in order to be successful at the next level. Bachman now attends Colorado College and will battle for playing time with another freshman and a returning third-year goaltender.

20.  Ondrej Roman, C, 18

Acquired: 5th round, 136th overall, 2007

After a terrific year in the Czech junior league, Roman arrived in North America via the 2006 CHL import draft, in which he was selected fifth overall by the Spokane Chiefs. The native of Ostrava, Czech Republic posted modest numbers in his rookie campaign, to the tune of 48 points in 70 games, good for fifth on the club. He saw some time on the power play, where he scored three of his four goals, and was bounced around the lines in even strength situations. Roman is extremely mobile and knows how to play a physical game. His size limits his success in high-traffic areas, but he is always willing to test his luck. Along with above average vision, he has decent playmaking and overall skill with the puck. A natural center, he displays good faceoff skills and plays a strong two-way game. Dallas’ sixth selection in the 2007 draft still has several years of development ahead, but he possesses enough skill to make some noise in the future.

Missing the cut

John Lammers, LW
Tom Wandell, C
Raymond Sawada, RW

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