Here are some thoughts on the just concluded Dallas Stars development camp in Frisco.
*I talked to Les Jackson, Dallas Stars Director of Player Personnel, after the camp and he had this to say: “From my standpoint, this is probably the best depth we’ve had, that I can see, in a long time.”
I’d have to agree. It was a pretty good group of prospects top to bottom. There was some pretty good skill out there, and the Stars have done a nice job in recent years of building up the prospect pool. They have some talented prospects at all positions – forward, defense and goaltending.
*I say every year that I don’t read a lot into development camp. It’s not an evaluation camp, but a development camp. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some evaluating going on, but you have to keep it in perspective. A lot of the on-ice drills the players go through are challenging. They’ll take the players outside their comfort zone and sometimes they can look bad. Trust me, there are times when people in management get excited about a drill because there is a good chance some players are going to wipe out. So, I don’t get too caught up in players stumbling around and losing pucks. They’re supposed to and the goal is to help them get better.
Another thing worth noting, is you don’t get to see how complete a player is in this camp. It’s a camp that focuses on skills. You don’t get to see much of a guy’s two-way ability, even in the scrimmage. The final score of 17-11 should tell you something about where the emphasis was in that contest.
And let’s not forget that players at the camp are at various levels of development. You’ve got a guy like Brenden Dillon, who is knocking on the door of a job at the NHL level, and some other guys who are still in the early stages of their development. I don’t spend a lot of time comparing this player to that player.
I just look at the guys who are expected to be the top prospects and see if they look like the top prospects. I look to see how much guys have improved over the course of the year. And I try to size up the new draft picks because it is usually my first chance to see them in person.
Anyway, here are some thoughts. I am not going to run through every guy at the camp, or even a lot of them. I’ll talk about the ones who caught my eye for one reason or another and some who may be high interest. These thoughts are based talking to people along with watching them in development camp, down in Austin, at training camp, online and on TV.
*Dillon was the most impressive player at this week’s camp, and that’s what you would expect. He’s the closest to being NHL ready and there’s a good chance he’s an NHL player this year. He was a man among boys at times during Thursday morning’s scrimmage. He gave a glimpse of what he could do in that final game against St. Louis last season. He can skate, he can defend, he can play with an edge and he’s got a pretty good shot. He has the look of a pretty good player.
*The player who, in my opinion, has made the biggest strides over the past year would be right wing Brett Ritchie, the second round pick (44th overall) from 2011. He looked impressive in the camp. He’s got a great shot that he gets off quickly. He’s a right shot, which is nice. He’s a power forward type. He’ll be in junior again this season, and he it will be interesting to see what he can do.
*Runner-up in the big strides category is center Emil Molin from Sweden, the fourth round pick from last year. He’s a slick player with some great moves and high-end skill. He put up some nice numbers in junior hockey. He should play in the Swedish Elite League next season and we’ll see how he fares there. He played some in the Elite League last season, but didn’t see a ton of ice time.
*The 2012 draft pick who really caught my attention was Branden Troock, the right wing the Stars took in the fifth round from Seattle of the Western Hockey League. His numbers last season weren’t that great (14 goals, 12 assists in 58 games), but Troock is slippery, he can put the puck in the net, and can do it with a variety of shots. He’s pretty crafty around the net. He’s a guy I’ll be interested in watching next season.
*I thought 2012 first pick Radek Faksa looked good. He skated with Team A, which was made up of the top prospects in the camp and he didn’t look out of place. He’s a big kid with some good skill and a good shot. The scouting reports say he is a good two-way player, but you aren’t going to see a lot of that in a camp like this. I know there has been some talk that he could be close to NHL ready, but I don’t see it. I think he could use a full season in juniors, and then let’s see where he stands.
*Forward Scott Glennie looks like he is close to making his case for the NHL. He’s made some nice progress over the last year. I watched some of his games in later part of last season in the AHL, and thought he had really come a long way. He’s more mature and looks like a more confident player. The skill level is evident and I think there is some offensive potential. He broke his wrist in the final week of the season and had surgery on it. Had a bit of a sore wrist in camp, but really stood out in the scrimmage to me.
*Right wing Alex Chiasson looks like he is not that far away from the NHL. He’s got size, moves well and has a nice shot. I saw him in Austin late last season after he joined the Texas Stars, and I thought he was pretty good. He was a guy who was a cut above the group over the past week. I think he needs some seasoning in the AHL, but I think he might be the Stars’ best prospect at forward right now.
*RW Reilly Smith didn’t jump out at me that much this week, but he had some moments. I think he’s a victim of having expectations jacked up a little too fast after getting signed and slapped on the NHL roster at the end of last season. I think I am not alone in expecting a little too much. I think a lot of us were expecting him to come in make a little splash last season, and he wasn’t quite ready. He needs some time in the AHL to get acclimated to the pro game. He’s obviously a very good prospect. He’s highly skilled, quick and nice scoring touch. He’s bulked up a bit. He told me was now up to 192 pounds. It will take a little time, but I think he’ll be OK.
*RW Austin Smith was a fun player to watch this week. He’s a slick little player and he’s very creative offensively. That was obvious in many of the drills and in Thursday’s scrimmage. I think the big thing with A. Smith is that there is still a big adjustment to the pro game, the structure of it and the size and strength of some of the players. He was able to generate scoring chances down in Austin last season, but couldn’t catch a break when it came to finishing. His time in the AHL was a good learning experience, he’s a really bright guy and I expect he’ll make some good strides this season.
*RW Matej Stransky, the sixth round pick in the 2011 draft, is a good prospect. He’s got size, some good hands and protects the puck extremely well. Scout Dennis Holland told me he was probably the best in the Western Hockey League at protecting the puck below the dots. He made big strides in the WHL last season, and put up some nice offensive numbers. I think the goal moving forward is for him to become a more complete player. He should be on a good team this season and will play in the Memorial Cup because his team is the host for this year’s tournament. I’d expect a big season from him.
*D Jamie Oleksiak was pretty impressive at camp. He’s got the great size, moves really well and it’s almost impossible for attacking players to get around him. He’s not overly physical, but he uses his size and reach really well. There’s a lot to like about him. This will be his first pro season and the competition level is going to go up, so there will be an adjustment period. But he’s moving along quickly as far as the development path and you’d have to expect that he is going to make some good strides over the course of the season.
*D Patrik Nemeth makes the jump from Sweden to North America this season. He looks like he is going to be a solid defenseman. He skates well, defends well (from the times I’ve seen him in games) and plays with a bit of an edge. He just seems to be a highly competitive guy. There will be an adjustment to the North American game, but he’s played in the Swedish Elite League, so he is used to a high level of competition. Stars player development coordinator J.J. McQueen raved about his strength.
*It’s tough to judge the goalies in these camps because it’s usually just a shooting gallery in a lot of these drills or they are just involved in goaltender drills. Jack Campbell, Tyler Beskorowany and Christopher Nihlstorp worked out as a separate group for most of the camp until the last couple days. It would appear that Campbell and Nihlstorp will be the tandem in Austin to the start the season and Beskorowany, who struggled last season, could be headed to the ECHL to re-establish himself there. However it shakes out, the Stars have some good depth at goal and there should be some great competition going forward.