Welcome to Today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2013 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. I will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2013 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2013-14 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances (especially due to the fact that the latest NHL season was only 48 games).
It was a disappointing season for the Stars as they fought hard til the end but ultimately came up short on qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The failure led to the firing of general manager Joe Nieuwendyk, and head coach Glen Gulutzan seeing them replaced by former Detroit Red Wings super scout Jim Nill, and former Buffalo Sabres bench boss Lindy Ruff.
The new management group has a lot to work with as the Stars have built a nice stable of young prospects, aided by late season trades of Brenden Morrow, Derek Roy and Jaromir Jagr that brought them extra picks and players. The Stars even dipped into that group in making a trade for Tyler Seguin this offseason. They also got an unexpected surprise when Valeri Nichuskin fell to them at 10th overall on draft day.
Top Prospect: Jack Campbell, Goalie
Born Jan 9 1992 — Port Huron, MI
Height 6.02 — Weight 199 — Shoots Left, Catches Left
Selected by the Dallas Stars in round 1 #11 overall of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft
Campbell spent the season with the Texas Stars in the AHL. While it was a decent season for the young goalkeeper in his first full year in the league, he did continue his trend of inconsistency that showed up in Sault Ste. Marie. Being a 20 year old rookie netminder in the AHL is tough though, and we’re willing to give Campbell the pass while he adjusts to the league. I expect better results from him this coming year.
Campbell burst onto the hockey scene in the 2010 World Junior Championships. The pressure Campbell faced was immense. He stepped into the US net in the second period of a 3-3 tie in the Gold Medal Game and faced the five time defending champion Canadian squad in the Gold Medal Game. However Campbell was unflappable and the US team rode his goaltending and an Overtime goal by John Carlson to World Junior Gold. Campbell would follow that up by winning another gold medal in a US jersey, the 2010 World Under 18 Championships.
In 2010-11 however, a pattern started to emerge. Campbell decided to jump in and backstop the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires rather than join Michigan in the NCAA. His first year in the OHL saw him put up a 3.80 GAA and an 0.884 sv percentage, clearly numbers that were a lot less than what was expected from Campbell. Despite his OHL struggles Campbell was once again able to step up at the World Junior Championships being named the tournament’s top goaltender and leading the US squad to a bronze medal. Campbell would struggle again in 2011-12 in a season split between Windsor and Sault Ste. Marie. While he would once again suit up for the US at the World Juniors, and although he personally played well, he was part of a disappointing squad that did not qualify for the medal rounds.
Campbell’s struggles are hard to explain. He seems to be at his best when the pressure is at its highest but has had trouble bringing a high level of play over a full season. Again, he was at his best this season during a time when Cristopher Nilstrop was up with the Dallas Stars while Kari Lehtonen was injured. With the pressure on to be the undisputed number 1 goalie in Texas for a few weeks, he was playing standout hockey, and had his best run of the season. When Nilstrop returned and he was again sharing the net, he went back to his inconsistent play.
Campbell has all the skill to dominate at the junior and AHL levels, but for whatever reason he is just not getting it done on a regular basis. However put him in a Team USA jersey and its like you’ve got a whole different goalie for two weeks, give him the number 1 job in the AHL and he steps up. Campbell also played pretty well for Windsor in the 2010 OHL playoffs. While many analysts would say its a good thing that a goaltender is at his best in the biggest games, and it certainly is, one still has to be concerned by Campbell’s disappointing regular season play.
Talent wise, Campbell has it all. He plays excellent positionally, is always square to the puck. Campbell is a big goalie who cuts down his angles well and takes up a ton of room in the net. He has excellent lateral mobility and plays an effective butterfly style that takes away the bottom of the net with his fast legs. Campbell has quick reflexes and a lightning fast glove that takes away a shooters options upstairs. Lastly he possesses excellent puckhandling skills and this greatly helps his defensemen out.
It would appear that Campbell needs to work on his mental game. He seems to have a tendency to not be able to let go of a bad goal, and once one gets by him, things can really snowball. The Stars will need to work with Campbell on this aspect. If he can get his head in the right spot and be a consistent goaltender, Dallas will have a real gem. Expect to see Campbell back in the AHL this season, where finding that focus will be his number 1 priority.
#2 Prospect Brett Ritchie, Right Wing
Born Jul 1 1993 — Orangeville, ONT
Height 6.04 — Weight 215 — Shoots Right
Selected by Dallas Stars round 2 #44 overall 2011 NHL Entry Draft
It was a real breakout season for Brett Ritchie. His impressive play for the Niagara Ice Dogs earned him a spot on Canada’s National Junior Team, an Entry Level Contract with the Dallas Stars, and the ability to suit up for 5 regular season, and 9 playoff games for the Texas Stars in the AHL.
Ritchie developed into a dominant physical presence and an impressive goal scorer this year. At 6’04” and 215 lbs, he has impressive size and he knows how to use it, as an aggressive forechecker who really puts pressure on defencemen as they go back to retrieve pucks. With the puck on his stick he’s willing to skate right through his opponents to create a scoring chance, and is always driving the net. He’s willing to dig in the corners and to take the punishment to work in front of the goalie. Ritchie also has a hard accurate wrist shot, and a good one-timer. His wrister has a deceptively quick release, leading to a number of goals
Ritchie is improving defensively, and has really begun to be a physical force in his own end as well. His ability to win battles for the puck and to contain opponents to the outside is a real asset for him. He also shows a willingness to block shots, and to make the little plays that are important in the defensive zone.
Ritchie will likely start the season in the AHL, but with the way he has been improving, it won’t be too long before he is in Dallas. One year learning the pro game may be all he needs, depending upon how that season goes of course.
#3 Prospect, Radek Faksa, Centre
Born Jan 9 1994 – Opava, Czech Republic
Height 6.03 — Weight 202 — Shoots Left
Drafted 13th Overall by the Stars in the 2012 NHL Draft
Faksa spent another year with the Kitchener Rangers, before finishing his season with a couple of AHL games in Texas. Overall it was a disappointing year for Faksa and the Rangers, as a midseason leg injury took him out of the lineup for a few weeks, and even when on the ice he did not score at the pace he did in 2011-12. The Rangers, in their 50th anniversary season, were expected to challenge the London Knights for the OHL crown. Things didn’t work out as they never really threatened in the regular season, and then fell to the Knights in 5 games in the second round of the playoffs. Still I wouldn’t call the season a total loss for Faksa, who once again showed an impressive two-way game, and even improved defensively this year.
Faksa pairs outstanding hockey sense and offensive instincts, with very good vision and passing skills to be an excellent playmaker. He also has a good wrist shot with an excellent release. Faksa is an above average skater, with good speed and strong balance which makes him difficult to knock off the puck. He isn’t afraid to go into traffic and to take hits to make plays for the Rangers.
At 6’3, 202lbs Faksa has the great size that many NHL teams covet down the middle. Faksa uses that size effectively to protect the puck and to establish position in the offensive zone. We do however think that Faksa can use his size more effectively and we’d like to see him drive the net harder with the puck on his stick. We’d also like to see Faksa use his size advantage to be a more effective body checker, especially on the forecheck.
Faksa is already an excellent defensive player and has even gotten better this season. He is often used to check the opponent’s top line, and is a key penalty killer for Kitchener. Faksa makes quick decisions and is equally adept at breaking up plays in both the neutral zone and his defensive end. He uses his size and smarts to angle opponents to the outside and keep them from dangerous areas. His long reach is an important asset in closing down passing lanes as well.
Faksa will likely be back in Kitchener for one more season in 2013-14. I would hope to see him get back to scoring at a better than PPG pace and helping to lead the Rangers in the post Steve Spott era. He’s likely at least 2 years away from making real impact at the NHL, but he could be worth the wait as a potential top 6 centre for the Stars.
Super Sleeper: Matej Stransky, Right Wing
Born Jul 11 1993 — Ostrava, Czech Rep.
Height 6.03 — Weight 215 — Shoots R
Selected by Dallas Stars round 6 #165 overall 2011 NHL Entry Draft
After scoring just 14 goals and 26 points in his draft year, the Stars prospect has taken off with a 39 goal, 81 point season in 2011-12 and a 40 goal, 80 point season for Saskatoon this year. With Josh Nicholls he was the Blades offensive leader, and though he played well, the Blades season was a bit of a disappointment as the Memorial Cup Hosts lost in a 4 game sweep in the WHL playoffs and were the first team eliminated in the Memorial Cup, despite loading up on talent in advance of the tournament. Still none of this is really Stransky’s fault, as he played well enough, even putting up 2 goals in the Blades only win in the tourney.
Stransky is a big and strong forward. He has great balance, is very strong on the puck, and has excellent stick handling ability. He really excels in the cycle game as he is able to protect the puck well and makes good quick passes to teammates, showing the vision to find them when they get open. He has excellent size and can utilize it driving the net, and making plays in tight with his soft hands. Stransky has not been afraid to get involved physically in the corners or in front of the net. His quickness and acceleration have improved greatly over the last two years as well.
Stransky will likely start next season with the Texas Stars in the AHL. However with his size and his offensive instincts he’s certainly a player to keep an eye on. The Stars just might have a 6th round steal on their hands.
The Stars have a deep pool as seen by the fact that we didn’t even mention last year’s number 2 prospect, Jamie Oleksiak. Make no mistake, Oleksiak hasn’t slipped, he had a good season in the AHL, and even got in 16 games for Dallas. He’d likely be our number 4 this year. He’s just surrounded by such a good group that its hard to crack the top 3. Kevin Connaughton, acquired from Vancouver is another good young defenceman who should soon be looking for an NHL job. In Alex Chiasson and Alex Guptil we add some other young forwards with potential. A solid 2013 draft added to the system in all areas. Overall the Stars have quality and depth. If there is one misstep the organization made, and to be honest every organization makes these mistakes, it is Scott Glennie who is struggling to get ice time in the AHL and is looking like a mistake of a pick.
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