Welcome to the 2015 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2015 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) and 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 2015 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 2015-16 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.
The Dallas Stars made some big moves last summer, picking up Jason Spezza in a trade with the Ottawa Senators, and signing free agent Alex Hemsky. They were added to Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin who would somehow have an even better season than they had in 2013-14. Benn would win the Art Ross Trophy, and Tyler Seguin put a 77 points in 2014-15. Even with all that offence, the Stars had problems keeping the puck out of their own net, and this along with a poor home record was ultimately the teams undoing. They would finish with 92 points and sit on the outside looking in come playoff time, seven points shy of the Winnipeg Jets who took the final Western Conference Wild Card Spot.
The Stars added goaltender Antti Niemi in a draft day trade for the pending UFA goalie, and then signed him to form a one-two punch with Kari Lehtonen. The Stars hope that by having a starting caliber goaltender for all 82 games, their tandem can help bring the goals against numbers down. They also picked up Patrick Sharp from the Chicago Blackhawks to add another scoring threat up front. Shortly after grabbing Sharp, the Stars signed fellow ex-Blackhawk Johnny Oduya as a free agent, adding a steady minute eating defender on the blue line.
TSP: Dallas Stars Prospects
Top Prospect: Julius Honka, Defence
Born Dec 3 1995 — Jyvaskyla, Finland
Height 5.11 — Weight 181 [180 cm/82 kg] — Shoots Right
Drafted by the Dallas Stars in the 1st round, 14th overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
The Stars first round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, Honka went to the AHL with the Texas Stars instead of returning to play for the Swift Current Broncos in the WHL. He made a strong impression in his first year in the AHL despite being a year or more younger than most AHL rookies. Honka scored 8 goals and 31 points in 68 games for Texas. He also appeared for Finland at the World Junior Championships, being named a top 3 player on the team.
Julius Honka projects as an offensive defenceman. He is a great skater who can both lead the rush or join in as a trailer. He has excellent speed and very good acceleration. He has good edgework, and excellent agility. In the offensive zone, Honka is able to walk the line and open up shooting and passing lanes to create offence. He has great mobility, and very good pivots and is also extremely quick skating backwards. This and a quick stick help him to defend against the rush.
Offensively Honka, has good stickhandling ability, excellent vision and passing skill. Honka is excellent in the role of power play quarterback and can create a ton of chances when he is given time and space. He has a booming slapshot and very good one-timer from the point. Honka has the knack to get his shot through and on net around the defenders that defend high to try and prevent it. He also has effective wrist and snaps shots and a very good release on both. Honka has good offensive hockey sense and can pick the right time to pinch in for an offensive chance. Even when he makes a poor decision his quick skating can often help him to recover.
However Honka’s lack of size limits his defensive game. His lack of size and strength means that he can be beaten in board battles and struggles to clear the front of the net. He will need to add some muscle to his frame going forward in order to play at the NHL level, though he did start to do that last year. He is also improving on his positioning and defensive zone coverage which will be areas he needs to excel in to overcome the size issue. He does help himself out though by being quick to move the puck out of the defensive zone.
Honka is knocking on the door and is extremely close to being NHL ready. Even if he starts the year in the AHL, expect him to earn some time in the NHL this year as an injury fill in, and be ready for a full-time job by the 2016-17 season, if not sooner.
#2 Prospect Esa Lindell, Defence
Born May 23 1994 — Helsinki, Finland
Height 6.02 — Weight 196 [188 cm/89 kg] — Shoots left
Drafted by the Dallas Stars in the 3rd round, 74th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry draft.
A third round pick of the Dallas Stars in the 2012 NHL Draft, Esa Lindell is another offensive weapon from the blue line. He put up 35 points for Assat in the Finnish SM-Liiga this year, before coming to North America and finishing the season with the Texas Stars in the AHL.
Lindell has good speed in both directions and excellent acceleration. His mobility helps him both in pushing the offense, and in covering his man in the defensive end of the ice. He has good pivots and edgwork which allow him to cover big areas of the ice. He can transition from offence to defence, or vice-versa, extremely quickly.
Lindell is a strong puck handler who loves to join the rush, and unleash a strong and accurate wrist shot. He reads the play well in the offensive zone and picks good times to pinch into the play. He keeps his head up and can make a strong pass out of the defensive zone or quarterback things from the point. His slap shot has good power and he gets it through onto the net. He can play the role of both power play quarterback and shooter at the point.
Lindell does need some work on his defensive game though, as he can use some work on his positioning. He also has a tendency to make a bad giveaway from time to time. He also needs to be a bit more physical, and could improve his ability to use his size in battles and in front of the net.
I would expect Lindell to start the season in the AHL, where he can work on his game and could be up in the NHL in a year or so.
#3 Prospect Jason Dickinson, C/LW
Born Jul 4 1995 — Georgetown, ONT
Height 6.02 — Weight 191 [188 cm/87 kg] – Shoots Left
Drafted by Dallas Stars in 1st round, 29th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
It was a rebuilding year for the Guelph Storm after going all the way to the Memorial Cup final in 2014. New captain Jason Dickinson steadied the ship for a team that lost a lot of talent after their big season. Dickinson put up 27 goals and 71 points in 56 games, setting a career high in goals, and in points per game. He finished the season with the Texas Stars in the AHL
Dickinson is a creative playmaker, with excellent vision and passing ability who can make his linemates better. An excellent stickhandler, he protects the puck well, extending plays and waiting for openings to make a pass; especially when working down low on the cycle game. Dickinson shows a quick release, but could stand to become a little stronger and get more power on his wrist shot if he wants to become a real sniper at the next level. Dickinson also has very good hand eye co-ordination and is skilled in tipping in point shots, or burying rebounds from the front of the net. He is involved in front of the net and on the boards as well, and over the last year he has shown more consistency in his physical game. He’s not a big hitter, but he fights hard in the dirty areas and works to control the puck down low. He also doesn’t shy away from hits to make a play, though that was an issue earlier in his junior career. He can still afford to add muscle though. At 6’2″ he has the body type to become a power forward if he can add the muscles and the consistency. Dickinson also has very good hockey sense, and is able to find openings and soft spots in the defensive coverage.
Dickinson has a compact but very powerful skating stride. He generates good speed and has decent acceleration. His ability to change gears is good and allows him to fool defenders off the rush, and in cutting to the net off the cycle game. His agility and edgework is also solid, and his balance and power allows him to fight through checks.
Dickinson plays a decent two-way game. He is an effective penalty killer and is strong playing against top lines at even strength. He has shown good gap control and really anticipates plays well, intercepting passes and starting the offence. He has shown his physical side in the defensive zone as well.
Dickinson should be headed to play for the Stars, where he will continue to round out his game, and bulk up. He’s likely a year or two away from making an impact at the NHL level.
Sleeper Prospect: Cole Ully, Left Wing
Born Feb 20 1995 — Calgary, ALTA
Height 5.11 — Weight 180 [180 cm/82 kg] — Shoots Left
Drafted by Dallas Stars in round 5, 131st overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
A fifth round pick of the Dallas Stars in 2013, Cole Ully had a monster season for the Kamloops Blazers, putting up 34 goals and 94 points in 69 games. It was the second straight 30 goal season for Ully, who was named to the WHL West Division first all-star team. Despite his big year, Kamloops missed the playoffs, and Ully finished the year playing a couple of games for the Texas Stars and picking up an assist.
Ully’s skating stride looks a bit awkward, but he still has decent speed. He’s not going to be confused for a speedster, but he gets around the ice well enough, and is helped by strong positioning and anticiptation. Ully does have good edgework and agility allowing him to slip around defenders, and get into open areas with or without the puck.
Ully has excellent vision and passing skills, as well as the puck poise and the protection skills to extend plays and wait for his teammates to get open. He is not afraid to play in traffic and will go to the net and score with his soft hands and good finishing ability. He does well to control the puck on the cycle game. Ully is a hard worker, who despite being undersized, often wins battles along the boards. He is good on face-offs and more than willing to backcheck and play a strong two-way game.
Ully has a few things to overcome to be an NHLer. He must still improve his skating, and he needs to get physically stronger going forward. That said he has made some strong strides in his first two years post draft, and he will be given the opportunity to continue that in Texas next year.
The Stars have improved their prospect pool in recent years, as Jim Nill understands the importance of drafting and development. He added Stephen Johns in the Patrick Sharp deal, giving the Stars another solid defender in the pipeline. They also added Mattias Backman, and Mattias Janmark in a trade deadline move adding depth at both forward and the blueline. Patrick Nemeth is also knocking on the door of the NHL as it will be a make or break training camp given his age. Upfront, the Stars used their first round pick, 12th overall, on Denis Guryanov, showing once again that they are not afraid of the Russian factor. He joins a forward group that also includes power forward prospect Brett Ritchie; centres Devin Shore, Radek Faksa and Brett Pollock; and wingers Remi Ellie and Curtis McKenzie. While things haven’t worked out as planned with goaltender Jack Campbell, the Stars seem to have a talented goalie in the pipeline in Philippe Desrosiers.