Welcome to the 2016 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2016 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). 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 this year. 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 2016-17 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. 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.
TSP: Dallas Stars Prospects
After missing the playoffs in 2015, the Stars had something to prove last season. Riding the best offense in the NHL with 267 goals, the Stars took first place in the Central Division. The Stars won their first round series with the Minnesota Wild, before falling in round two to the St. Louis Blues.
The Stars have taken some hits in the off-season. The blue line took the biggest blow as Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers, and Kris Russell (pending) appear to be gone. Up front they losses were not nearly as impactful. The Stars said goodbye to Vernon Fiddler, Colton Sceviour, and Travis Moen. The Stars made one big impact signing on the blue line with Dan Hamhuis on July 1st. They also recently added a top six forward in Jiri Hudler. In order to replace depth though, the Stars will have to look to their youth.
Dallas Stars Prospects Scouting Reports
Top Prospect: Julius Honka
Defense — shoots Right
Born Dec 3 1995 — Jyvaskyla, Finland
Height 5’11” — Weight 185 lbs [180 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by the Dallas Stars in round 1, #14 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Honka impressed in his second AHL season for the Texas Stars. He increased his numbers across the board with 11 goals and 33 assists for 44 points in 73 games.
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. Honka has good edge work, 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 also has great mobility, with very good pivots. Honka is also extremely quick skating backwards. This and a quick stick help him to defend against the rush.
Offensively Honka, has good stick handling 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 slap shot 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.
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 over the last couple of years. Honka 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 2017-18 season, if not sooner.
#2 Prospect: Esa Lindell
Defense — shoots Left
Born May 23 1994 — Helsinki, Finland
Height 6’03” — Weight 210 lbs [191 cm / 95 kg]
Drafted by the Dallas Stars in round 3, #74 overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Coming over from Finland, Lindell had a solid first season in North America. He scored 14 goals and 42 points in 73 games, and added two goals and four points in four playoff games. Lindell also played for Finland at the World Championships, scoring four points in 10 games. Along the way, he also had a short stint in the NHL, playing four games. He was selected for Finland at this year’s World Cup of Hockey.
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 edge work which allow him to cover big areas of the ice. Lindell can also 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. He also gets it through traffic and onto the net. He can play the role of both power play quarterback as well as shooter at the point.
Lindell spent the season working on his defensive game. He greatly improved his positioning and reduced the tendency to make a bad giveaway from time to time. He could still be a bit more physical, and could improve his ability to use his size in battles and in front of the net.
Lindell has a great opportunity to make the Stars this year. There are openings on the blue line, and compared to Honka, he is a bit more mature and ready to take advantage of those. Honka has the higher ceiling, but Lindell is closer to NHL ready.
#3 Prospect: Denis Guryanov
Right Wing — shoots Left
Born Jun 7 1997 — Tolyatti, Russia
Height 6’3″ — Weight 192 lbs [191 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by the Dallas Stars in round 1, #12 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
It was a rough season for Denis Guryanov. He struggled to get ice-time with Lada Togliatti in the KHL. Guryanov scored just four goals and five points in 47 games. He went done to the MHL for a stretch, scoring four goals and six points in seven games. Guyanov’s form was so poor that he did not make Russia’s World Junior Team.
Guryanov has the speed and acceleration necessary to beat defenders wide off the rush. He has a quick first step and can use that along with his acceleration to be the first man on many loose pucks. A powerful stride also allows him to bowl right over a defender, or to carry a checker on his back as he drives the net. He is very strong on his skates for an 18-year-old, with great lower body strength and balance. This makes him very hard to knock off the puck.
Add in good agility and edge-work and Guryanov can get by defenders in a variety of ways. Defenders must respect his skating ability when he carries the puck up the ice on a rush, however if they back up too far giving him the option to use the defender as a screen, he is more than willing to unleash his powerful shot once he gets inside the face-off dots.
Big, powerful, fast, skilled, Guryanov has each box checked when it comes to talent amongst forward prospects. He scores goals, and can do it in a variety of ways. Guryanov has the strength to drive the net, battle in the corners, fight through checks and score gritty power forward-style goals. He is good in board battles, digging out loose pucks consistently, and is a menace on the boards.
Guryanov also protects the puck extremely well in the cycle game, extending zone time and increasing possession for his club. He also has a heavy wrist shot with quick release, allowing him to fool goaltenders and score from further out. Guryanov adds the quick hands necessary to deke past defenders and it’s clear that he can be a pure sniper going forward. However, he can be a bit too much of a risk-taker at times, and needs to do better at making the smart pass to a teammate in order to generate a better scoring opportunity, rather than attempting a very low percentage shot or fancy play.
Denis Guryanov shows a commitment to back checking, and plays his gritty game along the boards in all three zones. However he is inconsistent in this aspect. Guryanov is tenacious in all three zones and not afraid to make a hit to make the play, or take a hit to be sure he gets the puck out at his blue line. Guryanov could use some work on his positioning however, as that does not seem to come naturally to him in the defensive end of the ice. Moving to the smaller North American rinks, will require some coaching to refine this aspect of his game.
Guryanov signed an entry-level contract with the Dallas Stars. He is set to come to North America. With the amount of firepower on the Stars roster, it would not be a surprise to see him playing in the AHL for the Texas Stars this season. He can use at least a year of development before being NHL ready.
#4 Prospect: Devin Shore
Center — shoots Left
Born Jul 19 1994 — Ajax, ONT
Height 6’1″ — Weight 205 lbs [185 cm / 93 kg]
Drafted by the Dallas Stars in round 2, #61 overall 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Devin Shore was enjoying an outstanding rookie season when he suffered a shoulder injury in December. The injury would end the promising campaign, but Shore is expected back this year. He scored 15 goals and 26 points in just 23 games before the injury. Shore also got his feet wet at the NHL level, with three games.
Shore’s biggest issue is his skating. He has a choppy first few strides which rob him of acceleration and speed. He needs to work on his stride with a good skating coach before he can truly take his game to the next level. Shore has good agility, which allows him to avoid defenders and find openings. He also has good core strength, and a low centre of gravity, helping him to win battles along the boards. Shore can power through checks and take the puck to the net.
Shore is a strong play maker. He uses his size, balance, and strong puck handling ability to extend plays in the cycle game. He controls the puck extremely well below the hash marks. Shore has excellent vision and the ability to hit a teammate with a tape-to-tape pass through small openings. He also has excellent hockey sense. Shore makes the smart play with the puck and does not create turnovers. He is relentless, willing to battle in the corners or in front of the net. Shore also has a very good wrist shot and quick release.
Shore plays a strong two-way game. He is willing to sacrifice his body to block shots, and helps the defence with his gritty play against the cycle. Shore is strong positionally, and good in the face-off circle as well. In college, he was relied upon to play against top lines and kill penalties. He could do the same in the AHL this season.
Shore will return to Texas, looking to improve on his solid rookie season. He will need to get himself back up to speed after the serious injury, and make up for the lost year of development time. If Shore plays as well as he did last year, he could see some time in Dallas.
#5 Prospect: Stephen Johns
Defense — shoots Right
Born Apr 18 1992 — Wampum, PA
Height 6’3″ — Weight 215 lbs [191 cm/98 kg]
Drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in round 2, #60 overall at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft
Traded to the Stars in July 2015
Johns had a solid second season with in the AHL, scoring four goals and adding 20 assists for 24 points in 55 games. He also got called up to the big club, scoring one goal and three points in 14 NHL games. Johns did not look out of place and even played in all 13 Stars playoff games.
Johns has good mobility for his size. He shows decent acceleration and speed in both directions. His edge work and agility can use some work, which means he is sometimes beaten to the outside by particularly quick forwards. Johns has very good strength and balance, helping him to win battles on the boards and clear the crease.
Johns is a good passer, starting plays with a first pass out of his own zone or making plays at the blue line. He also has a hard slap shot, which he keeps low in order to help teammates with rebounds and tip-ins. Johns does have issues in that he does not handle the puck particularly well. He rushes plays and does not show a lot of poise. This limits his ultimate offensive upside.
Johns has excellent size, and knows how to use it. He plays with a real physical edge, throwing big hits as well as winning battles in the corners and clearing the front of the net. Johns is willing to block shots and uses his size and long stick to cut down passing lanes.
Johns did not look out of place with Dallas. His physicality and defensive game is something that has been missing on the Stars blue line in recent years. Expect him to win a full-time job on the Stars in training camp. The question here is the ultimate upside. Johns may top out as a solid third pairing guy.
#6 Prospect: Riley Tufte
The Stars drafted Tufte with the 25th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we took a look at Tufte, including a full scouting report. We will not repeat it, as nothing has changed since June. You can check out the report here.
#7 Prospect: Jason Dickinson
Center — shoots Left
Born Jul 4 1995 — Georgetown, ONT
Height 6’1″ — Weight 185 lbs [185 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by the Dallas Stars in round 1, #29 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Jason Dickinson scored 22 goals and 53 points in his first pro season with the Texas Stars. He also got a one-game call-up to Dallas, scoring a goal in his first NHL game.
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 edge work is also solid, and his balance and power allows him to fight through checks.
Dickinson is a creative play maker, with excellent vision and passing ability who can make his linemates better. An excellent stick handler, 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, and has improved the power on his wrist shot.
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. Dickinson 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 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. Dickinson shows his physical side in the defensive zone as well.
Dickinson needs to continue to develop at the AHL level. He should spend the majority of the season in the minors, with the odd call-up due to injuries.
Sleeper Prospect: Brendan Ranford
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born May 3 1992 — Edmonton, ALTA
Height 5’10” — Weight 190 lbs [178 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in round 7, #209 overall at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft
Signed with Dallas as an unrestricted free agent
Ranford had another solid season for the Texas Stars. He scored 19 goals and 40 assists for 59 points in 76 games, setting career highs across the board. Ranford added a goal and three assists in four playoff games.
Ranford is a decent skater, but not a great one. His speed and acceleration are just average. He does have good edge work and agility, allowing him to slip past defenders and avoid coverage in the offensive zone. Ranford does have a low centre of gravity and is better at winning puck battles than you would think.
Ranford 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. Ranford is a hard worker, who despite being undersized, often wins battles along the boards.
Ranford works hard in the defensive end. He is good on face-offs and more than willing to back check and play a strong two-way game. His size is a detriment, as he can have trouble containing bigger, stronger forwards.
Ranford has been a big-time scorer for the Texas Stars and will try to make the jump to the next level. Given the amount of offense in Dallas and the players ahead of him on the depth chart, its unclear if he’ll ever be able to crack the Stars on a full-time basis. He may need to go to another organization to get his opportunity.
The Stars have built a strong defensive core in their prospect group, as along with the three defenders profiled, they also have Mattias Backman, Nick Ebert, Niklas Hansson, Chris Martenet and Michael Prapavessis in the system. They recently gave up on goaltender Jack Campbell after Philippe Desrosiers repeatedly outperformed him almost every year. Up front Brett Ritchie, Roope Hintz, Cole Ully and Remi Ellie provide depth.