Prospects hold hope for the future and make us all feel more comfortable knowing that more help is on the way. The annual rite of passage this time of year signaling that hockey is back is upon us. It’s time to rank prospects.
We’ve designated players with 45 games or less NHL experience as “prospects” for the purposes of this exercise. WFAA bloggers Brandon Worley and Josh Lile made their own top 10 lists, then both were fused together to come up with a composite list. If you missed the first half of these rankings, go here.
Without further ado, here are the Stars’ top five prospects. Just for the sake of suspense, we’ll go in reverse order for the top five.
5. Brett Ritchie
Drafted in the second round in 2011, Ritchie is entering his sixth season as a Dallas Stars prospect, and at 23 years old has now made the NHL roster to start the season for the first time in his career. The budding power forward has been rather effective during his limited time in the NHL, showing a willingness to throw the body and provide a punishing forecheck that perfectly complements the speed attack of the Stars.
Unfortunately, Ritchie has struggled to remain healthy the past few years and has had to play catch-up for most of the past two seasons. Preseason wrist surgery in 2015 limited him to just eight games in the NHL, while being nearly a point-per-game player in the AHL with the Texas Stars in 35 games. Despite his aggressive attack and above-average shot, Ritchie has not fully recognized his potential as a scorer in the NHL and will have high expectations entering the 2016-17 season.
4. Radek Faksa
It’s odd to have Faksa on this list given his meteoric rise since his debut last season, but at just 45 games in the NHL he barely squeaks onto the list.
Faksa was drafted as a defensive-minded center with a playmaker’s touch, and, while he was riding the line of “potential bust” due to ongoing injuries that limited his playing time, there’s no doubt now that the big-bodied center is a big part of what the Stars have built. Showing exactly what you want from a third-line center, Faksa is fast, physical and has a very high hockey IQ that leads to not only a strong defensive game but also a surprising burst on the offensive side.
Scoring just 12 points in 45 games in the regular season last year, Faksa came on strong to finish with six points in his final nine regular season games before adding five more in the playoffs. It was the postseason where Faksa truly started to shine, providing tough minutes against some of the top lines on opposing teams that allowed the Stars to free up their top two lines a bit.
The young Czech winger has a very bright future ahead and appears to be a stalwart on the third line for the Stars for some time to come.
3. Esa Lindell
The solid-but-not-quite-flashy Esa Lindell is tough to pin down if you watch him for just one game. He doesn’t ever really stand out with a special offensive play at the blue line, or a crushing hit in open ice. He’s not the fastest skater, or the biggest defenseman on the ice.
Watch him over a period of games, however, and it becomes quite clear just want Esa Lindell is good at: keeping other teams from scoring.
There’s a quote about Lindell I’ll always remember when talking to a scout about some of the Stars prospects last season. “When he’s on the ice, other teams just don’t score,” this scout said, when asked about the Stars’ defenseman, at the time playing in the AHL. That held true during training camp and the preseason where, while certainly not perfect, Lindell again showed off a solid foundation that was steadily effective at moving the puck out of his zone – again and again.
Lindell has the potential to be a long-time player for the Stars’ top-four defensive pairing rotation, and while he might slide between the NHL and AHL this season due to his more junior status, there’s no doubt the Stars have found the type of defenseman long-term successful NHL teams draft, develop and keep for six to 10 years.
2. Stephen Johns
When the Stars made the trade for Patrick Sharp last summer, the name that turned a few heads that was included in the deal was defenseman Stephen Johns. Coming off a very successful four-year career at Notre Dame, Johns was considered perhaps the best defensive prospect in the Chicago Blackhawks’ development system and it was immediately considered that Johns would end up being the best part of the trade.
There’s no doubting now that Johns is the real deal.
Johns is fast, physical, nimble on his skates and has great vision and puck skills that allow him to escape trouble and quickly transition the puck out of his zone. While his aggressiveness can lead to mistakes, Johns quickly showed he has the combination of skills the Stars have needed for quite some time; a physical and imposing defenseman that is solid – and at times – dangerous with the puck.
Johns has looked even better in the preseason and has likely solidified a spot in the top four for the Stars for quite some time to come.
1. Julius Honka
Honka was drafted No. 14 overall in 2014 with the mind that he’d need some time to develop before he would be knocking on the NHL’s door. That timeframe was instantly accelerated when he took advantage of a CHL transfer agreement loophole, and started his first season after being drafted with the Texas Stars.
There were struggles at times, as any would expect from an 18-year old defenseman playing in the AHL, but Honka has very quickly improved and rounded out his game. Concerns about his size (5-10, 180 pounds) have been put to rest – a skilled and highly intelligent playmaker with a bomb of a shot from the point, Honka’s most intriguing attribute is his willingness to throw big hits and play physical in front of the net with a nastiness to his game you don’t normally see from Finnish blueliners.
If it weren’t for the contract situation of a few defenseman ahead of him on the depth chart, there’s no doubt Honka likely deserved an NHL roster spot to start the season. He was dynamic in camp and in the preseason and clearly one of the best six defensemen the Stars have in their entire system.
Honka is only 20 years old. His time will come. Stars fans have been over-the-moon over the emergence of John Klingberg as a legit top defenseman; Julius Honka may turn out to be even better.
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