The first volleys in the Julius Honka Wars have been lobbed. Melodrama aside, the question of what the Stars prospect will ultimately become is one that will take center stage early in training camp for the Dallas Stars when they open in just a few short weeks. Honka has a spot on the roster out of camp barring something unforeseen happening. What should the Stars realistically expect of the younf defenseman?
The Stars' 2014 1st-round pick is one of the rare players who went directly from the draft to the American Hockey League. North American players end up spending time in Canadian junior leagues or head to college. European and Russian players have a bit more leeway to join the North American professional ranks, though it isn’t usually exercised.
Honka just finished his third AHL campaign, which led Tyler Dellow to raise an interesting question:
I see some muttering from the Julius Honka People in my mentions. If Julius Honka is so good, why can't he get out of the AHL?— dellowhockey (@dellowhockey) July 12, 2017
He pulled some stats to show that players who spend as much time in the AHL as Honka has, traditionally end up not being very good. It isn’t a strong bullet point in his favor, but most of the players from this group won’t have finished three seasons in the AHL before they turn 22.
Should Honka have logged more NHL ice time? Yes, I think so. He doesn’t make decisions about when he gets promoted. It wasn’t his choice to be on such a poor AHL squad last year. What was his choice was to take it in stride and continue to work on developing the aspects of his game the NHL team asked him to work on, which he did.
A more cynical eye views these as excuses. If you’re of that mind it would be hard to persuade you otherwise. Regardless of whether or not you view those as excuses or real circumstances out of the player’s control, the question as to what Honka will provide this year and what he will ultimately become is one of the key developments to track this season.
What does success look like for Honka? In a perfect world he becomes a top pairing defenseman who plays with an edge, contributes offensively, and makes an excellent first pass. The most realistic outcome is that he develops into a reliable offensive-minded top four player. Long term, that would be a wonderful outcome for the franchise, but the Stars need that to happen much sooner than later.
This is a big season for the Stars. Ken Hitchcock is here to win, and the window with this group as constructed is open for two more seasons. When Tyler Seguin makes it to free agency the roster as we know it will likely undergo some major alterations. Honka reaching his potential quickly is an important component of a good 2018 season for the Stars.
What that ultimate ceiling is can be debated. I’ve watched Honka enough that I’m confident the Stars have a good one on their hands. The unquestionable part is that the Stars need him to be the good player they think he will be. If he shuts his critics up in the process that’s a bonus.
You can find Josh Lile tweeting about the Stars (and occasionally the Rangers or Cowboys) at @JoshL1220.