There's been a lot of talk this season -- and especially lately -- about the Dallas Stars prospects and their path to the AHL and beyond. With Austin Smith and Jack Campbell both turning pro this week following the conclusion of their amateur seasons, fans are ecstatic at the chance to finally see these prospects up close after being discussed endlessly for years.
Smith should make his pro debut tomorrow night against the Oklahoma City Barons and it's still unknown when Jack Campbell will get his first start. No matter what, these are some valuable games to allow these two players to get a head start on adjusting to pro hockey and the AHL life as both are expected to be key pieces of the Texas Stars for the next few years.
While their amateur careers come to a close, a number of Dallas Stars prospects are headed to postseason play, from the NCAA Men's Hockey Championship to the CHL Playoffs, as well as the playoffs in the SEL. It's an exciting time to get the chance to really see what some of these players can do, especially since it's expected more than a few will be making their jump to pro hockey this summer as well.
After the jump, we take a look at the playoffs schedule for a number of players as well as let you know how you might see a few of them on television over the next few weeks. Next week: we take a look at career projections for the top prospects in the system.
NCAA Men's Hockey Championship -- 2012 Frozen Four
The Stars have a number of players headed to the NCAA Tournament this year, with Reilly Smith and Alex Chiasson being the headliners. Boston College goes into the tournament as the hottest team in hockey and the #1 overall seed, yet there are expectations that teams like Michigan and Miami (OH) may have a legit shot at taking a run at the championship. Let's take a look at each team and prospect in the tournament:
Alex Guptill (RW), Michigan Wolverines (#2 seed)
Alex Guptill had an incredible freshman season (40GP, 16G, 17A) for the Wolverines and has placed himself as one of the top young prospects in the Stars system. Great size and possession skills, along with an ability to finish, have led Guptill to being named to the All-CCHA Rookie Team. He cooled off a bit as the end of the season neared, yet he'll be a big part of Michigan's chances in the tournament. The Wolverines don't have one player that truly stands out but rely on the "team" aspect of their approach, with no player having more than 16 goals this season. They hold onto the #2 seed despite losing to Western Michigan in the CCHA tournament.
Michigan faces Cornell at 8:00 p.m. CST on Friday, which can be seen on ESPN U.
Reilly Smith (RW) & Curtis McKenzie (LW), Miami Redhawks (#4 seed)
The Redhawks are led by a talented group of forwards who are able to put up big numbers offensively, yet it's the goaltending by senior Connor Knapp that will make the biggest difference for this team. Reilly Smith had a great CCHA tournament, despite the disappointing third-place finish, and it's expected that Miami could make a big run at the championship after a frantic finish to their season.
Reilly Smith (38 GP, 30G, 18A) is a finalist for the Hobey Baker and has instantly become one of the most popular Dallas Stars prospects. He's a great leader on the ice and despite his gaudy offensive numbers he's embraced becoming a two-way forward who excels on defense and the penalty kill. Curtis McKenzie had a relatively quiet season, yet is a key part of what makes Miami so great: tenacity, physicality and a drive to the net.
Miami takes on UMass-Lowell at 5:30 p.m. CST on Friday, which can be seen on ESPN U.
Nico Sacchetti (C), Minnesota Gophers (#8 seed)
Nico Sacchetti, the 2nd round pick for the Stars in 2007, has had a relatively quiet NCAA career. The senior has just 14 goals in 125 games at Minnesota and an injury held him to just 21 games this season. The Gophers are led by Nick Bjugstad on a team that boasts 17 NHL draft picks, by far the most in the tournament. They are a relatively young team who will be facing a very tough BU team in the first round.
Alex Chiasson (C, RW), Boston University (#9 seed)
The Terriers have had an interesting season, after losing their three best players for various reasons and then slowly turning it on as the year progressed. Alex Chiasson leads BU in scoring (37GP, 15G, 29A) and has become an absolute force on offense as a big body who sees the ice extremely well and can make some incredibly accurate passes in transition and from the boards. It's expected that Chiasson will likely make the jump to pro after this season.
Minnesota and BU face each other at 4:00 p.m. CST on Saturday. The game is on ESPN 3, if you have it.
Both Oleksiak and Ritchie were traded to Niagara in separate deals this past season and it's a good guess they both loved being moved. Both Oleksiak and Ritchie were struggling a bit on their original teams, yet have been nothing short of phenomenal on a very good Niagara team.
Ritchie had just eight goals in 23 games with Sarnia and was still fighting through injuries in the first part of the season. After the trade, he suddenly showed his true potential as a great young prospect for the Stars. 16 goals and 17 points in 30 games with Niagara, Ritchie was able to boast an incredible plus-27 in a very short amount of time.
Jamie Oleksiak, making the transition to the OHL after playing in the NCAA last season, put up just 11 points in 31 games with Saginaw and was never much of an offensive threat. With Niagara, the looming defenseman nearly became a point a game player from the blue and shares the equally impressive plus-27 rating in Niagara with Ritchie. Oleksiak finished the season with 32 points and a plus-31 in 59 games this season.
The IceDogs take on Oshawa in the OHL playoffs, starting their seven-game series tonight.
Matej Stransky (RW), Saskatoon Blades
You're going to be hearing a lot about Matej Stransky in the next few years. After struggling a bit with the transition to the North American game, Stransky has become one of the more dominant players in the WHL and was able to lead the Blades this season in scoring. With 81 points in 70 games, Stransky has more than tripled his point totals from last season. His incredible puck possession skills and quick release make him very big (6-3, 209) offensive threat that Stars fans should be getting very excited about in the near future.
Alex Theriau (D), Medicine Hat Tigers
Theriau has had a relatively quiet season, yet has established himself as a legitimate defensive blue liner who can eat minutes yet won't rack up a ton of points. Theriau is a big defenseman who could conceivably make the jump to the AHL next year, after four full seasons in the CHL.
Saskatoon and Medicine Hat face each in the WHL playoffs, starting Friday night.
Troy Vance, Victoriaville Tigers
Vance has had the pleasure of playing for a very good Victoriaville tigers team, who head into the the QMJHL Playoffs as the #4 seed. Vance is still a raw prospect who is getting good reviews from scouts in the QMJHL and the experience he'll get in what could be a lengthy playoff run will be invaluable.
Victoriaville takes on Baie-Comeau in the QMJHL Playoffs, starting Friday night.