Note: Dallas Stars Development Camp is still in progress until Thursday and we'll have as much continuing coverage as we can, but my personal observations of camp have concluded as I've had to head back to Houston. Here are my final thoughts on the three days of camp I was able to see.
It was good to get to see the Dallas Stars prospects over a three-day period this past weekend, as it certainly made it easier to get a more accurate feel for where these players are currently in their development. The camp, organized by Brent Severyn, certainly seemed to be much more rigorous than in years past and the player shared this sentiment, noting several times just how far they were being pushed physically.
These camps are more about instruction than it is about the players competing against each other on the depth chart, and I doubt the Stars make significant decisions based on this camp alone. Yet this is a great way to see just how the skills of these players stack up against one another and is another tool used to determine which prospects are closest to the next step in their development.
For me, there were a few surprises but mostly this was about verifying what I had been seeing and hearing about each player. For nearly all of these prospects, this was my first chance to see them on the ice in person and there is no doubt that doing so makes a big difference.
If there was theme for this year's camp, it would be "Would You Look At How Big Those Guys Are?"
Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth, Alex Chiasson, Brett Ritchie, Matej Stransky and Troy Vance would all be considered large by NHL standards and would instantly be the biggest players on the Dallas Stars right now. What's amazing about all of these players -- and Scott Glennie isn't far behind -- is the amount of skill these players possess for their size.
Oleksiak, in particular, is as physically imposing a player as you'll ever see. At 6-7 and 240 pounds, he'd be one of the biggest players in the NHL today, although you'd never know it by watching him play on this ice -- at least not at first. Oleksiak's biggest strength is his skating ability, an innate ability to get low to the ice and use short, strong strides to quickly change direction and fly down the ice faster than you'd expect from someone his size.
There's been a lot of talk about Oleksiak's physicality, or lack thereof, and how if he'd just find some attitude and nastiness to his game he'd become one of the elite defensive prospects in the NHL. Yet when you watch Oleksiak finally get into competitive situations it's easy to see why the concern about his physicality really shouldn't be that much of a concern.
Oleksiak is a master at using his strength and long reach to his advantage, creating an almost impossible matchup for most forwards to overcome. His skating ability allows him to utilize supreme gap control and he uses his long reach to break up pass attempts his his area. In close quarters, Oleksiak uses his strength to easily separate players from the puck -- there's no need for the big jarring hit for him to accomplish this.
Where Oleksiak is perhaps weakest -- if there is such a thing -- is that his shot is not as feared as you would think it is from a player his size. While it's certainly a hard, accurate shot at times, it's clear that Oleksiak is more comfortable dishing the puck than being the primary cannon putting that puck on net.
Patrik Nemeth joins Oleksiak as the two most impressive defensemen at camp this year, and while he's only listed at 6-3, he plays much bigger than that and at times seems to almost be the same size as Oleksiak on the ice. He's a good blend of physicality and puck skills, with above-average passing ability that when paired with the nastiness in front of the net, makes him a potentially very good defensive prospect.
** Jyrki Jokipakka was the best defenseman on the team when it came to puck skills, as he would challenge the top forward prospects in his ability handle and shoot the puck. He's got an accurate shot from the point and is creative with his puck movement; where he suffers, however, is his skating ability -- there were times where it was obvious he was behind some of the other defensemen in this aspect.
** There was a lot of buzz among the fans in attendance about Radek Faksa, with most fans making sure that I knew just how good he was with the puck. The knock on Faksa has always been that he possesses above-average puck skills at best and that his offensive value lies in his creativity and intelligence with the puck. Yet Faksa was clearly the best forward prospect in puck skills and he has an NHL-ready release, an incredibly quick and accurate wrist shot that could challenge Jamie Benn's.
** The other buzz at camp had to do with Gemel Smith, who I get the feeling is already a cult favorite amongst most Stars fans. The advance reports of his skill and speed were certainly true; he was easily the fastest player and camp and possesses superior quickness and foot speed. His puck skills are just average, but his value lies in being a "sparkplug" on the ice.
** If you were to ask me which prospect at camp is most ready for the NHL, I wouldn't have to hesitate before telling you it's Alex Chiasson. The right-shot, right-winger from Boston University has NHL size and along with his defensive acumen as a two-way forward, is one of the pure playmaking wingers the Stars have in the system. His size and defensive ability say that he could be an option on the third line and not necessarily need top-six minutes to succeed.
** The other NHL-ready forward at camp was Scott Glennie, who is a victim at the new-found depth at center the Stars suddenly possess, and would likely not get a chance before Chiasson. Yet he's found his value as a defensive forward and could play a third line role, yet he's stated that he wants to be more and prove that he's capable of producing as well. He's matured physically as well as mentally and I don't think fans should be as worried about him as they have been in the past.
** I was told by some people with the team that they believe Matej Stransky could be the next superstar for the team. A very large right winger, Stransky possesses Jagr-like ability at protecting the puck and has the offensive ability to go along with it. He needs to work on his release, however, or he'll never become the big scorer at the NHL level that some are expecting from him in the future.
These are my main takeaways from camp this year. I'll be more than happy to answer any questions you guys have in this thread as well. We'll have much more on the top prospects in the system over the next few months.