One of the main reasons for the struggles of the Dallas Stars over the past few years was the organization's inability to draft and develop NHL-level talent. Jamie Benn and Philip Larsen are certainly the standout success stories but there was a time the Stars completely whiffed on talent that was able to make it to the NHL and make a difference; not just flashy top line players, but players that would help fill out a roster as well.
Since Joe Nieuwendyk was hired as the general manager in 2009 he's brought a renewed focus to the draft and the need to develop from within. It's how the most successful teams stay successful; by being able to create a deep roster that is then spiced up with key free agent acquisitions and smart trades.
Over the past few years the Stars have progressed from one of the lowest-ranked organizations in the NHL to one that is quickly moving up. Hockey Prospectus ranks Dallas as the No. 13 organization in the NHL -- citing the lack of elite-level prospects while praising the depth -- while Hockey's Future has praised the Stars drafting over the past few years.
The lack of "elite talent" is debatable and is valid is some ways, but what is abundantly clear is that this the most exciting group of prospects the Dallas Stars have ever had. This is a deep group, from top to bottom, and most of the best players will be in Austin this season starting their pro careers in the AHL. Defending Big D will be providing extensive coverage of the journey of these players this year -- the CHL season begins this week -- and there's a good chance some of these players make appearances on our podcast throughout the year as well.
Over the next two weeks, we'll be counting down the top 20 prospects in the Stars organization, four players at a time. Follow the jump for No. 20 through 17.
Top 20 Dallas Stars Prospects:
No. 17. Scott Winkler, C/RW -- Colorado College (NCAA)
2011-12 Totals: 31 GP, 7 G, 17 A, 24 PTS, 12 PIM, (-1)
Drafted: 3rd round, 89th overall, 2008
Huw Wales: Scott Winkler is a NCAA prospect that has fallen to the sidelines with the hype surrounding fellow NCAAs Reilly Smith, Austin Smith and Alex Chiasson. He's a big forward at 6"3 and during the past season he has
really stepped up scoring triple the amount of points from the previous year. With next year being his final year in the NCAA the Norwegian forward will have to continue to go upwards in order to earn himself an ELC. He has the ability to become a serviceable third/fourth line grinder and potentially could surprise as a relatively unknown prospect in an underrated prospect system.
Brandon Worley: Scott Winkler is the Stars prospect that no one was talking about last season. A proven scorer in the US development leagues, it took him three years to really find his way in the NCAA at Colorado College because of injuries and inexperience. He's a versatile forward who is most comfortable at center and his senior season should go a long ways to determine whether he's truly capable of being the all-around forward it was expected he'd be when he was drafted.
No. 18. Dmitri Sinitsyn, D - UMass-Lowell (NCAA)
2011-12 Totals: 7 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 Pts, 10 PIM (MHC Zelenograd)
Drafted: 7th round, 183rd overall, 2012
Huw: Sinitsyn, who became the first Russian drafted by the Stars since 2007, was a bit of an enigma for Dallas Stars fans. He played only seven games last season due to visa issues; he would have gone far higher if he played in the USHL like he was planning to. His skill level appears to be quite high, with some describing them as first round level, but whether this appears through the games is a different matter. What is certain about Dmitry Sinitsyn is that his first season in the NCAA will be something to watch. I personally have a good feeling about it, but it's still too early to see if he will develop into a special player.
Brandon: Sinitsyn is a very, very interesting prospect. He played extensively in the Dallas Stars junior program as a teenager but visa issues made his transition to college hockey difficult and delayed; he has only played seven games total in the past calendar year. What is clear is that Sinitsyn is an extremely raw defenseman with incredible natural talent. At 6-2 and 201 pounds he has great size, he has a tremendous shot from the point and incredible vision with the puck. He just doesn't have the experience necessary to put it all together against top competition just yet. He'll be one to watch as he develops, although he's like a good three or four years from making the jump to pro hockey.
No. 19. Troy Vance, D -- Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)
2011-12 Totals: 57 GP, 4 G, 21 A, 25 PTS, 45 PIM, (+17)
Drafted: 5th round, 135th overall, 2011
Huw: In his first full season in the QMJHL Troy Vance has developed into a strong shutdown defenseman who is also able to contribute assists, 21 in total over the past season. Because of his age he must spend another full season with the Victoriaville Tigres but after signing an ELC earlier this season he will probably play in the AHL in the next couple of years. He might still be raw but he has dramatically improved considering he has spent only a season and a half playing for the Tigres. He could become a dominant force within the QMJHL next season with his development curve.
Brandon: Troy Vance is a boy in a man's body, a gangly and exceptionally large defenseman (6-5, 203) who has a booming shot, good vision and more than enough skill to become a solid all-around blueliner. He was always considered a "defensive" defenseman but saw his offense take a big jump in 2011-12. He has a great attitude, a very good work ethic and he rarely looked out of place next to Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth at development camp this past summer. He's still very raw, however, and has the potential to certainly become a solid NHL defenseman in the future.
No. 20. John Klingberg, D - Skelleftea (Elitserien)
2011-12 Totals: 26 GP, 2 G, 5 A, 7 PTS, 14 PIM (Even)
Drafted: 5th Round, 131st overall, 2010
Huw: John Klingberg experienced a tumultuous year after deciding to play for Jokerit of the SM - Liiga. It appears he never truly settled down in Finland, it affected his play and led to him returning to Sweden half way through the season. Hopefully spending next year playing for Skelleftea of the Elitserien will put him back on track and be ready for the jump to the AHL in time for the 2013-2014 season at the earliest. He definitely needs more time to refine his game and improve on his alreadly impressive offensive talents. The biggest area that needs to be developed is his size so he doesn't get pushed around by bigger opponants. The Stars feel that like fellow Scandavians Philip Larsen and Tom Wandell he needs to do this before he is ready to make the jump to the AHL.
Brandon: Ask anyone who was development camp in 2011 who their standout players might have been and Klingberg would be at the top of the list. His combination of skill and speed at the defensive position is something the Stars organization had not had in a long time and there was a lot of excitement about his potential. A very tough year in Finland, however, and a rough transition beck to the SEL led to a wholly disappointing year for Klingberg. Offseason hip surgery will keep Klingberg out until November, but it's expected that this year will be a make or break season for the young defenseman. The Stars are suddenly very deep at this position and he could be quickly left behind.