This is the part of the countdown where things begin to get difficult. The Dallas Stars prospect system is an interesting one, since after the top three or four the next ten are almost all on the exact same level of potential, skill and development.
The Stars have done a remarkable job the past four years of completely restocking the organization with top-notch prospects that ooze potential. When you consider the players which players were not included in this countdown -- guys like Mike Winther and Gemel Smith -- it becomes clear just how loaded the system is becoming.
True, there may not be the level of "elite" prospects that make other organizations that fall higher in the overall rankings but that's not what is important.
What's important is that Joe Nieuwendyk, in just three years and four drafts, has created an organization where legitimate competition will be occurring from the bottom up. There are now a multitude of players fighting for position and playing time in the AHL and a handful of them have legit NHL potential. In a few short years, we could potentially have a situation where more than a few young players are pushing for spots in the NHL; competition, especially from young players, is never a bad thing for an organization.
Before we get to the next four on our list, I wanted to note that four players were intentionally left out of the rankings: Cody Eakin, Tomas Vincour, Philip Larsen and Brenden Dillon. Other than Dillon, these players have all had significant time in the NHL and in the case of the Stars exciting defensive prospect -- it just felt odd to try and put him up against the rest of the young guys. Dillon is the most advanced defensive prospect in the system and will likely be a full time NHL player this season.
Onto the rankings:
Top 20 Dallas Stars Prospects:
9. Matej Stransky
10. Brett Ritchie
11. Alex Guptill
12. Matt Fraser
No. 9. Matej Stransky, RW -- Saskatoon, WHL
2011-12 Totals: 70 GP, 39 G, 42 A, 81 PTS, 75 PIM, (+6)
Drafted: 6th round, 165th overall, 2011
Huw: This season is a big one for Matej Stransky as the Saskatoon Blades host the Memorial Cup this season and will play no matter their regular and post season performance. Last season he put up an impressive 81 points in 71 games for the Blades and its hoped that he will improve upon that this season. He's another big bodied winger
that the Stars have within their system and has a great mix of size and skill though his skating needs working on. Looking at how he exploded upon the scene in his second season in the WHL its no surprise he draws comparisons to great players such as Jaromir Jagr and Jamie Benn. If he continues his development at the same pace he could be another superstar (or at the very least star) that the Stars have plucked from the later rounds.
Brandon: Stransky, as many people know, is the prospect that intrigues me the most in the Stars system. As such, he's also one that frustrates me the most. The comparisons to Jagr regarding his puck possession skills are certain accurate; he is absolutely phenomenal along the boards, creating scoring chances by using his body to protect the puck and he can whip the puck, accurately, onto the stick of a teammate in a hurry. He also has the propensity to hold onto the puck too much and doesn't seem willing to play as physical as his size would suggest. He has absolutely incredible potential and this season is going to go a long ways to determining just what sort of ceiling he truly possesses.
No. 10. Brett Ritchie, RW -- Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL)
2011-12 Totals: 50 GP, 23 G, 19 A, 42 PTS, 24 PIM, (+26)
Drafted: 2nd round, 44th overall, 2011
Huw: Brett Ritchie has a slow start to the season but stepped up after he was traded to the Niagara IceDogs. He played a key role for the IceDogs run to the OHL Finals against the London Knights. He is a generally underrated prospect but will likely step up playing for the IceDogs for the entire season and become a major part of their attempt to win the OHL championship this season. At 6-3 he is another big forward who should be able to push around the opposition in the OHL. It might take a while for his offensive game to develop to its full potential but he could be another prospect that will play in the AHL in the next two years.
Brandon: Ritchie benefited greatly from a mid-season trade in 2011 from Sarnia to Niagara, which saw him take on a bigger role on a much better team and finally come alive as a playmaking forward. In 29 games with the IceDogs, he had 16 goal and 28 points and was a plus-27 in 29 games, adding 11 points in 19 games in the OHL playoffs. Ritchie is on the Stars short list of callups for a reason; he's big, he has an absolutely wicked shot and he can play with a notable mean streak when he wants to. He's had injury issues and questions of work ethic in the past, but last season he seemed to much of that behind him. He is well on his way to becoming a proven sniper; he just has to show that level of play consistently. Ritchie will be in the AHL next season.
No. 11. Alex Guptill, LW -- Michigan (NCAA)
2011-12 Totals: 41 GP, 16 G, 17 A, 33 PTS, 48 PIM, (+14)
Drafted: 3rd round, 77th overall, 2010
Huw: Alex Guptill is another NCAA prospect that hasn't received the attention that he deserves because of the excitement surrounding fellow NCAAers Reilly Smith, Austin Smith and Alex Chiasson. In his first season with the University of Michigan he scored 33 points in 41 games and was named to the CCHA All Rookie team and was also Rookie of the Year. Hopefully he will build upon this success and become an even more important part of the Wolverines in the future. He is a big talented forward who has the potential to become a top six forward at the NHL. As he has only completed his first year at the University of Michigan it will be some time before he competes for either Texas Stars or Dallas Stars.
Brandon: There's a very good chance that Guptill is in the top five prospects in the Stars system by the time we release our mid-season rankings. Guptill enjoyed an incredible freshman season with Michigan, earning CCHA Rookie of the Year and proving that he's a force to be reckoned with the NCAA this next year. Unheralded a bit amongst the Stars prospects, he has a great combination of superior puck skills, size and physicality and looks to be another mid-round power forward find for the Stars. He has NHL potential written all over him; the question will be whether he can carry over that success to his sophomore season.
No. 12. Matt Fraser, LW -- Texas Stars (AHL)
2011-12 Totals: 73 GP, 37 G, 18 A, 55 PTS, 45 PIM, (-13)
Undrafted, signed out of Kootenay (WHL)
Huw: Matt Fraser was one of two free agent signings that appear to have worked out well for the Stars, the other being Brendan Dillon. He has become an offensive force in the AHL though its clear his defensive skills have yet to reach the level of his offensive talents. In his first season with the Texas Stars he registered 55 points in 73 games and earned a single game callup to Dallas. He also went to the AHL All Star Game. Its possible, given another year or two of seasoning in the AHL, that Matt Fraser could develop into a pure goal scorer NHL player like fellow Star Michael Ryder. Considering he was an undrafted signing it could be another smart move by the Stars.
Brandon: Fraser could be one of the prospects to get a legit shot at the NHL this season, whenever that happens, as he already possesses and NHL-ready shot and incredibly sniping skills on the power play. His issues on defense have been well documented and that is a primary reason that there is hesitation to put him in the NHL at this point; he'd need heavy offensive zone time to be effective at this point in his development. He improved as the year progressed last season, however, and there is hope that he could be one of the catalysts to help a struggling Stars power play that was one of the worst the NHL has ever seen in 2011-12.