After his first extended tour of duty in Dallas, there are more questions than there are answers surrounding prospect left wing Matt Fraser.
Although Fraser made his NHL debut last season, suiting up for one contest and playing miniscule minutes, 2013 was the year that Stars fans were expecting to see big things out of the 22 year-old from Red Deer, Alberta.
For good reason, as Fraser's prior statistics showed many signs of promise. He notched 36 goals and 74 points in 66 games for the WHL's Kootenay Ice in 2010-2011, before adding 17 more goals and 10 more assists in 19 playoff games as the Ice won the WHL Championship.
He followed that performance up even more impressively the next season with the Texas Stars in the AHL, his first year in a professional league. Despite discombobulation and disappointment in the struggling roster around him, Fraser exploded for 37 goals on the season, good for 2nd overall in the AHL.
Continuing on a similar AHL pace halfway through 2013, he was rewarded with a call up to Dallas in late February after the lockout ended and continued his momentum there, scoring his first career NHL goal in his first game of the season, hammering a shot glove-side on Nashville's Pekka Rinne.
After feeling like he was at the top of the world following his first career goal, the good times would not last long for Fraser. He was sent back down to the AHL after two more games where he was held pointless. He kept stride in the AHL and came back to Dallas once more after the trade deadline, but unfortunately the goals didn't come with him.
Despite scoring in his 2013 debut, Fraser went goalless in his next 11 games.
Within that stat lies Fraser's season, in a nutshell.
There's no denying that the guy has one of the best shots out of all of Dallas' prospects, and possibly one of the best out of all 30 NHL team's prospects. He can beat goalies with a hard slapper or a quick wrister, and is absolutely lethal in tight around the crease.
The problem is that there isn't much beyond that.
Fraser's size, at 6'2" and somewhere north of 200 pounds, is NHL-caliber, but he shies away from the physical side of the game. His foot speed and level of hustle are average, and his defensive game, although heavily improved from last season, is still full of holes.
Fraser's imbalanced skillset makes him a very specialized player. The big question is whether that specialization can be fittingly deployed in Dallas.
During his time in the NHL this season Fraser rarely played alongside a playmaking center. The best he saw was some time on the second line with Cody Eakin, but at this point in his career Eakin can't dissect opposing defenses in the NHL the way Fraser's longtime Texas linemate Travis Morin can do in the AHL. Without someone to set him up, Fraser wasn't able to generate much offensively on his own.
After uninspiring play on the 2nd line he then found himself playing on Dallas' 4th, but still without a skilled center to get him the puck and lacking the aforementioned skills of physicality, skating and defensive awareness, Fraser regularly looked lost and outmatched trying to play in a checking/energy role. By the end of the season he was a healthy scratch because he simply didn't fit anywhere on the roster.
It makes for an interesting conundrum for the Stars: what do you do with a scoring specialist that is having trouble scoring?
Fraser is seemingly ready to graduate from the AHL, but isn't skilled enough yet to play a Top 6 role, and is completely out of his element in the Bottom 6. It was a problem that Glen Gulutzan was unable to solve, and one that won't have any easy answers come next season when young forwards will likely once again be asked to make a consistent impact in Dallas.
In the end, it wasn't the rookie season that fans, management, or Fraser himself were hoping for, but because of his excellent work in the AHL the young left winger still remains one the organization's top forward prospects. Whether that piece fits into Dallas' future puzzle will be something worth keeping an eye on going forward.