Taken as the 14th overall pick in this year’s draft for the Dallas Stars, Julius Honka has only been speaking English for about a year.
With his limited, yet above average vocabulary, he knows how to explain what he’s good at and why the Stars drafted him.
"Offensive game, absolutely," Honka said. "I want to be a big part of that game. I like to play on the power play. I like to play a lot of offensive game. It’s my style of hockey and that’s what I have to bring here."
If only the Stars could have his offensive skills right now.
Alas, he’ll take some time to develop, but it was clear on Tuesday at Stars’ development camp held at the Dr. Pepper Stars Center in Frisco that he was ready to embrace the role and expectations that came with being a first-round draft pick.
"You want to keep in your mind that you’re a first rounder, a first pick and you have to do everything right and be like a role model to other guys here and be that guy that does things right," Honka said.
Honka does plenty of things right on the offensive side of the puck.
Listed at 5-7 on NHL.com, but clearly standing around 5-10 or so, he used his swift skating and keen hockey sense to rack up 56 points (16 goals, 40 assists) in 62 games as a right-shot defenseman (can’t get enough of those) for the Swift Current Broncos in the Western Hockey League last season.
Sergei Zubov would be proud.
Modeling his game after budding stars Drew Doughty from the LA Kings or Erik Karlsson from the Senators, Honka has big dreams for his Dallas Stars career, but he knows that he has to keep making the necessary steps of improvement if he wants to make the NHL.
He didn’t get a timetable for when he would like to make the National—as Kevin Weekes would say—but his eyes are fixed on making it as soon as he can.
"Of course I want to play as soon as possible in the NHL, but I’m still taking little steps forward and you have to teach yourself to be a better player every year and one day you are ready for it," Honka said.
"[Doughty and Karlsson] Those guys play my style of hockey and those are guys who I watched when I was younger. I think now it’s my time to do my things out there and help the Dallas Stars to hopefully bring the Cup here one day."
On the defensive side of things, Honka knows what areas of improvement he needs to focus on with building size and strength a priority, but he isn’t going to be deterred or distracted with the criticism that he is too small.
"I didn’t have issues," Honka said of his time in the WHL. "If you’re a little smaller player, you have to focus on those little things like being smarter against big guys, but that’s hockey nowadays. The offensive game is a bigger part of the game nowadays and I like to play a lot of offensive game."
More than the finer details of improving his game, Honka made a point to mention the mental focus he would like to have as well.
"I think every player is in the same spot I am in that they have little things they can improve," Honka said. "I think the most important thing is your mindset is in the right spot. You know what to do when you get to the next level and that’s a good thing for young players to have. They know how they have to improve on the next level."
At 18-years-old, Honka has an educated confidence about him. He knows how he wants to get better and what it takes to win.
He did plenty of winning at the 2014 World Junior Championship with Finland, taking home a gold medal.
"That was a great experience too," Honka said. "We had a great team there and the gold medal was like a cherry on top. That was a huge thing for Finland nationally. Every young player looks forward to being on that team someday. It was a great experience to play there."
Honka isn’t sure where he plans to play next season, but is excited to participate in the development camp and just be one of the guys.
Asked if he talked to Stars GM Jim Nill about where he might play next year, Honka said there wasn’t anything decided.
"We have talked a little bit, but we haven’t made any decisions yet, so let’s go little by little forward," Honka said. "We’ll see after the summer camps and stuff to see what’s going to be the best option. I don’t want to say anything now because I have a couple options in my mind. We’ll see what happens after camp."
He was also fond of his fellow 2014 draft mate, 2nd-round pick Brett Pollock’s game.
"He’s a good player," Honka said. "He’s a good skater. Fast forward. Strong. Always hard to play against those guys. I think that is a good draft pick for the Dallas Stars too."
The 18-year-old center clawed his way into the top six forward group of WHL’s Memorial Cup Champion Edmonton Oil Kings, posting 55 points (25 goals, 30 assists) in 71 regular season games and 19 points (11 goals, 8 assists) in 20 playoff games.
Struggling to articulate what his run with the Oil Kings meant to him out of sheer excitement, Pollock said that the experience was priceless.
"It’s exciting to go where we did," Pollock said. "To start those playoffs and go on that long run and eventually winning the Memorial Cup; that’s a pretty crazy run. Not a lot of guys do it in their career and to do it this year in my draft year as well is definitely a special thing. I’m still at a loss for words. It still really hasn't even sunk in a lot yet, but it was a great experience."
His time at the draft in Philadelphia was also very memorable to him, especially at the combine around all the top draft prospects.
"It’s exciting going to the combine and seeing all those other guys," Pollock said. "The big names: Your [Aaron] Ekblads, your [Jack] Eichels. [Sam] Reinhart. It was kind of cool to be around those guys and see what they’re all about. Then at the draft, watching the first round and watching all their names called. It’s exciting to see what’s going to happen with you. Hearing my name called was an exciting process as well. It all happened so fast."
Switching from defenseman to forward in his second year of Bantam (14-and-under), Pollock said his transition came easy to him and his time with the Oil Kings helped boost his confidence that he could play with the top forwards in the WHL.
"I played on a top six position on the left wing there," Pollock said. "My job was to contribute offensively and then play a sound defensive game as well. In the playoffs, we were matched against other team’s top lines so that was definitely a challenge for my line."
Excited to play with the other prospects and display what his talents are, Pollock knows he can get bigger, stronger and can always improve on his skating.
"That’s one thing that’s certainly a big transition from junior to pro is the speed of the game," Pollock said. "I want to become more explosive with my first couple strides and be able to pull away from guys quicker or separate myself skating on the ice, so I think skating is one of the biggest things that you can work on and is definitely something that’s in my mind to improve on."