For most of the season the Dallas Stars were one of the healthiest teams in the NHL. Some nagging injuries to a few players here and there caused some juggling, but for the most part the Stars were lucky in being able to use their full stable of players for a good part of the season.
Unfortunately, that good fortune has come to a screeching halt lately. The Stars have been forced to call upon a number of the team's young prospects from the AHL, getting an early look at a number of players expected to be making the push into the NHL over the next few seasons.
While the overall play of the team has been far from stellar the past few weeks, due in part to the injuries the team is dealing with, there have been a few signs of encouragement amidst a sea of disappointment. The young forwards, while certainly not breaking open any games with some other-worldly plays, have shown that the Stars certainly have something to feel good about despite the recent losses.
After the jump, we take a look at each prospect and how they've performed during their brief time in the NHL...
Aaron Gagnon - C
Gagnon was the surprise of training camp and the preseason, making a hard push for the NHL after an incredibly stellar season with the Texas Stars last year. Gagnon is a hard-nosed forward who plays with determination along the boards but also shows great goal scoring ability around the net. After scoring 8 goals in the AHL playoffs last year ( and 27 during the season), Gagnon is making a late push to become an NHL regular at the age of 24.
We heard a lot about Gagnon during the preseason and the Stars took a chance by putting him on waivers just prior to the start of the season. Visions of BJ Crombeen flashed through the collective mind of the fans yet Gagnon cleared, and the Stars were given an opportunity to get an extended look at an intriguing player.
Gagnon has now played 12 games with the Stars and has just two points (0 G - 2 A - 2 P) on the season. He's been sent down to the AHL and back a few times but since late January -- once the injury bug began to bite -- he's become a regular player for the Stars.
Averaging well over 11 minutes a game, Gagnon is now seeing time on the penalty kill and on the power play, apparently taking Jamie Benn's spot while the power forward recovers from a shoulder injury. Gagnon has bounced around, playing with Mike Ribeiro and on the fourth line, but has found a semi-permanent spot with Steve Ott on the third line.
With such inconsistency with the team as a whole lately, and with the lines being juggled so much, it's been tough to get an accurate read on Gagnon. What we have seen is very encouraging, as Gagnon appears to be getting closer and closer to his first NHL goal. He's a hard working player who plays much bigger than his size (5-11, 186) and he uses his size and speed very effectively along the boards. He also shows a knack for getting to the front of the net, something the rest of the team should pay attention to.
He's also proven to be a good option on the faceoff dot as well, although he didn't take any faceoffs against Philadelphia. Gagnon is likely never going to be more than a third line player in the NHL, but there's a very good chance that once he finds his scoring touch in the NHL he could become a pretty dangerous player in the right situation.
For now, the Dallas Stars have a great asset to help ease them through the pain of this injury mess. Gagnon is a very versatile forward, and with a right-handed shot he can play both wings effectively and give the Stars great options from the boards. You'd like to see more offensive playmaking from Gagnon at times, but you also have to consider his linemates and his role on the team as well.
He's due for that first big goal. I have a feeling it's going to come from less than four feet out.
Travis Morin - C
Morin is interesting. Drafted by the Capitals in 2004, he bounced around the ECHL and the AHL before finally landing in Austin last season. Coming out of nowhere, it seems, Morin scored 21 goals for the Texas Stars and instantly became a fascinating option for the Dallas Stars.
Morin is attempting at creating a spot for himself in the NHL at the relatively "old" age of 27, having just made his NHL debut on January 26th against Edmonton. He was bounced around the lines a bit in his three games with Dallas and has yet to record an NHL point and has just two shots on net.
One that that is intriguing about Morin is how well he uses his size. He's not a big guy (6-2, 195), but plays much bigger than you expect from an inexperienced NHL player. He's not afraid to rock into the boards and create scoring chances from the wings. He was moved around a number of times against Philadelphia, but no matter what line he was on he always seemed to get noticed whenever he'd take the ice -- and not in the bad way.
He's had a few good chances with the puck and you can see how despite his lack of NHL experience, he's much more composed with the puck is one his stick than the normal young player. What really encouraged me was a shot he took against Philadelphia; when he had a lane to the net, he pushed forward and found his spot, coming close to getting a puck in short side on Brian Boucher. Instead of the puck hitting the goaltender square in the chest, Morin nearly snuck the puck into a small hole around Boucher.
It was encouraging to see a player on the Stars try to hit a spot on the net, rather than just chunk the puck into the center of the goaltender's chest. While Morin might not have recorded a point as of yet in the NHL, he's showing signs of being a hard working player with a nose for the net -- something the Stars certainly need more of on the fourth line.
Francis Wathier - LW; Colton Sceviour - C
Wathier has played just one game this season with Dallas, taking a spot on the fourth line in the debacle in Calgary. Receiving just over five minutes of ice time, it was tough to really judge what Wathier is bringing to the team during a limited opportunity. Wathier has played in just six games overall with the Stars, but we know by this point he's never going to be more than a fourth line depth guy in the NHL.
Wathier is a hard-hitting, gritty guy who will do the dirty work in the corners and chase down the puck. He's a big guy and at his age (26) he's likely to not break out of the mold he's set for himself. What is interesting is that last season Wathier had 19 goals and 40 points in the AHL with the Texas Stars, by far the biggest offensive year of his career. If he works hard enough and shows enough, there's a chance Wathier could find a place for himself in the NHL as a Krys Barch type of guy.
Colton Sceviour is the player I was waiting to see make his debut with the Stars and despite getting just five minutes of ice time, I felt he made the most of the opportunity he had. Sceviour showed great instincts in the offensive zone and was able to work well with Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow, when he was actually on the ice.
What I really wanted to see is how his speed translated to the NHL and if there is one play from the Philadelphia game that exemplifies exactly what Sceviour can do, it's the way he chased down a puck and negated an icing -- creating a strong offensive opportunity while beating out a defender for the puck. There were some issues with defensive coverage at times, but you'd expect that with Sceviour playing on the wing after playing center for most of his pro career.
I want to see much more of Sceviour, but he was given limited minutes and now is on his way down to the AHL once more. I have a feeling we'll be seeing much more of him soon -- especially considering how he created some good chemistry with Jamie Benn during last season's AHL playoffs.
The Dallas Stars will now get another good look at a top prospect in the system, as Tomas Vincour has been recalled from the AHL -- with Morin and Sceviour sent down. Vincour was one of the very last cuts made in training camp this past preseason and many thought he was on his way to a breakout year for his first season in the AHL. It's been tough, however, for the burly forward as he's struggled to translate his goal-scoring ability to the next level after playing in the WHL.
It has been a trying time for Stars fans, but it's also been interesting and encouraging to see a number of the young players come up to the NHL and take advantage of the opportunities they've given.
Hopefully, at one point, we'll actually see a goal from one of these guys.