Usually I like to do these prospect updates at the beginning of the week, since most games in the NCAA and junior hockey comes over the weekend. I got married this past weekend, however, so we'll have a few prospect updates bookend this coming weekend. Hope you guys don't mind too much.
Last week we had a discussion, sparked by a fairly hyperbolic comment by yours truly, about just where the Dallas Stars farm system ranked compared to the rest of the NHL. I stated it had jumped from last in the NHL to top five material, which in hindsight was rightly criticized.
Last month I took a deep lookat the state of the Stars' system itself and how it's evolved under Joe Nieuwendyk, who took a depleted system and has turned a weakness into a potential strength for this team. The reality is that, while the system has certainly improved, the Stars are missing some key components that make this organization's depth truly stand out when compared to the rest of the NHL. That's not to say things can't change as the prospects mature, but right now it's probably safe to say the Stars are closer to middle-of-the-pack than to the top.
More after the jump...
The Stars have gone after defense and big, powerful forwards the past few years as Nieuwendyk has obviously taken the approach of building a very big and very strong foundation for the Stars. Along with those big forwards, he's also taken a few skill guys as well -- but nominally he's gone after very big and skilled. Some of the top prospects in the system (Guptill, Chiasson, Stransky, Ritchie) are all good combinations of skill and size.
What the Stars are lacking is that one or two truly special, elite forward. Now, the Stars have some exciting guys coming up through the NCAA right now but trying to judge how their production will carry over to the NHL is not that easy to do. Austin Smith will likely win the Hobey Baker this year, but he's still not regarded as an actual "elite" NHL prospect.
The lack of elite top-end talent is what is still holding this system back from jumping ahead. While the depth at defense is impressive and the Stars are certainly pleased with the emergence of a few mid-round picks, the Stars have gone for the solid-but-not-spectacular sort of forward lately, while also drafted goaltender and defensemen the past two drafts in the first round.
Scott Glennie, who is finally coming around in the AHL, doesn't elicit the sort of excitement other top prospects -- like Emerson Etem -- garner when discussing the best in the NHL farm system.
The lack of top end prospects is also going to keep the Stars from really going after certain players via trade, as they just don't have the assets to do so at this time -- at least without depleting themselves of the assets they need for the future.
The future is certainly brighter with a number of good, young players on their way. There are a few that will be in the AHL next season and for the first time in a very long time, the Stars are slowly going to become a younger team building from within. That lack of truly elite offensive talent is something that needs to be addressed and will likely be the focus for Nieuwendyk and company at the draft this summer in Pittsburgh.
Some updates from the past few weeks:
** Alex Guptill is on a tear lately, with five goals and ten points in his last six games. He now has 26 points on the season and leads the Michigan team in scoring -- as a true freshman. I became an instant fan of Guptill's after watching him take on Miami in November, and I was impressed by his combination of puck possession skills and size. He's listed at 6-3, 180 but it's clear he's putting on weight. That he's found his scoring touch just adds to the excitement building around the CCHA Rookie Of The Month. He has 14 goals and 12 assists on the season, in 28 games.
** Reilly Smith was named the CCHA Player Of The Week, after his hat trick on Friday night and goal on Saturday helped Miami top Western Michigan in back-to-back games. The two wins boosted Miami to second in the conference, yet remain unranked nationally. Smith leads the nation in game-winning goals and now has 18 on the season, with 7 assists in 24 games.
** Jack Campbell continues to struggle, allowing 19 goals in four games since returning from the World Juniors. He now has a 3.34 GAA and .898 save percentage with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds after being traded midseason. He's still on track to make the jump the AHL next season, however, and let's hope he gets his head straight, as the pressure will be even greater once he turns pro.
** Matej Stransky continues to lead the Saskatoon Blades in scoring, but has just seven goals in ten games in January. Held pointless last week in three games, Stransky was minus-4 as the Blades won two-of-three. What's incredible is that Stransky didn't have a point in a game the Blades scored nine goals -- amazing.