The 2012 Dallas Stars Development Camp came to a close in Frisco, Texas today, and it's a little bittersweet.
Bittersweet because we know the unusual length of the camp was perhaps to compensate for the likely lack of a 2012 Traverse City Prospect Tournament this coming fall. Bittersweet because the Derek Roy news of yesterday wafted through the practice facility like a foul odor. Bittersweet because we were all wondering when we'd be gathered at a rink watching Dallas Stars hockey together again with the CBA expiration looming.
Though, hockey in July is always a good thing, and the prospects put on a good show for an ample crowd today.
Despite all of the potential gloom, the impression I take away from the last seven days is not one of telling evidence from individual prospects, but that the group as a whole is strengthened considerably from a summer or two ago. To anyone that has been to several training/prospect camps in recent years the increase in quantity of intriguing guys and their escalating quality and size is blatantly obvious.
The renewed importance placed on the draft and the development of these young players, though not yet evident at the NHL level, is a vital part of the Stars' efforts to re-gain relevancy in the league.
[Check back later in the day, as we should have video up on the scrimmage]
Many thoughts after the jump...
Not everyone likes prospect talk. Not everyone can get excited about it. Certainly Brandon gets much more excited about it than I do. My default comment on anything I deem to not be particularly of use (attendance numbers, fights, pretty goals, etc...) is generally "How many points in the standings is it worth?" - That being my guiding light. 20 year olds playing hockey in July might well fall under that category as well, except that we know there's much more at stake.
With the rising cost of free agents, the proliferation of lifetime contracts, and a new CBA that could very well allow for a greater interval between cap floor and cap ceiling (thereby putting markets like Dallas at a competitive disadvantage in terms of what they're able to spend), it's never been more clear that the drafting and development of players is perhaps the only way to stay relevant in the National Hockey League moving forward. That's why weeks like this should give hope, even if you weren't able to get out to see what's going on up there in Frisco.
I could tell you about who did what in the scrimmage today, but it would ring hollow for me in the context of the bigger picture. The work they do with these kids off the ice - on their bodies, on being a professional, on just being an adult and eating right, etc - That's what sticks out to me. The character of the group as a whole and the humble nature of these guys is downright refreshing when viewed in terms of sports in this country as a whole.
To see how many coaches from the area and how many personalities from this franchise's past and future contribute is astounding. It's the little things that should make the difference down the road. Brent Severyn's excitement in dealing with these young men, or Shane Churla teaching them how to defend themselves properly, or Trevor Daley getting out there and working with them on drills - That's what encourages me the most. The process, and knowing that Willie Desjardins is going to continue this work in Cedar Park come October.
It's a numbers game, of course. Joe Nieuwendyk's made it very clear from day one: He wants to hold on to his picks, and he wants to acquire more. Three second round picks this year alone and Radek Faksa in the first round is enough to add some quality to anyone's system. They're going to keep adding and build it up slowly. As they do the number of guys they hit on should hopefully start to increase. The numbers tell us that something like 3 or 4 of the 40 guys at this camp will be regular NHL roster players. The important part is that they now appear to be in good position to maximize value and give talented kids a better chance at succeeding along the way.
Three years ago we were standing around watching Philip Larsen, Ivan Vishnevskiy, and little else, unknowing that Jamie Benn was about to wow in September. Scott Glennie was hurt that summer and Alex Chiasson and Reilly Smith were afterthoughts taken deep in the draft. Look how far the group has come since 2009.
- Brenden Dillon was the talk of the scrimmage today for obvious reasons. In every setting this week, though particularly a more competitive one, he stands out. He's the alpha male. He's physically mature and he plays with his head up. He seems to see the ice well. His shot is underrated, and he knows when to take it. Little need be said. He's ready to make the jump. There will be growing pains at the NHL level, but he has the tools and it's time to see how it goes. A tremendous undrafted UFA find for Dallas as it stands right now.
- Alex Chiasson might be the next closest out of this group we saw today. It may have been Reilly Smith that got the call in March, but Chiasson looks the part more truly. His size, his stride, his hands...he seems to be further along the path than any other forward at this camp. He'll have to prove it in the AHL first. This was just a development camp, after all, but I like what I see enough there to mark it down in this space. With Jagr on a one-year deal, I expect to be pondering a spot in the top-six for Chiasson next summer, pending his year in Cedar Park.
- Austin Smith is the other player that intrigues me. He doesn't have the hulking size that many at this camp possess, but he strikes me as intelligent on the ice. We saw his play-making ability briefly in Austin at the end of last year, and if he can mix that in with his well-known penchant for putting the puck in the net then he could have a future. Imagine a Dallas-born player making his Dallas Stars debut. That would be something.
- Jamie Oleksiak is big. His skating is kind of shockingly fluid for someone as lanky as he is. I'd like to see him in a more competitive setting. He positions well, he defends well. He takes up space. He uses his stick well. He also seems to lack a certain tenacity you'd like to see. More testosterone needed, so to speak. It could just be the setting. Looking forward to his year in Cedar Park.
- Radek Faksa might have all the tools, according to the scouts, but even in this setting it was kind of clear than he needs some time and needs to fill out a little. Interesting player with a high ceiling, so we'll follow him closely in Kitchener this coming season. If the NHL locks-out, then it's unlikely they'd yank him from his junior team to come back to an abbreviated camp in Dallas, it seems to me.
- Scott Glennie was healthy and accounted for this summer, which was nice in and of itself. He stood out in the scrimmage today, offensively, yet his path to the NHL might lie in ability to eat bottom-six minutes. If a proper training camp is had I think he'll get a little bit of a look.