For the next few weeks, I am going to take a closer look at several current and future Dallas Stars who have spent time developing in the Western Hockey League (WHL).
I came to Defending Big D hoping to bring a different perspective on the team, and being located in Canada, I get to see more WHL hockey than most typical Stars fans.
Last week, I explained why the Stars and the WHL have such strong ties, from ownership on down. There has been a rich tradition of WHL alumni playing for Dallas, and that tradition has been strengthened in recent years. These profiles will tie in nicely with the prospect rankings coming soon from Brandon and several of the other writers, as well.
Today’s piece will hopefully give you a better idea of current Saskatoon Blade and future Dallas Star, winger Matej Stransky.
The 19-year-old winger is entering his third season with the Blades. As a rookie in 2010-11, Stransky scored 14 goals and added a modest 12 assists. He started to show signs of breaking out in the postseason that year, finishing with an impressive nine points in 10 contests. He built on his strong postseason performance in 2011-12 as a sophomore, scoring 39 goals and adding 41 assists in 70 games.
There are a lot of reasons why Stars fans should be very excited about Stransky. For one, he has a very projectable NHL frame. Although he is already 6-3 and 200 pounds, he will probably add another 10 or 15 pounds to his frame before he is finished growing.
The Blades are hosting the Memorial Cup this year, and as the host team they automatically earn a berth into the tournament. Host teams typically "load up" on talent during the season, and look for Saskatoon to ice a formidable roster in 2012-13. They are considered the favorites for the WHL’s Eastern Conference according to Yahoo! Sports, as Stransky joins several other key returning players from last season.
Stransky was recently ranked as the seventh best prospect in the Dallas system according to Hockey Prospectus.
Stransky had a big second WHL season, adding over 50 points to last year's total. He's a skilled big man with above-average hands and vision who can be a handful for defenders to deal with. In the WHL, he showed the ability to protect the puck well with his big frame, but aside from a good power game, Stransky also has the ability to deke in tight spaces and set his teammates up well.
He’s a big kid with really good hands and good instincts. We need to work on a few things with him developmentally, but that’s pretty normal for a kid his age. He’s in a good place and he’s made some good strides. He’s an impressive player.
The Stars were hoping that Jaromir Jagr would get to work with their young forwards (especially their young Czech forwards) at training camp this year. In addition to Stransky, Tomas Vincour and Radek Faksa are both Czech. The comparables between Jagr and Stransky go beyond just birthplace, though.
When asked to identify Stransky’s best attribute, Stars scout Dennis Holland was quick with his response.
His puck possession. In my opinion, he might have been the best puck possession guy below the dots in the Western Hockey League. He’s a big guy who sees his options so quickly and is tough to defend for defensemen because his body position and his puck protection is probably second to none out there.
Jagr is one of the best of all-time at protecting the puck. It’s a shame that his experience won’t get shared with the prospect. Maybe he returns for another season in 2013-14?
Anyway, now that you have a pretty good idea of who Stransky is, let’s dig a little deeper. I spoke with Cody Nickolet (@WHLFromAbove), who is the Manager of Communications for the Saskatoon Blades. He has seen every single game Stransky has played in at the WHL level.
Stransky took a huge jump forward in his second year. What was the reason for it?
There were many reasons for it. He came in bigger, stronger, with more confidence and also his skating had improved. He had a good rookie year in 2010-2011 but was held back quite a bit by his skating. His overall food speed got better and his ability to protect the puck improved because of his balance getting better.
What kind of role did he play last year? How did it change from his rookie year?
In his second season he was counted on to provide more offense. As a rookie he was normally a third line guy, that played 2nd PP and didn't kill penalties. Last year he was on the top line, top PP unit and killed penalties. The versatility also allowed him to learn the defensive side of the game more and really helped him round out his game.
What kind of role will he play with the team this year, as they are expected to load up for the Memorial Cup?
Stransky led the team in scoring last year and to expect anything less than that would be a bit silly. He's even bigger this year, growing a bit height-wise and adding more muscle mass. His skating still isn't quite up to a level where I would like to see it personally, but it definitely doesn't hold him back. He's also more experienced and will have better tools to work with in regards to linemates as the Blades load up while hosting the 2013 Memorial Cup. So far in pre-season he's played with Brenden Walker, who had over 80 points while playing with Brandon last year. If they stick together, they could both be 90+ point players this season.
What does he need to improve on this season?
He still has lots of work to do as I consider him to still be a fairly raw player. His skating needs to improve a few notches yet, despite the growth it's shown in recent times. The other thing I would like to see more is urgency offensively. Lots of times he will have the puck on a string in the offensive zone, beat a couple defenders and end up hanging on to the puck too long. He would be much more effective if he would either pass or shoot, rather than try to beat that extra guy and end up turning it over. He's guilty of over handling it atleast a couple times a game and if he could cut down on that, he would be virtually unstoppable at this level.
How do you see his next three seasons playing out?
His future will be interesting. Does he have much to prove in 3013-14 as a 20 year old Euro in the WHL? Hard to say. It really depends on how this season goes and how the Blades approach things. Obviously each team is only allowed two European players and three 20 year olds, so having a guy take up a spot in each of those categories is usually frowned upon, unless he's an MVP candidate. With that being said, Matej could be exactly that next season. Overall, I actually see him turning pro. I think it will be the best move for him as a player and a person. By that point he'll likely be versatile enough that he can play a depth role as an AHL rookie, while still developing his offensive game. I think it will take him a season or two to feel comfortable in the pro game, so I wouldn't be expecting him to suit up in a Dallas Stars uniform until the 2014-15 season.
As mentioned before, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about Stransky. He has a very projectable skill set, and he has adjusted very quickly to the rigors of the WHL.
I have designed a number of Dallas Stars wallpapers. Check them out here. I'm going to make some more - feel free to request a certain player or prospect.