The emergence of John Klingberg at the NHL level caught many by surprise. For prospect watchers the rise of John Klingberg has been happening over the last few years though I doubt many, including myself, expected him to make such an impact straight away.
For some Klingberg appeared out of nowhere. A mysterious Swedish rookie who came to help out a beleaguered Dallas Stars defensive unit. In truth he's been on the radar for at least a year, when Dallas originally wanted him to make the jump to North America. There were flashes earlier that he could be something great but there was nothing concrete.
So who else could soon make their presence felt either in Cedar Park or in the American Airlines Center? Which prospects are flying under the radar here in Dallas but are set to make an impact soon?
The first is a prospect that has been making waves this year in Finland: Esa Lindell (2012, 3rd round, 74th overall). He's become a big minute muncher for Assat in the Liiga, averaging at least over 20 minutes per game if not closer to 25. He's scoring and is confident. Even months in advance there is talk that Lindell should be on the Finnish World Championship squad in 2015.
Through 23 games Lindell has 11 points in the Finnish Liiga. That would project at around 5 points through 20 games at the NHL level. Not a mindblowing amount but he's been performing very well and is turning heads. He's an all around player but there is greater offensive potential there.
He is still young, only 20 years old. He's got size at 6'2", 190lbs but, from what I've seen of him, isn't a big hitter. His biggest weakness when he was drafted was his skating, that seems to improved a lot. While watching some of his Liiga games I've noticed him use the same move that Klingberg used to score his first NHL goal. In short, Lindell has talent, though in a different way to Klingberg, and excellent hockey IQ.
Depending on the World Championships Esa Lindell could be playing in Cedar Park for the Texas Stars at the end of this season. How early would depend upon Assat's success in the Finnish Liiga. I have a feeling he might take some time to adjust to the North American game but that he'll turn some heads and become a fan favourite in Austin.
The second prospect is another that I've mentioned before: Niklas Hansson (2013, 3rd round, 68th overall). He's been quietly doing quite well in the Allsvenska playing for Rogle. He helped lead them in a fight for promotion to the SHL last season but they fell short on goal difference. He had 10 points through 19 games in Rogle's promotion playoffs, thats compared to 13 through 47 games in the regular season.
He's a Swedish defenseman in the mold of John Klingberg. Relying on skill, skating and hockey IQ to play a high level game. He's a very raw prospect and is only in his second year after being drafted by the Dallas Stars in 2013. He's matched his point totals from last year in just over half the time and has been playing nearly 20 minutes per game. He has 14 points through 28 games playing in the second division of Swedish hockey.
These aren't bad numbers for a player who is still 19 years old. He also wears an 'A' for Rogle. The Allsvenska is an adult league and to have made that impact is an impressive feat for one so young.
I expect Hansson to challenge for a spot on the Swedish WJC; if he hadn't already been sketched in on the Swede's second defensive pairing. He's just such an intriguing offensive talent but also a right handed defenseman.
Despite being offered the opportunity to play in the SHL for this season Hansson chose to remain with the organisation he had played with for most of his career so far. He signed a two year contract last summer so will be probably remain in Sweden for at least another year. Hansson will probably join the Texas Stars for the 2016-2017 season.
The final prospect that has been flying under the radar but is doing well in the Finnish Liiga is Aleksi Makela (2013, 7th round, 182nd overall). He plays for the same organisation, Ilves, that Jyrki Jokipakka played with when he played in the Liiga. After starting the season on loan to LeKi in the Mestis (Finnish second division) he's rejoined Ilves full time after seven games.
In 14 games he's got five points, all assists, and is averaging around 15 minutes of ice time per game. He's still only 19 years old which makes this feat impressive. He is still a very raw talent and will need a lot of development time in Finland to reach his potential. Fortunately he's signed with Ilves until the end of the 2016-2017 season meaning that he will have a lot of time to refine his game.
He is seen as a likely candidate for a spot on the Finnish World Junior Championship team and has played for Finland in several international tournaments.
These three players are only a few of those Dallas Stars prospects who I think could surprise. Some others include Brett Pollock, John Nyberg and Mike Prapavessis. These players were all drafted last year so I think it is too soon to say you need to know about them. Brett Pollock does appear to be the best player on the Edmonton Oil Kings though and the buzz around him suggests there is much more to come.
The Stars still have some intriguing prospects coming in the pipeline though they might not have the same immediate impact as Klingberg. For now, these are three players you will need to know, but might not have heard of, for the next couple of years.