If you're a Dallas Stars fan that enjoys following the development of the organization's prospects, then the NHL Prospect Tournament is right up your alley.
Held most years (2012 was cancelled due to the NHL lockout) in Traverse City, Michigan, this tournament, held this year from September 12-16, features top prospects from eight different NHL teams battling head-to-head over the span of just under a week.
While there is no real reward for winning the tournament aside from bragging rights, this event still provides an excellent opportunity for NHL teams and their fans to get a good look at many of their prospects, all playing together in one place. With prospects often plying their trade in many different cities all over North America and Europe, this event is a rare and intriguing circumstance.
The Dallas Stars are a regular participant in Traverse City. Many of the team's top young players, such as Jamie Benn and Brenden Dillon, have laced up their skates in the tournament in the past, and the Stars will be sending a 27-man squad again this year.
The full Stars roster can be found at this link.
While the results of this tournament are only a small sample size of hockey for each individual, the competition is always fierce, as young up-and-comers want to prove themselves to their parent clubs, so the event can still be a valuable assessment tool. Which players will step up and make an impact this year?
Here are some of the top stories to watch out for this weekend with this year's Stars team:
Will the 2014 Calder Cup championship members continue their string of success?
When the Texas Stars won the 2014 Calder Cup as the AHL's top team, a large part of the excitement for the Dallas Stars organization was not just that they won, but how they won it.
While led by veterans like Travis Morin and Mike Hedden, the Texas Stars were nonetheless also spurred to success by key contributions from a large number of young up-and-comers.
Seven members from that championship team will be representing Dallas in Traverse City, with five of them - Brett Ritchie, Brendan Ranford, Jyrki Jokipakka, Radek Faksa and Matej Stransky - all having played important roles in last year's AHL playoffs.
If scorers like Ritchie (11 points in 13 games) and Ranford (16 points in 21 games) were able to take advantage of the best defenses and goalies that the AHL has to offer, how will they fare going up against teams consisting mostly of younger, junior-level players?
From Europe With Love
This event will also provide Stars fans with a rare closer look at some of the organization's prospects from overseas.
Ludwig Bystrom, Esa Lindell, and Emil Molin have all yet to play a season in North America, but the three will be taking part in Traverse City. *Note -- Molin will not be playing due to injury.
European prospects can be harder to follow and analyze in their development paths, due in part to both language barriers as well as playing limited minutes behind much older teammates, so this tournament will be a good chance to see how well Bystrom, Lindell and Molin compare to their North American teammates.
Who will be this year's breakout players?
Raise your hand if you saw left wing Curtis McKenzie's breakout rookie AHL season, where he scored 65 points and took home the honor of being the league's top rookie, coming?
Yeah, me neither.
While it was a tremendous and unexpected jump up from the 24 points that he scored in 39 NCAA games the season prior, McKenzie did showcase a small sign of things to come last September: leading the 2013 Dallas tournament team with four points in four games, outscoring the likes of Ritchie, Ranford, Valeri Nichushkin and Alex Chiasson. McKenzie had been relatively off the prospect radar before that, but started his hockey year off with a bang and never looked back.
Which other lesser-known prospects could similarly have a strong showing this year?
Dallas' tournament schedule is as follows:
- Friday, September 12: versus the New York Rangers at 6:00 p.m. CT
- Saturday, September 13: versus the Carolina Hurricanes at 2:30 pm. CT
- Monday, September 15: versus the Buffalo Sabres at 2:00 p.m. CT
- Tuesday, September 16: time and opponent TBD
Defending Big D will be doing recaps of all four Stars games throughout the tournament. Video footage will be scarce, but we'll be sure to share whatever we can as it becomes available.
Some of the games from this event have been televised in the past, but nothing has been officially confirmed for this year. We'll update you if we hear anything.
An excellent source for following the tournament, however, is official Dallas Stars writer Mark Stepneski, who will be in attendance. Follow him on Twitter (@StarsInsideEdge) for regular updates and plenty of other information.
Pointstreak.com will be your host for individual stats. For those curious, they also host the stats from years past.