This past Saturday, it was my pleasure to watch the Texas Stars face off against the Toronto Marlies in Cedar Park. The Baby Stars overcame a dour first period to take a lead late into the third, but ultimately lost in overtime by a score of 4-3. Beyond being an excellent evening's entertainment, the game gave me an opportunity to take in a few of the Stars' more prominent young prospects.
I deliberately kept my focus on some of the more prominent young players, the guys we've heard a lot about. Specifically, I kept my eyes on a pair of young defensemen, a goalie, and a forward. Well, technically, two forwards. What I mean will become clear in just a little bit.
The Dallas Stars claimed David Schlemko off waivers on January 3rd. The move was designed to get one of Jamie Oleksiak or Jokipakka out of the press box without leaving the Stars short a defenseman. Jyrki Jokipakka was that defenseman, and found himself sent down to Cedar Park. Based on a single night's observations, the move was a very good one.
I don't have explicit Time on Ice data, but it felt like Jokipakka was constantly coming over the boards. Big minutes, too. The Finnish defender was physical and composed throughout the night. Despite a heavy forecheck, he avoided the turnovers that seemed to plague the rest of his defensive group. Jokipakka also spent the night on Texas' top power play unit, and produced a goal and an assist. It was unexpected, but looked natural.
If last night is anything to go by, Jokipakka has benefitted greatly from his move. He looked like an NHL-ready player getting valuable reps in the minor leagues. When the time comes, I have every hope he'll be able to step back into Dallas' roster, and contribute.
Interestingly, Jokipakka was also trusted to ride shotgun on another youngster.
The other half of the delightfully named Joki-Honka pairing, Julius Honka was Dallas' first round pick in 2014, and has been an object of rapid excitement for much of the season. Perhaps it was because of this hype that I came away a little bit unimpressed.
Honka wasn't bad by any metric. He exhibited a quick first step out of pressure, and kept his eyes down the ice whenever the puck was on his stick. On several occasions, the young Finn tested Toronto's backline with a stretch pass, or timely step up. There's a visible calmness and creativity to his game, but sometimes, that creativity got him into trouble. Raw is the best word to describe Honka. He seemed susceptible to back pressure, and vulnerable on the cycle, there were also a few wayward passes / poor decisions.
Perhaps that's why he didn't see significant special teams minutes. I did not get a chance to see Honka with the man advantage, nor did he kill any penalties. The Stars left those situations to his more experienced peers. A quick look at the stat sheet (9 points in 31 games) suggests last night was indicative of the larger season.
Four goals on31 shots (.871 Sv%) does not jump off the page. In truth, it looks like a pretty pedestrian effort from a goaltender in the middle of a rough season. Thankfully for Stars fans, it's also completely unrepresentative of the game Campbell actually played.
The team in front of Campbell gave up a pair of 5-3 power plays, and seemed completely flustered by Toronto's aggressive forecheck. From the opening faceoff Campbell dealt with a barrage of shots (13 to a generous 6 at the end of the 1st period), a bucket full of turnovers, and a group of defenders that struggled mightily to cope with the ferocity of Toronto's attack. Many of the saves Campbell was forced to make were point blank or through a number of bodies. Despite it all, he stood tall, and ensured his team never fell further than a single goal behind. He was positionally sound, and did a good job controlling rebounds, which can be killers at the NHL level.
Given the state of the defense on an organizational level, the general chaos made sense. Hopefully, Campbell and his coaches will be able to focus on the positives, and take this season's lumps as valuable developmental opportunities. I do worry a little about shellshock, but Campbell seemed to keep his composure.
A two goal night forced Ranford onto my watch-list. I was particularly impressed with his work on the power play. Ranford consistently found a way to wiggle away from coverage, either with or without the puck. His first goal, in particular, was a nifty catch-and-shoot from the middle of the slot. I do have some concerns about his size (5'10" 190 Lbs), but Ranford did plenty of dirty work throughout the game.
It seems unlikely Ranford will get the opportunity to test himself in Dallas anytime soon. However, the fact there have been so many callups to this point means he'll have plenty of opportunities at the AHL level. If he can demonstrate serious offensive growth, it might translate into an invitation to next year's camp. After that, anything can happen.
McKenzie exhibited plenty of hustle, but showed little sign of last season's offensive touch. On a night in which the Stars could have desperately used an extra goal, or even just sustained offensive zone possession, McKenzie scuffled. The entire top line, if I'm being honest, struggled.