When the Dallas Stars selected Julius Honka in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft, it was seen as a bit of surprise. It wasn't a reach, and in fact Honka was just about the best player available on the board at the time, but his name had come out of nowhere* a bit that year after a huge season with the Swift Current Broncos -- but a small, skilled and slick-skating defenseman was likely the last player many fans expected the Stars to take.
*Editor's note -- this statement isn't exactly true. Honka was projected as a late-first round pick heading into the draft.
Yet as soon as he showed up for development camp, and then training camp, it became clear that Honka was much better and further along in his development than many realized. Despite his size, he was able to avoid forecheckers and the big hits many expected him to take, and any time the puck was on his stick something special was bound to almost happen.
Honka's decision and fight to get to the AHL, a jump that seemed almost impossible due to the transfer rules between the CHL and NHL, was controversial in that it's rare for an 18-year old defenseman to appear in that league so early in his development. Honka, despite some expected stumbles, has progressed rather well in his first season as a professional hockey player.
Stephen Meserve, contributor to Defending Big D and editor of 100 Degree Hockey, has a wonderful feature on the Stars defensive prospect at AHL.com that is worth your time. Notably, Texas coach Derek Laxdal has some interesting things to say about what happens when a skilled teenager plays at this level.
However, for a player who has always been at the top of the heap, adjusting to being down the order in the AHL is mentally tough sometimes.
"Julius wants things to happen very quickly," said Coach Laxdal. "Teenagers want things to happen quickly. When you get a little older, you understand that you have to take your time, and things will happen when they happen."
For his part, Honka is aware of the Stars' desire not to speed along his development too quickly.
"My mindset is to improve myself as fast as I can, but they've said they don't want to rush players. I don't want my offensive game to go in a negative direction. Here I can play with the puck more and improve my strength, and that's a good thing."