Dallas has had quite a bit of success with undrafted free agents out of the WHL. Solid scouting in the western provinces has put Dallas in a spot to sign a few guys that the big brains at the draft missed out on. Consequently, they've used those pieces either in their lineup or developed them enough to parlay as trade pieces to get bigger targets.
The next player in that long line of players is already lacing them up for the Texas Stars: left wing Derek Hulak.
Hulak came to the Texas Stars as an amateur tryout guy at the end of last season. He found his touch right away, scoring his first AHL goal on his first AHL shot with help from Brendan Ranford on the assist. He played spot duty through the playoffs, got his name on the Cup and found himself with an AHL contract for this season with Texas.
Hulak didn't come to the AHL through the traditional path. The Saskatchewan native went to the WHL for four years, playing for his hometown Saskatoon Blades through most of this career. After a brief visit to the Tulsa Oilers of the CHL, he decided to head to college at the University of Saskatchewan, where he had another four year career. He won MVP honors there as he helped the team to a CIS finals berth.
Texas Stars GM Scott White pointed to former coach Willie Desjardins as doing the homework to pick up Hulak out of western Canada.
To describe Hulak as the pride of Saskatchewan would be putting it mildly. He was recently honored there as the Kinsmen club's Athlete of the Year. The article here does a pretty good job outlining his excellent career to that point. Personally, I've seen a 200% increase in traffic from Saskatchewan this year. I'm betting it's Hulak.
This year, Hulak has 31 points in 49 games for Texas including a hat trick, two game-winners, and two separate point streaks of four and six games each. Part of what makes Hulak valuable is that he can play top six minutes and step in to fill gaps when players are recalled to Dallas. He has been featured heavily in the top six since Brett Ritchie's recall and has flourished.
In 2015, Hulak has 6-12-18 in just 22 games. The larger point here is that many of the players who you might point to as being catalysts for such an offensive explosion (McKenzie, Ritchie, Morin) have not been big factors in that success. Hulak has meshed very well with Brendan Ranford, locked up for another two years, and Justin Dowling, locked up for the coming season as well.
"He helps us win games in Texas," said White. He said it's hard to know if Hulak will be in the long-term plans in Dallas organization right now because he needs to establish himself a little more. As a counter, I'd argue Brendan Ranford was in much the same place before a strong playoff run last season. So there's still some big chances to show off in the coming months. White did say it "wouldn't surprise" him to see Hulak on an NHL contract somewhere eventually in his career.
And aside from all the hockey, Hulak is just a good guy overall. Sean Shapiro did a profile of Hulak for the Austin American-Statesman that I suggest you read. Hulak's mother battled breast cancer early in his junior career and passed away in 2007 after a two-year battle, so this weekend's Pink in the Rink games are personal for Hulak.
Patrik Nemeth Continues Rehab in Texas
By most accounts, Patrik Nemeth hasn't been Patrik Nemeth quite yet in the AHL. However, he also hasn't played organized hockey since October, so that's expected. He is minus-3 in two games. The real evaluation will come if he plays in front of the home crowd this weekend when there can be more eyes on him.
Jack Campbell named ECHL Goalie of the Week Runner-Up
Jack Campbell has started every Idaho game since heading to Boise and has really had quite a solid outing in each one. He is 4-2 now with a 1.85 GAA and .941 SV%. Last week's three win performance in three back-to-back-to-back games earned him recognition as the ECHL's runner up for goalie of the week. The winner, Igor Bobkov, had two shutouts in four games while Campbell only had one.
Maxime Lagace was also nominated for the award by his club, the Bakersfield Condors. The first-year pro was 2-0 with a 1.00 GAA, .963 SV% and a shutout.
Texas' Streak Comes to Screeching Halt in Utica
Utica's at the top of the standings for a reason. They showed why tonight with a 5-2 browbeating of the Texas Stars in upstate New York. The Stars were neck-and-neck with the Comets early but a goal by Dustin Jeffrey in the last minute of the first put Utica on a path to victory. Texas didn't help their own case by allowing goals in the first minute of both the first and second period.
Justin Dowling Hat Trick Leads Charge in 5-2 Win in Rochester
Justin Dowling had his second career hat trick to power Texas past Rochester in New York this evening. Scott Glennie and Derek Hulak each added two points, and the Stars completed the season series against Rochester with a split of the two games.
The first period was a back and forth affair with Texas and Rochester each scoring twice. Greg Rallo's second period goal off the cross-ice pass by Travis Morin put them up 3-2. Dowling's power play goal added the insurance marker and he scored into the empty net in the final minute for the hat trick.
Jussi Rynnas stopped 30 of 32 in the win. Former Aero, now Amerk, Matt Hackett took the loss with 36 saves on 40 shots by Texas.
Patrik Nemeth, back in the lineup rehabbing an injury suffered in the NHL, was minus-2 with no points.
Depth Scoring Contributes in 3-1 Victory in Toronto
Kevin Henderson and Eric Faille each scored their first of the season, in Faille's case the first AHL goal of his career, to push Texas past the Toronto Marlies. The Stars finish the season with a 3-0-1 record against the Marlies.
Scott Glennie contributed the game-winning goal, his fourth point in the past three games and first game-winner on the season.
Jussi Rynnas almost had the shutout, but he got the win and that's pretty important too. Rynnas is white hot in February. He's got a 5-2 record with a .942 SV% and 1.72 GAA. The two losses came against the top two teams in the conference, OKC and Utica.
The win puts Texas in seventh place for now with more Western Conference games to be played this evening.
Rookies Score But OKC Sneaks by Texas in OT 3-2
The Stars found themselves up 2-0 early but couldn't hold on against the West's top team. OKC completed the comeback with three unanswered goals, including Andrew Miller's overtime tally to win it. Texas suffered their league-worst 11th overtime loss.
Eric Faille scored his second AHL goal in as many games off a breakaway early. Julius Honka made the lead two with a slap shot in the second. A late Davidson score in the second and a PP marker from Jason Williams sent the game to OT.
The Week Ahead
The season's longest road trip finally finishes. The weekend will bring back-to-back contests against the Rockford IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks) for the annual Pink in the Rink games. After that, it's a long break until the next game the following Friday.
Maxime Fortunus has been out for the entire road trip, which is not good considering that he was 'day-to-day' when the trip started.