With Alex Goligoski's contract expiring after this season, the Stars are aware of the fact that having a young, skilled puck-mover on the blueline would be a nice contingency plan. In fact, the Stars drafted just such a player last summer, but of course you remember all about that, don't you? The Stars drafted about twelve defensemen, but none of them came with more hype than Julius Honka.
While Honka's size isn't going to scare opposing forecheckers, Goligoski is a good analog for his game. Strength can be used in ways other than brute, overpowering force, and if there is a bit of dipsy-doodling ability there to help maneuver the puck out of the defensive zone and feed the rush, so much the better. Here's Mark Stepneski with plenty more on Honka's year in the AHL:
Honka, Dallas’ first-round pick (14th overall) in the 2014 NHL Draft, was still just 18-years-old when the Texas Stars opened the 2014-15 season. He was the youngest player ever to suit up for Texas and was the youngest player on an AHL opening night roster this season.
Honka, who turned 19 in December, was expected to face some challenges, and he did. There was an adjustment to the pace of the play in the AHL and figuring out how the coaching staff wanted him to play. But Texas coach Derek Laxdal said there are big differences in Honka now compared with when he started the season in October.
"I think the biggest differences have been patience and maturity," Laxdal said. "Coming into the league as a 19-year-old and playing in almost every game and in key situations – lots of five-on-five and power play time – he’s really taken a step in his game. He’s got a long way to go. He’s a 19-year-old player with some junior deficiencies, but he’s really taken a step in his game."
There aren’t many players who get assigned to the AHL at such a young age, but Honka was a rare case. The Stars drafted the Finnish native from Swift Current of the Western Hockey League. Players drafted from the WHL, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League aren’t allowed to play in the AHL until their 20-year-old season per an agreement between the NHL and the Canadian Hockey League, which oversees the three major junior hockey leagues. But the International Ice Hockey Federation ruled Honka was on loan from his Finnish team to Swift Current, so technically he wasn’t drafted out of the WHL and couldn’t be assigned there once released from Dallas’ training camp. That left either the AHL or Finland. The decision was the AHL and Texas Stars.
Honka didn’t disappoint. He registered 31 points (eight goals, 23 assists) in 68 games with Texas, finishing one point behind Trevor Carrick (Charlotte) and Mat Bodie (Hartford) for tops among AHL rookie defensemen. Nineteen of those points (four goals, 15 assists) came over his final 29 games.
As usual, Stepneski packed way more info into his story than I quoted here, so you'll definitely want to give it a read.
I'm really encouraged reading this, to be frank. There were concerns about how Honka would handle playing against the full-grown veterans and fringe NHLers in the American League, but the eyebrow-raising choice to send him to Cedar Park has certainly seemed to be just a footnote to Honka's impressive season. I'll preach the Goligoski comparison until I see a reason to stop, because I really think Honka could be that good or even better (and he's a righty, no less). Size is important, but when you look at Nemeth, Jokipakka, summer-acquisition-to-be-named-later, and even possibly Esa Lindell, the Stars' defense looks to have plenty of room for slick, skilled defensemen (once they figure out the logjam, that is). Honka's growth needs to continue next year, of course--I don't think he sees NHL ice until late 2016--but there's satisfaction to be taken from his performance for Texas given the unorthodox development strategy the Stars have used.
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How about a Kickstarter for a backup goalie? Is that a thing kids can do on their Ichapods and Gamestations these days?
Ralph Strangis's tough decision to leave the Stars should earn him our admiration, writes some dude named Josh. [WFAA]
Bob Sturm dug up a radio bit with Ralph Strangis and Ralph's dad. Aww. Good listening, and Ralph Sr. actually kinda sounds like him. Wait...is Ralph Sr. doing anything next season? [Usave]
Barry Horn writes about the tough journey Strangis had from addiction to rehab to the broadcast booth. Good read here. [DMN]
Jim Nill is bringing Sidney Crosby to IIHF World Championships, and Todd McLellan couldn't be happier about it. Basically, Todd's dad just invited the coolest kid in school to his birthday party, so Todd's party will now be cool by extension. Jim Nill is not related to Todd McLellan, but you know what I mean. [Edmonton Sun]
Tyler Seguin is happy to play in Worlds, and he's also glad for his buddy Klinberg's big payday. Actually, I believe they break up those payments into multiple paydays, so it's not like one giant comedic check or anything like they do for charities. Maybe bosses should do that on payday more at the office, though? Might boost morale. This is free advice. [DMN]
The Idaho Steelheads ran into a hot goalie and are down 3-2 in their series against Utah. Join the club, Steelheads. [100 Degree Hockey]
Carey Price made 43 saves as the Canadiens scored a fluky goal early and battened down the heck out of their hatches for the rest of the game. They played defense, in better words. This was the Senators' first shutout loss of the entire season. Bummer, dudes. Still, Ottawa has to be pretty okay with their season, all things considered. [NHL]
Of course, Ottawa might not be that okay with losing, given that they actually did score a goal but for a too-quick whistle. Whoopsie-daisy. [Puck Daddy]
You know who isn't okay with their season, all things considered? St. Louis. After Devan Dubnyk and Zach Parise wrapped up the series in Minnesota's favor, there was quite a bit of frustration and discouragement coming out of the gateway to the west. Odds are Hitch is looking for a new job by mid-May, right? [NHL]
This GIF recap of game five between Detroit and Tampa Bay should get you ready for their penultimate (Tamps hopes) game this evening. [Winging It in Motown]
Team USA Sled Hockey rolled over Russia yesterday, 6-1. [USA Hockey]
Gary Bettman is projecting next year's cap at $71.5 million. This is good news for teams like the Stars who have cap space a-waitin'. [Pro Hockey Talk]
Scouting for the PUPPY BOWL EVERYONE STOP WATCH PUPPIES NOW PUPPIES PUPPIES PUPPY DRAFT. Phew, sorry. It's a puppy draft. [Garbage Time]
Finally, check out how the Habs congratulated Carey Price in the locker room after his outstanding performance in game six: