With the prestigious World Juniors coming up soon, and a number of Dallas Stars prospects taking part in the annual event, now is a great time to take current stock of how the organization’s prospect pool is looking with another edition of Defending Big D’s prospect rankings.
Previously compiled between myself and former DBD prospect guru Huw Wales, the latest edition of these rankings can be found here.
For consistency, I’m using the same definition of "prospect" that we always did: "Any player who played fewer than 25 NHL games this season or last season, or fewer than 50 NHL games overall, is considered a prospect. The upper limit on the age cutoff is 26 years old."
Graduated from last edition’s rankings: Remi Elie and Gemel Smith (Smith was technically three games short of the cutoff, but he will probably be sticking with Dallas for the foreseeable future.)
Please note that these rankings are based around the projection of a player's potential NHL ceiling, not who is the closest to NHL duty. These potential NHL ceilings are evaluated based on each player's cumulative careers up to this point, which explains why, for example, someone that was great last year but is struggling right now might be ranked higher than someone that is having an unexpected breakout season.
Without further ado, here now are the 20-player rankings, which also showcase each player's previous position on the list, their ages, and a brief explanation outlining why they're listed where they are.
Prospect Rankings - December 2017
|1||1||Miro Heiskanen||18||The 3rd overall pick in the 2017 draft, Heiskanen has been everything that the Stars hoped he would be, and then some. An exceptional skater with a sharp hockey mind and confidence when the puck is on his stick, Heiskanen is already one of the best defensemen in Finland's top pro league. Could make Finland's 2018 Olympic team|
|2||2||Julius Honka||22||Despite, controversially, spending much of the start to his season in the press box and the AHL, Honka nevertheless remains one of the best prospects in the organization. He's been sheltered when he's played, but in that spot he's amassed some of the best possessions numbers on the entire team and scored a big goal in a big game|
|3||3||Roope Hintz||21||Making the jump from Europe to North America isn't easy to do, but Hintz managed to do it this year without losing the surging momentum that he's built up over the past couple of seasons. He's already one of the best forwards on the Texas Stars and is steadily earning a bigger role. Don't be surprised if he gets a Dallas call-up this year|
|4||4||Jason Dickinson||22||Dickinson has never been known as a sniper, so after collecting a lot of assists over the past two AHL seasons it's nice to see him add a scorer's touch to his repertoire. His 13 goals in 20 games lead the Texas Stars. Earned a few call-ups to Dallas this year, but it would be nice to see him make more of an impact when he's in the lineup|
|5||7||Riley Tufte||19||The University of Minnesota-Duluth lost many of its top forwards over the summer, creating a prime opportunity for Tufte. He's responded well to a bigger role, with eight goals in 19 games, just one shy of the nine-goal mark that he hit last season in 37 games. A streaky player, Tufte's biggest challenge is playing well at a consistent rate|
|6||6||Jason Robertson||18||Robertson took a lot of OHL teams by surprise last season with his shot, puck protection and offensive awareness. Opposing teams zone in on him more than they used to, but with little luck: Robertson still has 40 points in 31 games. When he gets the puck in a cycle along the boards it's quite a difficult task for defenders to take it back|
|7||5||Denis Gurianov||20||Stars fans were hoping that Gurianov would be knocking on Dallas' door right about now after a solid first season in North America in 2016-17, but he has started slowly this year, only scoring two goals and averaging 1.4 shots per game through 20 contests. Needs to use his size and skating more effectively to get into high-danger areas|
|8||8||Jake Oettinger||18||Boston University lost a lot of their top players from last season, and as a result the whole team has suffered. This includes Oettinger, whose save percentage has dropped from .927 to .902 in the midst of a sophomore slump. He should make the U.S. team for the World Juniors, which could be a good gauge of where his game is right now|
|9||19||Colton Point||19||After a quiet 2016-17 season that only saw him dress in 10 games, Point exploded out of the gate this year and has emerged as one of the best under-20 goalies in the world. Impressively made the Canadian roster for the WJCs. The 6'4" stopper has a mature understanding of the game, showing great positioning and puck tracking|
|10||13||John Nyberg||21||Nyberg might never be a top pairing defender in the NHL, or a player that truly shines on either side of special teams, but what makes him so intriguing are his versatility and reliability. He's the type of player that you could throw into any role and he'd probably keep himself afloat. Now in Sweden, he's likely headed to the AHL next season|
|11||10||Fredrik Karlstrom||18||Sometimes a change of scenery isn't necessarily a good thing. Karlstrom went from playing 12:38 per night last year in the Allsvenskan to playing 7:59 per game so far this year in the SHL. His production has dropped as well, with just one goal and three points in 26 games. The toolsy center has been invited to Sweden's WJC camp|
|12||15||Jakob Stenqvist||19||One of the challenges of scouting and development is trying to determine not just who a player is, but who that player might become in the future. Stenqvist is one of those guys. A tall, skinny, right-shot defender with elegant skating, he possesses some tantalizing tools. Could turn into a very special player one day if everything clicks|
|13||11||Nick Caamano||19||Caamano recently found himself in new territory, getting traded from an oft-troubled Flint organization to Hamilton, one of the best teams in the OHL. Hamilton is going for it this year, so Caamano could find himself on a nice playoff run in the spring. He's developing well, but you'd like to see him take control of games a little more often|
|14||HM||Dillon Heatherington||22||Heatherington has quietly emerged this season as one of the top blueliners for the Texas Stars. Big, sturdy and reliable, he's a fixture on the team's penalty kill and when defending leads. He's also emerged as part of the team's leadership group, wearing an "A" on his sweater at just 22 years of age. Low NHL ceiling, but a very high floor|
|15||HM||Landon Bow||22||The steady improvements in Bow's game are fresh air for Dallas, an organization that hasn't developed a goalie in-house in forever. The 6'5" netminder recently wrestled Texas' starting job away from Mike McKenna and has been steady since. The body of work is small, but Bow seems like he could develop into an NHL backup one day|
|16||17||Joseph Cecconi||20||One thing that talent evaluators often look for in prospects is the ability for a player to round out his game and improve in weak areas. Cecconi is checking this box right now. Predominantly a defensive-defenseman, he recently started picking up his offensive game. Currently playing on the top defensive pair for the University of Michigan|
|17||12||Gavin Bayreuther||23||The transition from the NCAA to the pros hasn't exactly gone as smoothly as hoped for Bayreuther so far. The skating and puck skills are there, but the production hasn't followed. A powerplay specialist in university, Bayreuther only has three points this season on the man advantage. Defensive awareness and decision making need work|
|18||HM||Ondrej Vala||19||A prospect with enormous raw potential, Vala continues to refine his game. A hulking defenseman with long skating strides, a cannon of a shot and a mean streak that he's not afraid to utilize, Vala's is a confident player that can really make an impact when he's out there. Defensive awareness and decision making, however, are concerns|
|19||20||Rhett Gardner||21||Slow and steady continues to be the pace for Gardner. A big, smart, workhorse center, Gardner is another one of those players that has a secure floor, but you'd still like to see him grow his offensive game a little. Has a good opportunity this season with the departure of former teammates, but hasn't taken the reigns as much as hoped|
|20||NR||Liam Hawel||18||Hawel is an intriguing prospect, one that appears at times to have some considerable hidden potential. He's a 6'4" center that gets around the ice well and has some surprisingly soft hands and playmaking ability. However, for a player of his size you'd like to see more of an edge. Can be passive and often shies away from the gritty areas|