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Texas Stars Telegram: Hintz, Hansson, and Who to Watch for the 2017-2018 AHL Season

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Who are the Texas Stars of 2017-2018?

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NHL: Dallas Stars at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016-2017 Texas Stars were a lot like Dallas - hit hard by injuries, self sabotaged by goaltending and special teams, and just generally following a path that could be charted by the ominous titles of episodes of Murder She Wrote.

Texas had to dig deep last season. Swamp deep (no really).

Dallas fans might lament the copious depth forward signings that will undoubtedly push aside Texas prospects that seem “NHL ready” but not the ticket buyers of Cedar Park.

If Mattias Janmark is fully healed, Dallas will likely figure out a 4th line of Curtis McKenzie, Devin Shore, Adam Cracknell, Brian Flynn, Tyler Pitlick, and maybe (?) RJ Umberger - all with NHL experience. Which leaves Texas with quite the abundance of forward talent.

Sean Shapiro believes these will be the following lines to start the season.

Remi Elie-Jason Dickinson-Denis Gurianov

Roope Hintz-Justin Dowling-Gemel Smith

Greg Rallo-Travis Morin-Mark McNeil

Cole Ully-Austin Fyten-Sheldon Dries

Gavin Bayreuther-Niklas Hansson

Dillon Heatherington-Andrew Bodnarchuck

Ludwig Bystrom-Brett Regner

Reserves: Chris Martenet

Mike McKenna

Landon Bow (or) Philippe Desrosiers

The Division

Texas finished second to last in the 2016-2017 season. Only their fellow foes, the San Antonio Rampage, were worse. If they want back in the playoff Pacific, they’ll need to unseat the division’s best: San Jose Barracuda, San Diego Gulls, Ontario Reign, or the Stockton Heat. All four teams will continue to contend. In San Diego’s case, Texas no longer has to worry about Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour.

Texas signed Mike McKenna to be their veteran netminder. McKenna has been a pretty solid AHL goaltender throughout his career, but nothing groundbreaking. This will allow one of Bow or Desrosiers to compete for the starting job. I’m not sure either one is ready. They weren’t helped by Texas’ league worst PK unit (the worst in four seasons actually), but they both seemed to struggle with point shots.

For a more detailed analysis, you can click here for my goaltending grades at Sean’s site.

As for everything else, just as Sean did on his recent podcast (which you should listen to), I’ll go over the prospects I think fans should keep track of per three different categories.

Forwards

NHL: Nashville Predators at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Highest Ceiling

Denis Gurianov - for reasons I’ve already detailed. Dallas has a lot of prospects who are guaranteed everyday NHL’ers. At more important positions, no less. But Gurianov has the potential dominate a shift with his speed, and his shot isn’t too shabby either. Dallas isn’t exactly filled to the brim with dedicated blue chip wingers either.

He was playing first line minutes - in all situations - by the end of the season. Derek Laxdal has shown trust, and faith in the young Russian winger already. While those lines are subject to change, any center will have the ability to give Gurianov more room, allowing him to focus on finer details, thinking in sync with linemates who will be a clear improvement over the ECHL tweeners he played with last season.

Honorable mention - Roope Hintz.

Most NHL Ready

Remi Elie - this is an off the wall pick, and it comes with a huge caveat. “Most NHL ready” is not synonymous with quality. I don’t believe Elie is better than Dickinson or Hintz, for example. But Elie plays a sharp NHL ready game. Like a Rich Peverley type, he’s the kind of bottom six forward you can stick in your top six in a pinch. He has the speed to make the most of limited minutes, and just enough puck control and wits to stay above water with better linemates.

He’s also a bull in the corners, gloves or no gloves. Coaches love physicality, and Elie is basically Antoine Roussel with Grey Poupon in his cabinet.

Honorable mention - Jason Dickinson.

Darkhorse Candidate

Gemel Smith - anyone who watches the AHL regularly, sooner or later comes to understand just how much hockey has changed. Not just in the NHL. And inevitably somebody offers the retort “if he’s so good why isn’t he on an NHL roster?” Ladies and germs, I present to you, Mr. Smith. He was sent down to the ECHL in 2015, and simply would have never made the roster if it weren’t for injuries. Yet as an NHL rookie, he was on pace for a 20+ point season in buried minutes. That’s better than Lindy Ruff’s 2017 number one center. It amazes me to think Brian Flynn is a “better option” just because he has NHL experience despite the fact that the 28 year old’s career high in points is 17. And it’s not like Smith can’t play special teams. I don’t see Smith cracking the roster, but if he doesn’t, no NHL team can say it was for lack of ability.

Honorable mention: Justin Dowling.

Defense

Sweden v USA White - 2014 USA Hockey Junior Evaluation Camp

Highest Ceiling

Niklas Hansson - because you can never have enough puck movers in today’s game. Hansson had a tough season for HV71 in Sweden. He played bottom pairing minutes, and was even scratched at times. However, in the 2015-2016 season he put up 22 points in 44 games in the SHL. The talent is there. He made a brief cameo for Texas that season, paired with Esa Lindell. They were a little awkward, and you could tell Esa was playing more conservative than usual, perhaps because of Hansson’s jitters. But at development camp he looked comfortable, gracefully moving the puck up ice during drills, displaying his puck moving talents.

Honorable mention: Gavin Bayreuther.

Most NHL Ready

Dillon Heatherington - by default, if you will. Dallas’ beat writers, Mike Heika and Sean Shapiro have championed the defenseman Dallas landed for Lauri Korpikoski. With his size, respectable mobility for his frame, and conservative play, his profile fits the NHL ready bill for reasons similar to those I outlined for Elie. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, which coaches love (if not overvalue). He’s a slightly more rugged Patrik Nemeth, which can either sound like praise, or an “indictment”, depending on your perspective. I don’t see Heatherington making the lineup, personally. However, if Nemeth and Oleksiak are traded, Heatherington could be the first callup.

Honorable mention: Gavin Bayreuther.

Darkhorse Candidate

Ludwig Bystrom - when your profile isn’t obvious, it’s harder to stand out. Bystrom doesn’t put up points and he’s not big. So who is he? A defenseman of course. Even with guys like Bayreuther and Hansson on the blueline, Bystrom is probably the best skater of the bunch. He doesn’t have a powerful shot, and he’s not physical, but with his skating, he relies on positioning and smarts to transition the puck so that the shooters can shoot, sometimes going coast to coast without breaking a sweat. It’s also important to keep in mind that Bystrom has never looked out of place on the top pairing. For awhile he and Julius Honka manned the blue gates, and looked excellent together. However, for the most part he’s been saddled with players like Dustin Stevenson on his offside.

Honorable mention: Gavin Bayreuther.

Prediction (and some amateur opinions)

Like a lot of fans, Jim Nill’s depth signings startled me. It wasn’t like any of these Texas prospects were unknown. They played a quality sample of NHL games, and looked good. And certainly better than Nill’s previous depth forward signings (I’m only half looking at you, Hudler). Truth be told, I’m still not a fan of these signings. Less for ‘blocking prospects’ and more for the actual players.

But it’s easy to get lost in the fog of self interest. Nill’s plan is simple; playing time is one thing. Quality playing time is another. Texas will have a stacked middle nine. These prospects shouldn’t merely play together. They should succeed together. They have the forward group to make the playoffs and go on a deep run. The regular season and the playoffs are different animals, and a player’s ability to thrive during crunch time is not just extra analysis, but a deeper look into their profile. Are they rattled by the stakes? Not rattled enough? What parts of their game seem muzzled by the extra adrenaline? What parts of their game excel against the storm?

There are still question marks in Texas. Goaltending could remain an issue, for example. But if these prospects are as valuable as fans think, the AHL’s future success will be a glimpse into a successful NHL future.