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Thoughts And Observations From The Dallas Stars’ Performance In Traverse City

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Despite a 5th-place finish, there are a lot of positives to take from the annual prospect showcase

Latvia v Finland - 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images

After a whirlwind four games in five days, the 2018 NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, MI, has now come to an end.

The annual tournament (and other special prospect events, such as the Young Stars Classic) has grown a lot over the years in terms of popularity and importance, and for good reason. Drafting prospects is one thing; actually developing them into NHL talent is another. While it is but a single stepping stone on an otherwise long and winding path, the NHL Prospect Tournament provides an effective benchmark for many of hockey’s top young talents.

The Dallas Stars are a consistent participant in the Traverse City tourney, and this year the franchise brought one of their most intriguing and impressive rosters. While the team only finished in 5th place out of eight teams, they played a lot better than their final placement would suggest, running up the scoreboard in their two wins and losing by narrow margins (including a few unlucky posts at key times) in their two losses.

Perhaps more importantly, however, many of the Stars’ prospects had impressive individual performances, helping onlookers to get a better understanding of just how far along each of them are in their particular development paths, for both areas of strength and areas of weakness.

Here now is a more detailed look at how some specific Stars prospects performed, as well as further analysis about what these performances might mean for their upcoming 2018-19 seasons and beyond.

  • Let’s get the most obvious observation out of the way first: Miro Heiskanen was, without question, one of the best players in the entire tournament, and there were times throughout where it seemed unfair that he was taking part at all. His ability to move quickly and effortlessly in all directions, changing gears with grace and ease, is a very special sight to behold. He scored three goals and added an assist in three games, with one of the goals coming on an incredible end-to-end rush. Heiskanen warmed up plenty in Traverse City, setting him up to hit the ground running once the Stars’ training camp begins in Boise on Friday. At this point, there’s no doubt remaining that he’s ready to play in the NHL.
  • The other Stars 1st rounder taking part, 2018’s 13th-overall pick Ty Dellandrea, had a good showing in his Traverse City debut. He was credited with picking up five assists in four games, although stat tracking was pretty flawed all tournament, so four assists is probably more accurate. Nevertheless, he was one of the team’s better forwards at just 18 years of age, which is what you want to see out of such a high pick. Dellandrea didn’t generate much as far as highlight-reel plays go, but his micro play was excellent. His biggest calling cards are his smarts, work ethic and attention to detail, and those attributes were on full display here. I can’t find a clip of it online, but Dellandrea made a great play on the Stars’ only goal against Detroit on Saturday, stripping a Red Wings prospect of the puck in the offensive zone and making a quick pass that went to Nick Caamano and then ended in a Tony Calderone goal. He also made a nice one-touch pass to set up a goal by Adam Mascherin in the opening game against the Rangers on Friday.
  • Roope Hintz was named captain of this squad, which goes to show just how highly the Stars brass thinks of him. The 21-year-old Finnish pivot certainly played well in the tournament, showing flashes of skill and smarts at both ends of the ice, but left a little bit to be desired in terms of making a consistent impact, especially considering this was his second year taking part in the event. Despite some talk recently about Hintz knocking on the door” for a job in the NHL, he didn’t kick the door down the way that Heiskanen and a few prospects on other teams did. A lot can still happen in training camp and the preseason, but in Traverse City Hintz looked like a prospect who could still find developmental benefit from more time in the AHL. There will be no reason to panic if he’s not in Dallas at the start of the season — he’s still easily one of the best prospects in the organization.
  • Another Dallas prospect that had high expectations placed upon him going into the tournament was winger Jason Robertson, and it’s safe to say that he exceeded them with his play. Robertson finished the tournament with two goals, seven assists and nine points in four games, the most points of any player in Traverse City this year. Much has been written this summer about how Robertson trained with hockey fitness guru and former NHLer Gary Roberts, and the results on the ice were quite notable, even comparing them to as recently as Robertson’s play in the OHL playoffs this past April. His skating and ability to play the game with pace are, overall, still weaknesses instead of strengths, but neither look like significant liabilities any longer. If he can continue to keep improving in both areas it will bode incredibly well for his potential as an NHL-caliber power forward.
  • 20-year-old goaltender Colton Point was handed the reins as the Stars’ starting netminder in the tournament, and the results were mixed. He had a very strong game against Detroit on Saturday, keeping his team alive as they got outplayed, but looked a little shaky and would definitely like a few goals back from his games against New York on Friday and Minnesota on Monday. It’s obvious from comments made from within the organization that the team really wants Point to seize one of the two goalie positions with the AHL’s Texas Stars this season (most likely to ensure that Texas isn’t relying on two rookie AHL goalies in 2019-20 after Jake Oettinger also turns pro), but from the looks of his play in Traverse City, a little bit of time in the ECHL might not be a bad idea either. If need be, Texas could start the season with Landon Bow and Philippe Desrosiers between the pipes and then the organization could see how things unfold from there.
  • Much like Hintz, Nick Caamano and John Nyberg were two other Stars players who performed well in the tournament and further cemented themselves as top prospects within the organization, but were also guys who both looked like they need more AHL seasoning before they’re ready for full-time NHL duty. Nothing wrong with that, as both players are just entering their first pro seasons in North America, though don’t hold out hope that either will win a job in Dallas out of training camp.
  • Swedish defenseman Jakob Stenqvist got his first taste of North American hockey over the weekend and showed to a wider audience the reasons why I’ve considered him one of the Stars’ top prospects for some time now. He’s a beautifully smooth skater and can make some very high-end plays with the puck on his stick, a combination of attributes for a blueliner that is always in high demand. He’s still quite skinny and needs to learn a lot more about proper defensive positioning and awareness, so there’s still work that needs to be done, but Stenqvist has enormous upside if his development keeps moving in the right direction. He only just recently got invited to the Stars’ training camp instead of going straight back to Sweden, a learning experience that could be a very valuable one for him.
  • Speaking of skilled defensemen, undrafted free agent invitee Ben Gleason really turned heads. A member of the Hamilton Bulldogs team (alongside Caamano) that won the OHL championship this past season, he scored five points in three games and was the Stars’ best defenseman not named Heiskanen. He was really feeling it all tournament, making a number of smart, skilled and — above all else — confident plays, especially against Carolina on Tuesday, a game where he was simply dominant. There are still areas of his game that need to be improved (predominantly his backwards skating and ability to turn around and accelerate when moving in that direction), but Gleason displays high-end smarts and puck-moving proficiency. When you find a young player who has high-end skill in some areas you should almost always take chances on them, and hope that you can develop them enough over time to iron out their weaknesses. For my money, he’s worth rolling the dice on and offering a contract to.
  • Others worth mentioning briefly who stood out in a positive way, for a variety of different reasons: Calderone, Mascherin, Brett Davis and James Phelan (AHL signee).