Drafting and development are the most effective ways to build a successful NHL team. The Dallas Stars understand this, but their ability to succeed in those areas over the past few years has left a lot to be desired.
The good news, however, is that the organization appears to have turned a necessary corner.
After disappointing draft crops in 2013 and 2014, they are starting to see an impact being made in the NHL from members of their 2015 class, while the 2016, 2017, and 2018 drafts have produced a deep pool of young prospects who are performing well across a number of different leagues. The Stars have also hit it big with a few undrafted free agent signings, helping to fix some of the pipeline holes left by their weaker drafts.
With all of that being said, now is a good time to take a closer look at the organization’s development pipeline and release another edition of Defending Big D’s Dallas Stars Prospect Rankings.
The previous edition of these rankings, which came out in November, can be found here.
For consistency, I’m using the same definition of “prospect” as before: “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. In exceptional cases, a player may be graduated from prospect status without having yet met these criteria.”
Graduated from last edition’s rankings: Roope Hintz
Please note that these rankings are based around the projection of a player’s potential NHL ceiling and their chances of reaching that 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 — February 2019
|1||4||Denis Gurianov||21||It took a little longer than expected, but Gurianov is finally looking like the prospect that the Stars thought he would become when they drafted him in 2015. He has taken big strides lately with his confidence and ability to read the play, which is resulting in him making a much bigger impact out on the ice. He's ready for full-time duty in Dallas|
|2||1||Ty Dellandrea||18||The more adversity you throw at Dellandrea, the better he gets. The Flint Firebirds are still languishing in the standings and the young center missed some time before Christmas due to an injury, and yet his game just keeps growing. He has started to flex his offensive muscles a little more after finally getting more scoring support around him|
|3||3||Jason Robertson||19||Robertson went from being "the guy" in Kingston to being a key cog in a much stronger machine in Niagara and is thriving after the change. One of the most dangerous offensive players in the OHL, he might have been leading the entire league in scoring right now if he hadn't gone to play in the World Juniors, where he helped the U.S. win silver|
|4||7||Jake Oettinger||20||The roster in front of him has gotten worse since last year and his team is still going through the growing pains of having a new coach, but Oettinger just keeps churning out strong game after strong game for Boston University. Consistency is always a challenge for goalies, so seeing Oettinger play so consistently right now is a great sign|
|5||8||Albin Eriksson||18||Eriksson has been hot and cold this year for Skelleftea in the SHL, but when he's been on his game he has shown flashes of high-end potential, including some beautiful highlight-reel goals. A huge teenager with a powerfully explosive skating stride and deceptively soft hands, it's impossible to not be intrigued by what he brings to the table|
|6||5||Riley Tufte||20||Tufte keeps developing slowly and steadily at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, but it's a little disappointing that his game hasn't taken a big jump this year, especially after winning the NCAA title last season. Turning pro after his season ends might be the best thing for his development, especially if he can join the Texas Stars for a playoff push|
|7||14||Gavin Bayreuther||24||Bayreuther made his NHL debut in November and dressed in 19 games for Dallas before returning to the AHL, looking quite solid pretty much instantly, eclipsing 20 minutes of ice time in multiple games. A responsible two-way defender, few prospects in the Stars' system can hammer a puck like he can. Could have a long future in the NHL|
|8||13||Joel L'Esperance||23||What a revelation L'Esperance has been for the Stars. After all, it's not often that an undrafted free agent goes straight from college to becoming an AHL All-Star as a rookie. His 24 goals are currently tied for tops in the league, but the meat-and-potatoes forward is also making a difference in the other two zones. Looks ready to make his NHL debut|
|9||6||Colton Point||20||The transition from the NCAA to the pros hasn't gone as smoothly as expected for the 2018 Hobey Baker finalist, but Point nevertheless remains a quality goaltending prospect. Many of the NHL's top netminders did stints in the ECHL, and at 20 years of age Point still has a lot of room to grow and develop. Don't sleep on his long-term potential|
|10||10||Oskar Back||18||Back has spent this season so far playing professionally for BIK Karlskoga in Sweden's Allsvenskan league and hasn't looked out of place, logging Top 6 minutes for his club. He did leave briefly to play in the World Juniors, something that he will likely do again next year. A big, strong, 200-foot forward who is comfortable moving the puck|
|11||9||Jakob Stenqvist||20||His point production has slowed down a bit compared to last year, but Stenqvist hasn't lost the fast, effortless skating stride that allows him to succeed on Bjorkloven's top pairing and makes him such a compelling prospect. He might need another season until he's ready to come over from Sweden, but his development is moving along nicely|
|12||NR||Ben Gleason||20||Somebody might need to pinch Gleason, because he probably still feels like he's dreaming after the past few months, getting an ELC from the Stars after never being drafted and then making his NHL debut shortly afterward. The puck-moving blueliner is still quite raw, but his play so far with the organization shows that he has a bright future|
|13||11||Adam Mascherin||20||It's not easy playing in the AHL when you're short and not the greatest of skaters, especially for a 20-year-old, but Mascherin finds ways to make it work because of his elite ability to read the flow of play. His hands are pretty impressive as well, allowing him to protect, distribute and deposit the puck, depending on what the situation calls for|
|14||12||Nicholas Caamano||20||Caamano's future in the NHL is likely going to come as a physical Bottom 6 forward who chips in the occasional points, and that's precisely the role he's occupying right now for Texas. He's playing with a lot of confidence, which isn't something you can say for many AHL rookies, and doesn't back down when challenged by older competition|
|15||20||Liam Hawel||19||Hawel has really turned a corner in his play over the past few months, which is quite nice to see considering the loaded toolkit at his disposal. He's shooting the puck more and good things are coming from it, though those results come from a permanent move to the wing. Guelph is primed for a big playoff run in the OHL, which will be a good test|
|16||16||Joseph Cecconi||21||This year is not going as well as hoped for the University of Michigan, but Cecconi continues to log as a lot of minutes on his club's top defensive pairing in his fourth and final year of NCAA eligibility. A big defender who passes the puck well, if his season ends early expect the Stars to try to get him to Texas to be a part of their AHL playoff push|
|17||18||Jacob Peterson||19||Peterson is steadily getting more and more dangerous as a scorer over in Sweden, with his 13 goals leading his team and good enough for the top 20 in the Allsvenskan. He's not a particularly lethal shooter, but creates chances thanks to his impressive reads and acceleration and then finishes them off by using stick work to open up goalies|
|18||NR||Riley Damiani||18||Points aren't everything, but it's hard to not get excited about how much Damiani is padding the score sheet lately for Kitchener, with four games of three points or more since the calendar turned to 2019. He's generating a ton of shots on net and is dangerous as a playmaker, especially on the powerplay. Skating needs work, but it's improving|
|19||NR||Tye Felhaber||20||Even though he was just signed by the Stars as yet another undrafted free agent, Felhaber instantly becomes one of the organization's better prospects. An OHL overager, he's leading the league in points and is averaging a goal per game thanks to his quick first-step acceleration, lightning-fast release and exceptional offensive instincts|
|20||NR||Rhett Gardner||22||The reigning NCHC defensive forward of the year, Gardner's calling card is his ability to go toe-to-toe against the best players opposing teams have to offer and shut them down. Whether he can succeed at doing that in the NHL still remains to be seen, but he projects well as a Bottom 6 defensive forward. Will be turning pro in the near future|