With the World Junior tournament, the trade deadlines in the three major North American junior leagues, and the AHL All-Star break all now in the rearview mirror, now is as good of a time as any to take a step back and look at the Dallas Stars’ prospect pool.
There have definitely been some prospects in the system drawing positive attention lately: Ty Dellandrea winning gold with Canada at the World Juniors, Albin Eriksson and Oskar Back winning bronze in the same tournament, Jake Oettinger’s solid play with the Texas Stars, etc.
Overall, however, the top end of the group is leaving a little to be desired. Dellandrea, Oettinger, Thomas Harley and Jason Robertson all continue to look excellent, but beyond them, there seems to be a lack of prospects who look like great bets to become impact players. Ideally, you’d like to see one or two more players that you could confidently project as staring goaltenders, top-six forwards or top-four defensemen.
On the plus side, however, is that the Stars have really assembled an impressively well-stocked pipeline — significantly more than years prior.
In the handful of years that I’ve been doing this list, I can’t recall another time where I had such a hard time narrowing these rankings down to just 20 names. That’s a good sign for the organization’s ability to stay competitive well into the future, and to their ability to keep filling out their roster with players with low cap hits.
The previous edition of these rankings, which came out in October, 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: Denis Gurianov
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 right now. 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.
Dallas Stars Prospect Rankings: February 2020
|1||1||Thomas Harley||18||Despite missing out on a World Junior roster spot with Canada, Harley nevertheless remains the top prospect in the organization in terms of long-term upside. The rangy defender covers ice so quickly, and can do so without seemingly even breaking a sweat. He is scoring at a point-per-game pace on a Mississauga team with little offensive support.|
|2||2||Ty Dellandrea||19||Some kind of switch went off in Dellandrea's head over the past few months, and ever since then his play has ascended to a whole new level. His stellar work ethic hasn't changed, but the points are coming in bunches in a way they hadn't before. The more he improves his game in all areas in Flint, the more likely it is that he plays in Dallas next season.|
|3||3||Jake Oettinger||21||It didn't take Oettinger very long in his rookie AHL season to emerge as the best goaltender on the Texas Stars, winning that distinction away from Landon Bow. He has stayed impressively steady and consistent, even though his team fell apart in front of him for a month. He still needs more development in the AHL, but his NHL future is bright.|
|4||4||Jason Robertson||20||Robertson has acclimated to the AHL more quickly than expected. I guess having elite hockey sense and puck protection will help you do that. His NHL debut will likely have to wait a little longer, as there are a few others ahead of him on the depth chart, but that's OK because he still has a lot of learning and growing that he can do in the minors.|
|5||6||Albin Eriksson||19||Don't let his scarce point totals from this season fool you: Eriksson has a lot of offensive potential. To help make up for some scoring woes, he used his time with Sweden's national junior program to round out his defensive game. There's just so much to like about Eriksson's game to doubt his potential. Once he finds a comfortable role again, watch out.|
|6||8||Nicholas Caamano||21||He'll never be a superstar or a big point producer, but Caamano is looking like a player who will have a long, useful NHL career. Has an exceptional understanding of what his strengths and skills are, and how he can use them to his advantage. Always puts in the work and makes a difference. In many ways, he's like a winger version of Jason Dickinson.|
|7||7||Riley Tufte||21||Sooner or later Tufte is going to figure out how to use the contents of his stacked toolkit, and when that happens he's going to be a difference-maker on the ice. Yes, really. They're fleeting, but you're seeing more and more of those moments where he leaves his mark. A notorious slow-starter in his career, more patience is required with his development.|
|8||10||Oskar Back||19||Back recently used his shutdown prowess to add a second bronze medal to his mantle, helping Sweden finish 3rd at the World Juniors. He continues to develop as a defensive pivot, playing all of this year so far in that role with Farjestad in the SHL. I still think there's some untapped scoring potential here as well if he ever gets the chance to develop it.|
|9||11||Rhett Gardner||23||Gardner had an eight-game cup of coffee in Dallas in the fall and didn't look out of place playing hard minutes. Like Caamano, he has an exceptional understanding of what he's naturally good at, and works to maximize those specialties. He spent some time in a Top 6 role for Texas recently and played well, but has since moved back to a more familiar checking role.|
|10||16||Joseph Cecconi||22||The fact that Cecconi is being tasked with playing on Texas' dedicated shutdown pairing alongside Dillon Heatherington, despite still being an AHL rookie, says a lot about his potential. He doesn't need to be flashy to be effective. Projects as a high-floor, low-ceiling NHLer who specializes on the penalty kill and can help protect leads and close out games.|
|11||9||Adam Mascherin||21||Instead of building upon a successful rookie pro season, Mascherin was a victim of Texas' early struggles and then got significantly sidelined with an injury. Few prospects in the system can make plays or finish them off as well as he can, but there are still some question marks about whether his skating can get to a point where it's good enough for the NHL.|
|12||12||Riley Damiani||19||This season has been more of the same for Damiani compared to last, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, as he's an important player on his club and keeps racking up points. He's become an incredible playermaker on the powerplay, disguising his intentions before making crisp passes. A smart, dedicated prospect who could play in the AHL next year.|
|13||NR||Curtis Douglas||19||The Windsor Spitfires are enjoying a great turnaround year, and Douglas is no small part of that success. With his size, reach, physicality and deceptively soft hands, he can affect a game in many different ways. At 6-foot-9, he is unsurprisingly good at setting up screens. If he can develop into a similar type of player as Brian Boyle, the Stars will be thrilled.|
|14||NR||Joel Kiviranta||23||It took him some time to acclimate to North America, as is the case with many European players, but Kiviranta overcame that hump and earned a call-up to Dallas. He has the quickness and motor to keep pace in the NHL, and the smarts to play a regular shift in different situations. He's a reliable winger, but can he ever become more than a depth player?|
|15||13||Ben Gleason||21||Gleason was soaring in his rookie AHL season, but has landed with a thud so far in 2019-20. He's had problems keeping the puck out of his own net, and with the depth on Texas' blueline he's often found himself as a healthy scratch. Luckily for him and the Stars, he's still young and has plenty of time to keep growing and working on his weaknesses.|
|16||14||Joel L'Esperance||24||When it comes to scoring goals in tight, L'Esperance has proven to be a natural. And with his thick frame, it's hard to move him out of those dangerous areas. He should be able to hit the 30-goal mark once again this season. But will the two-time AHL All-Star ever be good enough to be a full-time NHLer? Getting faster would go a long way in that regard.|
|17||17||Tye Felhaber||21||A brief redeployment to Idaho in the ECHL helped Felhaber find some confidence, and his play with Texas has been better since returning. Still needs to get quicker and stronger to provide his natural scoring instincts enough time and space to do their thing, but there's no rush. Could still be a core player for the organization by the time he's 25 or so.|
|18||20||Dawson Barteaux||20||Barteaux is learning a lot this year. In Red Deer he gained the experience of being a team captain and a veteran leader for a young group, and in the spring, thanks to a trade deadline deal, he'll make a playoff push with his new Winnipeg squad, which will be a first for him in his WHL career. He'll be AHL-eligible in the fall, but might need more time in the Dub.|
|19||NR||Fredrik Karlstrom||22||Karlstrom continues to be a Bottom 6 player in the SHL, but he's gotten better at using his long reach and long skating strides to be an impact player. Once he finds some time and open ice he can gain that crucial separation space and make things happen. Could still become a useful depth piece with the Stars one day after some seasoning in the AHL.|
|20||18||Jakob Stenqvist||21||Stenqvist's foray over to Finland has been rocky, as his ice time keeps fluctuating. His Assat club is something of a mess, too. However, he's had some good games where he played big minutes and helped pull off upsets. His effectiveness on the powerplay has stayed steady, though. Needs to bring more intensity, as he looks timid and gets lost in the play.|