Out of all the years that I’ve been doing these Dallas Stars prospect rankings for Defending Big D, this edition has definitely been the trickiest to put together.
It’s always a little bit challenging to take each year’s draft crop, a bunch of fresh-faced 18- and 19-year-olds, and slot them in alongside guys who are already knocking on the NHL’s door. This time around there’s also a talented free-agent signing out of the NCAA to include, while someone who once made it inside the top 10 missed the entire 2020 calendar year due to injury, making him a lot harder to slot.
Oh, and there’s also the whole global pandemic thing going on. You may have heard of it? It shut down the entire hockey world in the spring. Some prospects have been able to resume playing lately, others haven’t seen game action in months, while others still have travelled thousands of miles just to keep their legs warm and their skills sharp.
To call it a mess would be something of an understatement.
But nevertheless, if there’s one thing that COVID-19 has taught all of us it’s that we have to do our best with whatever life throws our way. I didn’t want to let 2020 end without another edition of these rankings that included the Stars’ newest prospects from this year’s draft. Some prospects are actually playing right now (for now), and I think we’re all a little starved for some hockey content right at this point. So here we are.
The previous edition of these rankings, which came out in February, can be found here.
I should mention now that I have slightly changed the definition of prospect that I had been using previously, which is now this: “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 25 years old [the previous cutoff was 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: Joel Kiviranta, Joel L’Esperance
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: December 2020
|1||1||Thomas Harley||19||It's close at the top, but Harley retains his perch as the best prospect in the Stars' system. There's just so much raw upside to his game because of his skills, physical attributes and natural athleticism. It will be incredibly interesting to see how much he learned and grew from his time in the Dallas playoff bubble, and the World Juniors will help showcase that|
|2||3||Jake Oettinger||21||Like Harley, it's hard to precisely measure how much Oettinger benefitted from being in the Dallas playoff bubble, but all that hands-on work with goalie coach Jeff Reese and time spent around Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin certainly had a huge influence. And with Bishop recovering from surgery, Oettinger will soon get valuable experience as an NHL backup|
|3||2||Ty Dellandrea||20||After fighting through some rough years in Flint Dellandrea was robbed of the experience of leading the Firebirds triumphantly back to the playoffs, where they could have done damage. The two-way center was lucky enough to head over to Finland to keep his feet moving, although that league is now on hiatus as well. He'll be ready to push for an NHL spot|
|4||4||Jason Robertson||21||Robertson's first professional season can be chalked up as an overall success, as he finished as the top point scorer on the Texas Stars and made three appearances with the big club up in Dallas. He also, importantly, showed notable and necessary improvements in his quickness and mobility. Should be a strong contender to make the NHL club out of training camp|
|5||NR||Mavrik Bourque||19||The newest of the organization's top prospects, Bourque brings some much-needed playmaking, puck skill and creativity to the system. Like Dellandrea, he's a center who was entrusted with the captaincy of his team at just 18 years of age. He played some recent games in the QMJHL before it suspended activity, and was a final cut from Canada's World Junior camp|
|6||6||Nicholas Caamano||22||When a battered and bruised Dallas roster needed forward reinforcements in the Stanley Cup Final against Tampa Bay, Caamano got the call, which goes to show just how well his development is going. He has the tools and physical abilities to be a reliable Middle 6 winger at the NHL level, as well as an advanced understanding of how to play that kind of role|
|7||19||Fredrik Karlström||22||As much of a nightmare as 2020 has been, the calender year was a huge one on-ice for Karlström, who took major steps forward in Sweden and is still getting better. He moves around the rink incredibly well with his long, smooth skating strides, and he's become a dual offensive threat with his shooting and playmaking. Signed his first NHL contract in the spring|
|8||7||Riley Tufte||22||When the Texas Stars' season ended in the spring one of the prospects most negatively affected was Tufte, who had overcome a slow start to his freshman professional campaign and was playing some effective hockey. Work still needs to be done with his puck handling and awareness, but he's gotten much better at using his speed and reach to pressure opponents|
|9||5||Albin Eriksson||20||Just like last year, ice time has been in frustratingly short supply for Eriksson in the Swedish pro ranks. It's an awful development spot to be in: he's not quite good enough to justify a bigger role, but he's not improving much when he's not playing. He remains high on this list now because of his raw upside, but he could slip further if circumstances don't change|
|10||8||Oskar Bäck||20||Slow and steady wins the race for Bäck, who keeps developing at a notable, consistent pace. He's earning about two minutes more of ice time per game this season in the SHL compared to last, and he's getting rewarded with a little more offensive production. Looks quicker than he did previously, which is good to see. Could play in the AHL next year if he wants to|
|11||9||Rhett Gardner||24||There is a quiet effectiveness to Gardner's game that rarely shows up on the score sheet. He is a workhorse center who uses his physical presence and well-rounded hockey sense to make a positive difference in all three zones. The AHL rookie earned the trust of the Texas coaching staff early on and was given a big role, and looked like a seasoned veteran in it|
|12||NR||Jacob Peterson||21||Peterson's progression in the SHL has been quietly consistent, but he's starting to make noise now. He's one of the best skaters in the system, able to explode from a standstill, gain separation on defenders, or elusively dart through traffic. He's not a high-end shooter or playmaker, but get results because he gets into dangerous areas. Defensive awareness is solid|
|13||11||Adam Mascherin||22||How do you rank a prospect who won't see game action for the entire 2020 calendar year? While Mascherin still remains one of the best shooters, puck handlers and playmakers in the system, missing that much time isn't going to be good for his development. There were some struggles before his shoulder injury, too. Still needs others to help make space for him|
|14||12||Riley Damiani||20||Kitchener was one of the hottest teams in the OHL when the season was stopped, and Damiani, their captain, was a huge part of that. His scoring totals were less gaudy than the year prior, but the team as a whole was asked to play a little more well-rounded and a little less wide open. Will he now turn pro, or head back to the OHL for his overage season?|
|15||10||Joseph Cecconi||23||Cecconi was asked to play a lot of heavy minutes as an AHL rookie, and while the results were mixed, he impressively managed to keep his head above water. While he displays an advanced understanding of how to stymie opposing offensive chances, his foot speed, agility and puck decisions need improvement. He's a specialist, but he'll need to master his style|
|16||15||Ben Gleason||22||Despite already making his NHL debut, in 2018-19, projecting how Gleason will become a regular NHLer is a little murky. He hit a sophomore slump in 2019-20. There's no doubt that his biggest strengths are his puck movement and offensive awareness — but are they good enough for him to fill a role like that full time? Luckily, there's no rush with his development|
|17||NR||Ryan Shea||23||Originally drafted by Chicago in 2015, Shea signed with Dallas as a free agent after his senior year at Northeastern University, where he logged a ton of ice time and played in all situations. He's a calm, versatile defenseman who doesn't have any weaknesses to his game, but also doesn't really have any standout abilities either. Should be a lineup regular for Texas|
|18||NR||Yevgeni Oksentyuk||19||Dallas must have gotten a great look at Oksentyuk last year, as he was teammates with Dellandrea in Flint. The Belarusian winger is an easy player to root for, because he makes up for his diminutive stature with big competitiveness and a big heart. He's at his most dangerous in tight spaces. Is playing in his home nation right now, but should return to the OHL later|
|19||NR||Antonio Stranges||18||Stranges is something of a wildcard for these rankings. He has a lot of natural skill and a unique playing style, but tweaks will need to be made to his game for it to translate to the pros. He can stickhandle in a phone booth and his 10-2 skating style can be unpredictable to defend. The good news: there are few development programs better than the London Knights|
|20||NR||Daniel Ljungman||18||When Ljungman gets the puck on his stick in a high-danger area it's probably ending up in the net. His goal-per-game pace this season in Sweden's top under-20 league is evidence of that. However, he needs to get better at creating those opportunities for himself, opposed to relying on teammates. His steady defensive play is helpful when the goals aren't coming|