As has been expounded upon in this column many times in the past (and will likely be done again many times in the future), a hockey prospect’s development is often not a linear process.
When the Dallas Stars selected Fredrik Karlström in the third round (90th overall) in the 2016 NHL entry draft it was something of a surprising pick, as the Swedish center wasn’t high on any independent rankings and hadn’t suited up for his home country in any international events. However, the Stars saw similar things in Karlström that they saw in players like Denis Gurianov and Roope Hintz — he had reach, he had mobility, and he could make plays at speed when the puck was on his stick.
Karlström had a nice post-draft season, picking up 24 points in 45 games with AIK in the second-tier Allsvenskan, while also making his debut on the national team at the World Juniors. Suddenly a surprise pick didn’t seem all that surprising.
Lias Andersson utökar till 2-0 för Juniorkronorna, assisterad av Fredrik Karlström och Timothy Liljegren. #J20gifs #WJC2018 pic.twitter.com/Er5V7DRs2e— Anton Johansson (@antonj85) January 4, 2018
After that, though, things began to stall for him. s Z’s
He moved to Linköping in the SHL for two seasons and never quite found his footing with the team, struggling to earn ideal ice time while also seeing one demotion to the junior SuperElit league and another that came as a loan back to AIK. He played for Sweden again in the 2018 World Juniors, picking up three assists in seven games en route to the Swedes winning a bronze medal, but he never looked like a true impact player in that tournament.
To be completely frank, it was right around that time that I began to doubt Karlström’s NHL potential. I had seen the tools at his disposal on a few occasions, but he didn’t seem to be learning how to use them or making much progress in his development.
But as I mentioned in the intro to this column, development is not a linear process. Sometimes it can take a while for things to “click” with a young player.
And, boy, have things ever began to click for Karlström as of late.
Playing this season for Växjö, again in the SHL, he has been borderline unstoppable over the past two weeks, scoring five goals in his past seven games.
But here’s where things get really interesting: not one, not two, but three of those goals came from penalty shots, including ones in back-to-back games. Even more amazing, Karlström didn’t actually draw any of those calls — he was his coach’s top choice to go over the boards to take the shot in each instance.
I wasn’t able to find any clips of the penalty-shot goals online that I could embed into this article, but you can watch them here, here and here. Suffice to say, the coach made the right call each time.
Karlström has also been dangerous lately while playing at even-strength, thanks in large part to his skating taking a noticeable step forward in the explosiveness department compared to the past. You can see that explosiveness on display firsthand in this beautiful goal here.
Per the rules in the NHL CBA, a team has four seasons to sign a player out of Sweden who was 18 years of age in their draft year before they become a free agent. This is that fourth and final year for the Stars and Karlström, and while just a few months ago he didn’t seem like a prospect who was going to earn an entry-level contract, his recent success has likely put him into that conversation about whether he deserves one.
If he puts up a few more weeks like the past two, however, he might not leave the Stars any other choice.
Albin Eriksson returned to the SHL lineup for Färjestad after a one-game stint in the SuperElit, as I wrote about in this space last week. He had one shot and no points in 10:17 of ice time.
Defenseman Jakob Stenqvist had three assists in three games with Ässät in Finland’s top league, the Liiga. After a few games here or there playing down Ässät’s lineup, Stenqvist has been logging around 20 minutes per game over the past two weeks, which is always a good sign. His 27 points in 51 games are good for fourth on his club.
Kivelä iskee komean osuman #HIFK-verkkoon #Liiga @PorinAssat #Ässät #HIFK pic.twitter.com/YI56YT1XWy— Telia loves Liiga (@TelialovesLiiga) February 27, 2020
With four games on the schedule in the past calendar week, all of them on home ice, it was a good chance for the Texas Stars to make up some ground in the AHL playoff race. Unfortunately, however, that didn’t happen, as the team was only able to pull out one win. Even worse, two of the losses came against the Rockford IceHogs, who are immediately ahead of Texas in the standings.
Things began with a 3-2 shootout loss against Rockford on Wednesday. Joel L’Esperance had both of the Stars’ regulation tallies, but the team failed to score a single goal in the shootout on four attempts.
Rockford got the better of them again on Friday, skating away with a 5-4 win. Texas was down 5-1 in the third period and made a valiant comeback effort, but couldn’t squeeze that final game-tying goal through. Landon Bow made his first start after missing two weeks of action due to injury but it did not go well, allowing four goals on 10 shots before getting the hook. L’Esperance scored again, while Rhett Gardner had a goal and an assist in the loss.
Texas got a much-needed victory on Saturday, erasing an early 2-0 deficit to surpass the Grand Rapids Griffins by a score of 4-2. Defenseman Ondrej Vala scored his first career AHL goal after being recalled from the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads to replace the recently traded Emil Djuse, while Gardner and Jason Robertson both went 1+1 on the score sheet. Jake Oettinger stopped 18 of 20 between the pipes.
The script was flipped in their final game of the week, as Texas started strong and held a 2-0 lead after 40 minutes, but the Toronto Marlies stormed back with a three-goal third period to win 3-2 on Monday, a loss that will sting a little extra considering the Stars let some much-needed points slip away. Nicholas Caamano scored his first goal since returning from injury and had a game-high seven shots on net, while L’Esperance found the back of the net for the fourth time in the week.
Beyond the others already mentioned, it was a really nice week for Riley Tufte, who continues to make progress in his rookie AHL season. He had a goal and two assists, and beyond the points, he has been a lot more noticeable in good ways than he was earlier in the year. Gavin Bayreuther and Josh Melnick both finished the week with three assists in four games.
Goaltender Colton Point recorded his first professional shutout for the Idaho Steelheads on Saturday, making 25 saves in a 4-0 win. It’s been another tough season thus far for Point, who continues to be Idaho’s backup goaltender behind a consistently stellar Tomas Sholl, who is far too good for the ECHL. However, games like that shutout show that the 21-year-old Point still has some long-term potential if he stays patient and keeps putting in the work.
North American Juniors
It was a big trio of games for Windsor Spitfires center Curtis Douglas, who had four goals and two assists in three matches. Douglas’ play has been so good lately, in fact, that he has effectively become Windsor’s No. 1 center, taking the brunt of his squad’s face-offs, an especially impressive feat considering he wasn’t even consistently playing center early in the year. He is also closing in on the team lead in goals and shots on goal.
Not many big guys have hands like @DallasStars prospect Curtis Douglas.— Tate Harris (@tateharris9) March 1, 2020
I always said he has to work on his shot but if he shoots it like that more often he will be just fine. pic.twitter.com/r4Vj2jzKmr
Center Ty Dellandrea missed all of last week’s Flint Firebirds games due to an undisclosed injury suffered in a collision in a recent game against the Mississauga Steelheads. Despite some research, I couldn’t find any information about what the injury is or how long he is expected to be out of the Flint lineup.
For a full database of the organization’s prospects and their stats, check out the Stars’ “In the System” page on Elite Prospects.