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Dallas Stars Prospect Update: NCAA Signings Help Bolster Team’s Prospect Pipeline

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Elsewhere: Damiani named AHL’s top rookie for March, SHL playoffs begin

NHL: JUN 22 NHL Draft Picks Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With only nine picks in their past two entry drafts, the Dallas Stars had to get a little creative to fill up their prospect pool, especially after the recent graduations of Jake Oettinger, Jason Robertson, Ty Dellandrea and others to the big club.

They did exactly that last week, and did so in an interesting way, signing a pair of NCAA free agent teammates from the University of North Dakota: goaltender Adam Scheel and winger Jordan Kawaguchi. Both players signed shortly after their college seasons ended, which happened in a heartbreaking five-overtime elimination loss to Minnesota Duluth.

Undrafted college free agents are usually longer shots to make the NHL than drafted prospects are (hence why they weren’t drafted in the first place). Recent NCAA signings by the Stars in Joel L’Esperance and Gavin Bayreuther have played games at the sport’s highest level, but neither has carved out a full-time spot there yet. Nevertheless, there is a lot to like about the two newest members of the Stars organization.

“They’re capable, they’re winners, they’re good people,” Stars assistant general manager Scott White told Mike Heika. “I mean, North Dakota is a great program. From a development standpoint, that’s ideal. Their facilities are great, they’re well coached, well prepared, and we feel they both have benefitted from going through there.”

For my money, Scheel, 21, is the more interesting of the two prospects. He was a member of the prestigious USA Hockey National Team Development Program for two years, so he received some of the best developmental help in the world during that time. It wasn’t, however, enough to help him get drafted. He then moved to the BCHL where he became the starting goaltender for a very well-respected and historic Penticton Vees organization. After one year there he joined UND, where he claimed the team’s starting job in his debut season in 2018-19. He continued improving and was named the National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s top goaltender for 2020-21, and is a finalist for the Mike Richter Award as the NCAA’s top overall goalie.

He is a netminder with very projectable tools. He naturally covers a lot of net with his 6-foot-3 frame, and he combines it with impressive quickness, athleticism and reflexes. He also displays good calmness and control of his net. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done with his technique and his rebound control, but there is a very good foundation here for the Stars and their goalie coaches to work with. While there’s no way to know what the future holds, don’t be surprised if Scheel continues to work and improve and becomes Oettinger’s back-up goaltender one day.

Kawaguchi, 23, took a less glamorous path to get where he is today. An unheralded prospect who was never a high draft pick for a junior league, he battled his way up through the BCHL as a member of the lesser-known Chilliwack Chiefs, eventually becoming captain of the team and their star player, leading them to the league final twice (although losing both times). He didn’t slow down upon getting to UND, leading the team in scoring for the past two seasons while also being named team captain for 2020-21. He was also a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award Hat Trick last season.

“We’ve been very fortunate in the culture of the people we have signed, I value that a lot,” White said. “Jordan Kawaguchi was the captain of North Dakota. One of the most prestigious college programs in the land, and he was their captain. I think that’s pretty important.”

“You have to go long and far to find guys who have made those types of impacts throughout the course of their careers,” UND head coach Brad Berry said. “He made impacts and put his fingerprints on the program. He showed our younger group how to be a North Dakota hockey player day in and day out. We look at quantitative things. But what you can’t put a price on is the impact he left on younger players of sustaining a culture of what you have to do each and every day.”

“Ultra-high skill level, exceptionally smart player, very, very competitive and a guy that adds to your locker room,” Berry continued in describing his former player. “When you look at him and what he does in a very hard and heavy NCHC league, it won’t take (Dallas) long, as a coach, to trust this player every time you throw him over the boards. I don’t think you can have enough of those players — ultra-high skill level, ultra-competitive people you don’t have to beg to play hard.”

The cousin of former NHLer Devin Setoguchi, Kawaguchi is quite lacking in terms of size and quickness, but he makes up for it a lot with, as Berry said, a high-end hockey mind, advanced puck skill and a spectacular work ethic. He has a long way to go before he is NHL-ready, but he has defied expectations his entire career, so him ending up in Dallas one day isn’t out of the question, especially since the Stars are a little short on forward prospect who have such natural offensive abilities.

Both players will join the Texas Stars shortly and finish out their seasons with the club.

AHL

It has been a tough go lately for the Texas Stars, with only two wins in their last seven contests. Their last two games, from this past weekend and both against the Iowa Wild, were especially ugly, getting dropped 4-0 on Friday and then giving up 45 shots in a 5-2 loss on Saturday. Iowa took three of four games in this set, all of which were on Texas turf in Cedar Park.

One of the few bright sides for the team lately has been the play of their dynamic forward duo of Riley Damiani and Adam Mascherin, who continue to lead the team offensively. Mascherin is currently third in AHL scoring with 24 points in 20 games (his 12 goals are tied for second), while Damiani is fifth with 23 points in 19 games.

For his recent efforts Damiani was also named AHL Rookie of the Month for March.

Europe

Sweden

Oskar Bäck, Jacob Peterson and Albin Eriksson are all in the SHL postseason as members of Färjestad, and on Monday they won the first game of their best-of-three play-in series against Malmö (the SHL playoffs are a little odd). Peterson, who finished fifth in scoring on the team during the regular season with 33 points in 46 games, had a goal in the win. Eriksson, as he has been a lot lately, was unfortunately a healthy scratch. He was held without a goal during the regular season.

Fredrik Karlström and his Växjö mates got a bye into the quarterfinals and will play their first game on Saturday.

Belarus

Winger Yevgeni Oksentyuk has four goals in 11 playoff games, and surely more importantly to him, his Yunost Minsk club holds a 2-0 series lead in the Belarusian Extraleague final. While this is far from the best hockey in Europe, it’s still good that Oksentyuk is on the ice and playing some meaningful games. You can see one of his goals in the tweet below.

(Fun fact: one of Oksentyuk’s teammates is Mikhail Stefanovich, who was the Stars’ trade return for Fabian Brunnstrom once upon a time. He never signed with the Stars or played a game within the organization.)

North American Juniors

NCAA

Ben Brinkman and his University of Minnesota teammates were a denied a spot in the NCAA’s Frozen Four after falling to Minnesota State 4-0 in the regional final. His ice time has fluctuated this season and he only played 6:30 in the deciding game, according to time tracked by InStat. He finished 2020-21 with zero goals and five assists in 29 games and will be heading back for his fourth and final NCAA season in the fall.

QMJHL

Mavrik Bourque extended his ongoing point streak to seven games, and did so with an exclamation point in Saturday’s contest, picking up two goals and two assists while also winning 11 of a game-high 21 faceoffs.

Stats

For a full database of the organization’s prospects and their stats, check out the Stars’ “In the System” page on Elite Prospects.