Fresh off of their AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, winning the 2014 Calder Cup Championship as the AHL’s top team, it’s safe to say that the Dallas Stars have a pretty good thing going with their prospect pipeline.
Over the past few seasons the Stars have seen an increasing number of prospects work their way up through the junior and minor league ranks to make an impact at the NHL level. Jamie Benn, Brenden Dillon, Cody Eakin and Antoine Roussel are some of the names that played huge roles last season in helping Dallas make the playoffs as the Western Conference’s 8th seed. The Texas Stars’ success last season was likewise spurned by young prospects – Jamie Oleksiak, Brett Ritchie, Curtis McKenzie and others – that are also working their way up the organization and aren’t far off from NHL duty.
What makes the Stars’ future extra bright, however, is the sheer depth of quality youngsters that are in the system. Going beyond the players that are already in the NHL and AHL, the Stars have promising prospects in almost all reaches of Europe and the North American junior leagues as well. Some of these players might not be well-known now, but also have very good chances to make their names known and make impacts in the NHL one day down the road.
Here now is a look at the top five sleeper prospects in the Stars’ system:
1) Niklas Hansson – Defense
A slick, smooth-skating, two-way defenceman, Hansson played most of last season for Rogle in Sweden’s second highest professional league, the Allsvenskan, and did not look out of place, scoring 13 points in 47 games. He also scored 12 points in 12 games, along with posting a sparkling +13 rating, in Sweden’s top U20 league.
His levels of production for his age are comparable to two other, more well-known Swedish defencemen in Dallas’ system, John Klingberg and Ludwig Bystrom, which suggests even better things to come in Hansson’s future.
Hansoon will return to Rogle next season, where he will be an assistant captain, an impressive honour for a 19 year-old player.
2) Esa Lindell – Defense
Playing for Jokerit in his native Finland last season, Lindell impressed, scoring five points in 44 games and posting a respectable +8 rating.
More impressive, however, was his role on Finland’s Gold-winning championship team at the 2014 World Juniors. Lindell led all blueliners on his team with five points in seven games and was steady defensively, helping his team claim victory in the tournament.
Lindell possesses an enticing blend of size, standing over 6’2,” and offensive potential, as he was once a point-per-game player in Finland’s top U20 league. That combination could see him grow into a Jason Garrison-type of player if his development continues along its current path.
3) Cole Ully – Left Wing
Playing on the Western Hockey League’s worst team wasn’t enough to make Cole Ully look bad.
The skilled left winger is short on size, but has a well-rounded offensive game that helped him produce 72 points in 69 games last year. He did it without much support as well, as his closest teammate in terms of scoring, Josh Connolly, only had 45 points.
Ully has one more year left in the WHL and seems poised to take the next step offensively next season.
4) Michael Prapavessis – Defense
Another smooth-skating defender, Prapavessis had quite a year in the Ontario Junior Hockey League, the second best junior league in the province.
He put up an eye-popping 49 assists and 54 points in 47 games for the Toronto Lakeshore Patriots, which are stellar numbers for a 17-turned-18 year-old defenceman in the OJHL. He was also named the league’s best defenceman for his efforts.
Even though his quality of competition was lower than that of other prospects in the system, Prapvessis still appears to have a wealth of talent and hockey sense. He’ll play for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the NCAA next season and could be one of the most interesting Stars prospects to follow.
5) Justin Dowling – Center
At 23 years old, Justin Dowling is older than most of Dallas’ other prospects, but he continues to take his game to new heights.
Dowling was the Texas Stars’ second line center last season and put up a respectable 47 points in 74 regular season games, but followed it up with a very impressive 14 points in 14 playoff games. He spent almost all of the year alongside top prospect Brett Ritchie, forming a potent duo that torched many AHL goalies.
A quick playmaker with great vision, Dowling will once again be slotted into the second line center position in Texas this season, but could easily see himself moving up to the top line if reigning AHL MVP Travis Morin gets called up to Dallas. Don’t be surprised to see Dowling put up a ton of points in the AHL this season.