Welcome to the 2017 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. During the summer, I will feature a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted this year. There have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed.
I will link you to those articles; as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2017-18 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as a dark horse to make the NHL. The cut-off for prospects is typically 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Dallas Stars Prospects
The Dallas Stars had big expectations this year. Coming off a first place finish in the Western Conference in 2015-16, many expected the Stars to take the next step. It was not to be. Injuries, defensive issues, and goaltending problems combined to take the Stars down to the seventh worst record in the league, and third worst in the conference.
Things have started to change in the off-season. The Stars got some luck in the NHL Draft Lottery, winning the third overall pick. In addition, general manager Jim Nill has made a number of trades and signings to overhaul the team. He has picked up Ben Bishop, Marc Methot, Alexander Radulov, and Martin Hanzal. The Stars look like the NHL’s most improved team heading into 2017-18.
2017 Draft Picks: Miro Heiskanen, Jake Oettinger, Jason Robertson, Liam Hawel, Jacob Peterson, Brett Davis, Dylan Ferguson
Graduates: Esa Lindell, Devin Shore, Stephen Johns, Brett Ritchie, Curtis McKenzie
Top Prospect Miro Heiskanen
The Stars drafted Heiskanen with the 3rd overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Heiskanen. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#2 Prospect: Julius Honka
Defense — shoots Right
Born December 3rd, 1995 — Jyvaskyla, Finland
Height 5’11” — Weight 185 lbs [180 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by the Dallas Stars in the 1st round, #14 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Honka got some time with the big club during his third North American pro season. In 16 games with Dallas he had a goal and four assists. He also impressed in the AHL, with seven goals and 31 points in 50 games. Honka played for Finland at the World Championships, scoring a goal and two assists in 10 games.
Honka projects as an offensive defenceman. He is a great skater who can both lead the rush or join in as a trailer. He has excellent speed and very good acceleration. Honka has good edge work, and excellent agility. In the offensive zone, Honka is able to walk the line and open up shooting and passing lanes to create offence. He also has great mobility, with very good pivots. Honka is also extremely quick skating backwards. This and a quick stick help him to defend against the rush.
Honka has good stick handling ability, along with excellent vision and passing skill. Honka is strong in the role of power play quarterback and can create a ton of chances when he is given time and space. He has a booming slap shot and very good one-timer from the point. Honka has the knack to get his shot through and on net around the defenders that defend high to try and prevent it. He also has effective wrist and snaps shots and a very good release on both. Honka has good offensive hockey sense and can pick the right time to pinch in for an offensive chance. Even when he makes a poor decision his quick skating can often help him to recover.
Honka’s lack of size limits his defensive game. His lack of size and strength means that he can be beaten in board battles and struggles to clear the front of the net. He has gotten stronger over his AHL time, and this is not as big of a liability as it was before. Still it will likely always be an issue he faces. One way that Honka can mitigate this is through his positioning and defensive zone coverage. These are also areas in which he has made significant improvements this year.
Another way he can help himself is by not spending much time in his own end. His quick skating allows him to retrieve dump-ins, and win races to loose pucks. Once he gets the puck he can both skate it out of the zone and pass it up to the forwards. Starting the transition game quickly will be his best asset at the next level.
Honka is knocking on the door and is extremely close to being NHL ready. Expect him to win a job out of camp. He might start out on a bottom pairing, with some sheltered minutes, but will eventually work his way into a key role on the Stars blueline.
#3 Prospect: Roope Hintz
Left Wing/Centre — shoots Left
Born November 17th, 1996 — Tampere, Finland
Height 6.03 — Weight 185 [191 cm/84 kg]
Drafted by the Dallas Stars in the 2nd round, #49 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Hintz had a strong second season with HIFK, playing against men in the Finnish SM-Liiga. He had 19 goals and 30 points in 44 games in the regular season. He got better as the season went on and took his game up another notch in the playoffs with 3 goals, 11 assists and 14 points in 14 games. His 11 assists and 14 points were both league highs in the playoffs.
Hintz is a very good skater. He has excellent top end speed, a good first step and very good acceleration. As a result he can win races to loose pucks, or beat defenders wide off the rush. He has the power and balance to fight through checks and drive the net, and these areas continue to improve as Hintz adds muscle to a lanky frame. Hintz has decent edge work and agility, which allows him to get around defenders, especially when combined with his stick handling ability.
Hintz has shown the versatility to play both centre and wing. He is a very intelligent player, as he sees passing lanes when he has the puck and sets up teammates with tape-to-tape passes at just the right moment. Hintz also does well without the puck, finding open spaces in the defence and getting himself into good scoring areas. He protects the puck well in the cycle game, using his size, long stick and good stick handling ability to ward off defenders. He could stand to add more upper body strength though so that he can improve in board battles, and in front of the opponent’s net.
Hintz has a very good wrist shot. It features a quick release. His game took a real step forward when he started shooting more in the regular season, not always deferring to his play making skills. This versatility in his game made him tougher to defend and allowed him to take advantage of scoring opportunities. He does do a good job of driving the net, and has good hands to score in tight to the goal with dekes, rebounds and deflections.
Hintz’s defensive game is well-developed for a player his age. He shows his hockey IQ in the way he reads plays, anticipates, and creates turnovers in his own end of the ice. He is able to quickly transition those into offense with a good quick pass, or starting the rush himself. Hintz has a big body, and a long active stick that cuts down passing and shooting lanes. He backchecks hard and supports the defence down low.
Hintz signed his entry-level contract this spring. Expect him to come to training camp looking to make an impression. It is likely that Hintz will start the year in the AHL. His future is likely playing more at left wing than at centre though. It may not take long before he is NHL ready. He likely projects as a second or third line forward.
#4 Prospect: Riley Tufte
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born Apr 10 1998 — Ham Lake, Minnesota
Height 6′ 05″ — Weight 205 lbs [196 cm / 93 kg]
Drafted by the Dallas Stars in the 1st round, #25 overall at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft
Tufte had a good, but not great freshman year at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He put up nine goals and 16 points in 37 games. He got off to a bit of a slow start, as adjusting to the speed of the game was difficult for Tufte. This was to be expected as he had spent the previous season split between the USHL and high school hockey. A wrist injury suffered at the Team USA World Junior Summer Camp didn’t help things. As the season went on though, Tufte got better and his role on the Bulldogs increased.
Tufte is an excellent skater for his size. He moves very well for a big man with surprising speed, first step quickness and acceleration. His agility is also something you are more likely to find in a smaller player, and uncommon for a 6’5″ player. Tufte could stand to add some core strength and improve his balance going forward. This would help him to fight through checks and drive the net, as well as continue to improve his work in the cycle game.
Riley Tufte is a very good stick handler. He uses his long reach to keep the puck away from defenders, but can also stick handle close to his body to navigate through traffic. Tufte is highly skilled with an excellent wrist shot and quick release. He also has a good snap shot and slap shot. Those skills were a bit hampered early in the year by his wrist injury, but came around by the end of the year.
His passing skills can be refined slightly as he has grown accustomed to doing it all himself at times. This probably comes due to the way he has been able to dominate at the USHS level. He started to show improvement as the year went on but there is still room to grow. Tufte has excellent size, coming in at 6’5″ tall. While he’s not a big hitter, he uses his size to win battles along the boards, to protect the puck in the cycle game, and to establish position in front of the net. He can provide an effective screen, and also tip in pucks, as well as pounce on rebounds. Given his size, he could stand to add some muscle to his frame to be even more effective when he begins facing bigger and tougher opposition.
Tufte’s defensive game is a bit of a work in progress. Again this may be an issue where he has dominated so much at the high school level, that learning to defend has not been something that he has needed to do. Tufte shows determination, but must work on his positioning and reading the play. He needs to learn to use his size in his own end, in physical battles, and in cutting down passing and shooting lanes.
Tufte is a diamond in the rough. He has excellent size and a number of high end skills. He also has some things he needs to work on before he is NHL ready. With some work, he can can grow into a valuable weapon in the Stars top six. His size, skating, and skill with the puck are an intriguing combination for any team. Expect him to play another season at Minnesota-Duluth, which will certainly give him some time to add that muscle to his frame. He should also get a bigger role in his sophomore campaign.
#5 Prospect: Denis Guryanov
Right Wing — shoots Left
Born June 7th 1997 — Tolyatti, Russia
Height 6’3″ — Weight 192 lbs [191 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by the Dallas Stars in the 1st round, #12 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Guryanov came to North America and put up 12 goals and 17 points in 57 games with the Texas Stars in the AHL. While those numbers are not overwhelming, they are still pretty good considering he was one of the youngest players in the league, and 19-year-olds typically don’t have a lot of AHL success. Playing against his age group at the World Junior Championships, Guryanov impressed with four goals and seven points in seven games. He even made his NHL debut last year.
Guryanov has the speed and acceleration necessary to beat defenders wide off the rush. He has a quick first step and can use that along with his acceleration to be the first man on many loose pucks. A powerful stride also allows him to bowl right over a defender, or to carry a checker on his back as he drives the net. He is very strong on his skates for an 19-year-old, with great lower body strength and balance. This makes him very hard to knock off the puck.
Add in good agility and edge-work and Guryanov can get by defenders in a variety of ways. Defenders must respect his skating ability when he carries the puck up the ice on a rush, however if they back up too far giving him the option to use the defender as a screen, he is more than willing to unleash his powerful shot once he gets inside the face-off dots.
Big, powerful, fast, skilled, Guryanov has each box checked when it comes to talent amongst forward prospects. He scores goals, and can do it in a variety of ways. Guryanov has the strength to drive the net, battle in the corners, fight through checks and score gritty power forward-style goals. He is good in board battles, digging out loose pucks consistently, and is a menace on the boards.
Guryanov also protects the puck extremely well in the cycle game, extending zone time and increasing possession for his club. He also has a heavy wrist shot with quick release, allowing him to fool goaltenders and score from further out. Guryanov adds the quick hands necessary to deke past defenders and it’s clear that he can be a pure sniper going forward. However, he can be a bit too much of a risk-taker at times, and needs to do better at making the smart pass to a teammate in order to generate a better scoring opportunity, rather than attempting a very low percentage shot or fancy play.
Denis Guryanov shows a commitment to back checking, and plays his gritty game along the boards in all three zones. However he is inconsistent in this aspect. Guryanov is tenacious in all three zones and not afraid to make a hit to make the play, or take a hit to be sure he gets the puck out at his blue line. Guryanov could use some work on his positioning however, as that does not seem to come naturally to him in the defensive end of the ice.
Guryanov can be a dynamic offensive player, but there is still plenty of development work to do. He should spend another season in Texas, working on becoming more consistent offensively, getting stronger physically, and improving his defensive game. His high end skill could be worth the wait.
#6 Prospect Jason Robertson
The Stars drafted Robertson with the 39th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Robertson. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Sleeper Prospect: Gavin Bayreuther
Defense — shoots Left
Born May 12th 1994 — Canaan, New Hampshire
Height 6’1″ — Weight 195 lbs [185 cm/88 kg]
Signed with the Dallas Stars in March 2017
A cousin of Ben Lovejoy of the New Jersey Devils, Bayreuther has put up impressive offensive numbers throughout his college career. In 30 games last year he had eight goals and 29 points. After joining the Texas Stars he had five points in his first 15 AHL Games.
Bayreuther is also a very good skater. He has showing good speed and acceleration in both directions. He also has good edge work and pivots, allowing him to cover a ton of ice. This is extremely helpful in his two way game. He also has the agility to walk the line and open up shooting and passing lanes. Bayreuther could stand to add some lower body strength, which would help him battling in front of the net and in the corners, especially as he faces stronger competition at the pro level.
Bayreuther has an outstanding slap shot, with excellent power and accuracy. He gets it through to the net, and has a knack for avoiding players trying to block his shot. Bayreuther understands that by keeping his shot low and on net, he gives teammates the opportunity to get deflections and rebounds. He also shows the ability to be a power play quarterback with solid puck handling skill, good vision, and strong passing ability.
Over his time in college, Bayreuther has added strength which has helped him along the boards and in his own end of the ice. However, he will continue to need even more muscle mass to take on pro forwards. He has good positioning and cuts down passing lanes with his stick. Bayreuther also transitions pucks quickly to offense, helping cut down his time in his own end.
Bayreuther is a long-term project. Expect him to play at least one full season in the AHL as he adjusts to the speed and strength of the forwards he will encounter in the pros. It will be an adjustment, but there is upside to this long-term project.
The overall depth of the Stars system took a big hit last year, due to the number of graduations that they had. However, this is not a bad thing as Shore, and Ritchie all made an impact at the NHL level. There is still depth at forward with Jason Dickinson, Gemel Smith, and Remi Elie close to NHL ready. They may not be high end players, but they should be abel to fill roles in the bottom six.
This team is undergoing quite the turnover on defence. Johns, Lindell, Nemeth, Klingberg, and Oleksiak are all under the age of 25. Honka, and Heiskanen are high end players. Bayreuther was another nice edition to the system. Further down the depth chart, Ludwig Bystrom, Niklas Hansson and John Nyberg could be depth players.With freshly drafted Jake Oettinger, and 21-year old Philippe Desrosiers, the Stars have goaltending prospects with real potential. However, both are quite a ways from being NHL ready.
Main Photo: CHICAGO, IL – JUNE 23: Miro Heiskanen poses for a photos after being selected third overall by the Dallas Stars during the 2017 NHL Draft at the United Center on June 23, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)