Thursday, August 3, 2017

When Do We See the 2017 Draft Class in Cedar Park?

Nicholas Caamano (Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
In June, we saw the hockey world focus on Chicago, Illinois, for the NHL Draft. Next year, Dallas will be the host for the 2018 Entry Draft.

There were a lot of exciting names in the draft pool for Dallas this season, including D Miro Heiskanen and G Jake Oettinger. However, when will those players be expected in Cedar Park?

To figure out when players are expected to hit the AHL, let's take a look at when the Texas Stars 2016-17 squad was drafted.

(Note: I've left out a number of free agent, veteran and/or non-prospect players)

Name Year Round Overall Rookie Late season add?
Mark McNeill 2011 1 18
Mattias Backman 2011 5 146
Matej Stransky 2011 6 165
Ludwig Bystrom 2012 2 43
Gemel Smith 2012 4 104
Branden Troock 2012 5 134
Jason Dickinson 2013 1 29
Remi Elie 2013 2 40
Dillon Heatherington 2013 2 50
Philippe Desrosiers 2013 2 54
Cole Ully 2013 5 131
Julius Honka 2014 1 14
Denis Gurianov 2015 1 12 Yes
Chris Martenet 2015 4 103 Yes Yes
Nicholas Caamano* 2016 5 146 Yes Yes
* - Caamano is not expect to come back for the full year next year and will instead play in the OHL and return as an ATO next spring.

So if you look at this chart, you can expect that players drafted this year in the 2017 Draft will start to filter into the AHL as ATOs in 2019 and could have a bigger impact in 2019-20.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

New Texas Stars President Brad Alberts Ready to Grow the Game in Central Texas

Community engagement with Cedar Park, Leander and Round Rock tops the list of big impact projects
(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
At the end of his first month as president of the Texas Stars and the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, Brad Alberts has one clear mission.

"We have to connect better with Cedar Park, Round Rock, and Leander, the whole area. We want to make the team and the building synonymous with the region."

Alberts took over for the retiring Rick McLaughlin on July 1. McLaughlin had previously been the only president in team history, an instrumental part in bringing the team and the arena to Cedar Park and guiding it through the first nine years in central Texas. Alberts tips his cap to the outgoing president and the current staff, who have given him a "10-year head start" on his plans as president.

"When Mr Gaglardi purchased the team from the Hicks family, obviously I got more involved in watching what's going on down there. Rick decided to retire last year at this time and we started having those discussions, that he would phase out and I would assume the title of the president. It's been a year in the making. I'll still sit here in Dallas, but I'll be down there often."

Brad Alberts
(Credit: Dallas Stars)
The model of having AHL team presidents or GMs sit in the NHL front office is well worn across the league and minor league sports in general. Scott White moved to Dallas several years ago and Jim Nill managed the Grand Rapids Griffins from Detroit before moving to Dallas to become NHL GM. "It'll be constant communication and be being down there as much as I can. I talk with these guys multiple times a day from ticketing decisions to things like community engagement. I let those guys execute on a daily basis."

As mentioned above, Alberts sees a chance to gain a deeper connection with the community in order to get more fans to games and make the Texas Stars a regionally-known team.

"I want to continue to turn Central Texas into a hockey market. I want to create more fans. I want more engagement with the region. The fan base for all things at the HEB Center comes from that region. We don't pull a lot from central Austin. We need to continue to engage with them and engage in the schools where the kids are and the families are."

The obvious next step would be getting more and more kids involved in youth hockey. Flat out, Alberts agrees, "Austin needs more rinks. They need areas for kids to [play]."

Dallas consolidated their youth hockey presence with the numerous Dr Pepper StarsCenters in the Metroplex. In fact, the Stars' main practice facility and front office are co-located with the Frisco StarsCenter.

"It's been a boon for us in Dallas. That's an opportunity for us down the road to bring the StarsCenter concept to Austin down the road. We're not discussing that in the short term but that is something we could look at. Austin needs more grassroots opportunities for kids to get involved, especially in these bedroom communities."

"When kids are playing, they're going to bug mom and dad to go watch."

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Pressed further on how the team plans to engage the community, Alberts is reticent to share anything solid, lest he ruin the surprise. "We are working on things that I think you'll like, but I don't want those to be public quite yet. We really want to engage with the schools and get in with the kids. We are going to do things that relate to the youth."

In addition to being the president of the Stars, he will also assume McLaughlin's other role as president of the H-E-B Center. Of course, the arena hopes to bring even more quality events to the arena outside of hockey including high-profile shows such as the Styx and REO Speedwagon show that played last night. He also noted that Mr Gaglardi, who owns the acreage around the arena, is in the "middle to late" stages of planning for retail, dining and hotel properties on the site.

"Once that area gets activated, it will help the events there as well."

In all of this Dallas to Austin synergy though, one thing that Alberts is not looking to do is turn Austin into a mini-Dallas.

"The two cities and areas are very different and the products are different. In 25 years here, we've been known as an edgy product and no one ever comes to an NHL game in Dallas and walks out saying it was boring. It's always really fun, but it is really different. We can't do all the same things we do in Dallas that we do in Austin. What we have to do is recognize that we're an AHL team and we're in Cedar Park and create a show and entertainment that fits the region. I'm not trying to put Dallas in Austin."

Friday, July 28, 2017

Idaho Locks in Neil Graham Until 2018-19 as Coach Preps for Coming Season

(Credit: Idaho Steelheads)
Earlier this week, the Idaho Steelheads announced that they had re-signed their head coach, Neil Graham, until the end of the 2018-19 season.

“Neil has been a tremendous leader for our hockey team over the last two seasons,” said Steelheads President Eric Trapp. “He has maintained a tradition of winning for our organization, and he has helped us foster a strong relationship with our fans and the community.”

Graham maintained the longest playoff streak in professional hockey, extending a long history of success in Boise for the ECHL and former WCHL squad.

I caught up with Graham this week as he continues to prep for the coming season. With some distance from last season, he's had some time to reflect on the year, which saw a first round exit for the Steelheads at the hands of the eventual ECHL champions, the Colorado Eagles.

"It was a pretty good season. You lose sight of how good of a year it was with the early exit in the playoffs. 43 wins and we finished 6th in the entire ECHL. We were trending upward heading into the playoffs. It was tough to lose out in the first round."

In each of the last two years, the Kelly Cup champ has come from Idaho's division: Allen in 2016 and Colorado this year. Graham knows that "getting out of our division" is a key marker of playoff success for his club on the way to the championship.

"Our goal every season is to win the Kelly Cup. We just have to be that much better for the postseason."

To get that much better, Graham is still in his office in late July working the phones and consulting dozens of lists and spreadsheets while doing it.

"We're trying to find players that fit our mold and match on and off the ice with the returners we have coming back. We put time and homework in over the summer to make that happen."

The club wants to add scoring depth, team toughness and speed. Team toughness, Graham notes, doesn't mean fighting; it means being tougher to play against throughout the lineup.

A goalie battle is set up in Cedar Park between former Steelheads Landon Bow and Philippe Desrosiers. Graham expects one of the two in Boise to start the season.

"It's always an open dialogue with the affiliation. Right now, it's a wait and see. I know I will see a goaltender from the affiliation. They have to do what's right for their current roster and the long term development of their prospects."

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Texas Stars Announce Preseason Set Against San Antonio

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
The Texas Stars have announced their typical preseason schedule, a home-and-home against the San Antonio Rampage. The game will be an early one, starting at 5 PM on a Saturday night.

The Stars and Rampage will play a total of 16 times this season, barring playoff meetings.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars, American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Dallas Stars, announced Thursday the team will play a preseason home-and-home series against their in-state rival, the San Antonio Rampage, prior to the start of the 2017-18 campaign.

Texas will visit the Rampage at AT&T Center on Friday, Sept. 29, at 7:30 p.m. CST. The following night, the Stars will host the Rampage at 5 p.m. CST for their final preseason tune-up before the start of the regular season.

Tickets for the Sept. 30 preseason game at H-E-B Center will go on sale at a later date.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Texas Stars Add Forwards Samuel Laberge and Max French to the Mix on AHL Deals

The Texas Stars have added two more forwards to the lineup for 2017-18 in rookies Samuel Laberge and Max French. Laberge attended Dallas Stars Development Camp, which wrapped up this week, after closing out a four-year stint with Rimouski Oceanic in the QMJHL. French just finished up four years at Bentley University in Canada. The two will compete for jobs in this fall's training camp. If they are not selected, they will likely head to Idaho to serve as call ups and assist the Steelheads in making yet another playoff push.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars, American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Dallas Stars, announced Wednesday the team has signed rookie forwards Max French and Samuel Laberge for the upcoming 2017-18 season.

French, 24, begins his professional career after finishing a four-year stretch at Bentley University. The West Kelowna, British Columbia native tallied 143 points (67-76=143) in 138 career games for Bentley. Prior to his time in college, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound forward played from 2008-2013 in the British Columbia Hockey League for the West Kelowna Warriors with 149 points (67-82=149) in 193 games.

Laberge, 20, spent the last four seasons with the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and recorded 120 points (55-65=120) in 166 career games. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound forward was teammates with Stars goaltender Phil Desrosiers for two seasons with Rimouski from 2013-2015. The Chateauguay, Quebec native was a member of Rimouski’s QMJHL championship team in 2014-15 and also played in four Memorial Cup games that season.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Gemel Smith Returns to Dallas on One-Year Deal

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
The Dallas Stars have signed Gemel Smith on a one-year, two-way deal, leaving Jamie Oleksiak as the only unsigned Dallas RFA. While roster moves at the NHL level are likely to place Smith as a first callup option in Texas, depending on the summer he has he may be able to surprise in camp and earn a spot in Dallas.

Here's the release:
Dallas Stars General Manager Jim Nill announced today that the club has re-signed forward Gemel Smith to a one-year, two-way contract.

Smith, 23, posted six points (3-3=6) in 17 games with Dallas last season in his first NHL campaign. The forward made his NHL debut on Oct. 22 against Columbus and registered his first career NHL point with an assist (0-1=1) on Nov. 5 vs. Chicago. He also appeared in 53 games in 2016-17 with the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League (AHL), registering 33 points (12-21=33). Smith was tied for fourth on the club in assists (21) and his three shorthanded goals last season shared eighth in the AHL.

In his career, Smith has played 186 regular-season AHL games over the span of three seasons with Texas. In total, he has posted 86 points (35-51=86) with a +10 plus/minus rating and 106 penalty minutes. Smith has skated in three career Calder Cup Playoff contests, recording four shots on goal.

The 5-foot-10, 190-pound native of Toronto, Ont. was originally selected by Dallas in the fourth round (104th overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft.

Texas Stars Release Full 2017-18 Schedule

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
Earlier than ever before, the AHL has released the league schedule this afternoon. The Texas Stars will play 76 games evenly split between home and away contests. The opponent slate is exclusively Western Conference and heavily Pacific Division, kicking off on October 6th against Chicago.

The Stars' most frequent opponent will be San Antonio, as usual, with 14 contests total between the I-35 rivals. Their longest road trip will span 7 games from Saturday, November 18th to Saturday, December 2nd. During that stretch, they will play in San Antonio, Chicago, Cleveland, Grand Rapids and Rockford. The road trip will be followed by the longest home stand, 5 games from December 5th to 20th.

In addition, Texas has several four-game home stands and makes a six-game trip to California and Manitoba in mid-January.

Given the Western conference slant, the Stars will not see new additions to the league Belleville or Laval.

The schedule, as always, is heavy on Fridays and Saturday both home and away. There are no Monday home games at all and only two on Tuesday. As in prior years, all weekend home games start at 7:30 PM, and Saturday games start at 7:00 PM.

Texas will play its only three-in-three weekend much earlier this season. In 2016-17, the team's only 3-in-3 came in the last month of play. This year, the third weekend will see a home-home-away setup with San Antonio.

Finally, the Stars will of course be competing in a division with the California teams and Tucson, who only play 68 games.

Find the full schedule on TheAHL.com