Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Camp Notes: Laxdal on Julius Honka's Development and Texas' Exhibition Game Strategy

Derek Laxdal coaches up the troops (Credit: Michael Connell)
The Texas Stars held their second day of training camp today as the roster grows with assignments from Dallas. Players assigned from the NHL yesterday were given the day off today.

Coach Laxdal noted that there has been a lot of hockey already for many of those players over the last ten days, so it was best to give them a rest day. Those players included Brendan Ranford, Justin Dowling, Curtis McKenzie, John Klingberg, Radek Faksa and Julius Honka. Everyone else was on the ice for Texas over a 90 minute practice broken up by a short ten minute Zamboni break.

Laxdal picked up the pace today and began working on systems implementation after doing a lot of systems theory over the past few days.

"We're trying to do some system work to get ahead of the ball for the exhibition this weekend," he said. "These kids have taken in a lot of information, so for us we're just trying to work on the situations that we're implementing. Today we're pushing a little more."

For players coming down from Dallas, Laxdal does not see a lot of system differences. He added, "I like to run the same systems as Dallas with just a tweak here and there. It'll be an easy transition for kids going up and down." He made a point of emphasizing that this team will be structured and detail-oriented, as all his teams are.

Julius Honka an unexpected surprise

The addition of Julius Honka to the roster was an unexpected one for most. Laxdal has luckily had some time to get to know the youngster's game. Honka's Broncos played against Laxdal's Oil Kings in the WHL last season.

"[Honka is] a headsy, smooth-skating, and hard to play against defenseman.It's going to be big learning curve for him to go from juniors to the AHL. I'm sure he'll have peaks and valleys in his game, but the fans of Texas are going to see an exciting player."

A seemingly solidified defensive group will have to now balance the rookie first round pick, which means someone will have to be healthy scratched so that everyone can get a chance at game ice.

"He's here to play. Everyone is here to make that next step. Fortunus and Meech want to play in the NHL too and make that next step. There's a balance there. We have to lean on our leadership to help him along, but at the end of the day, we don't want to take away from those players. That's something we have to balance as a coaching staff."

The Stars are expecting that Honka's learning curve will be "sped up" as compared to where he would be in Swift Current.

"I think he's going to surprise a lot of people how poised he is on the ice, and you'll see his game take off as the season moves along."

Exhibition strategy

Texas is playing two preseason games this weekend, Friday and Sunday. Coach Laxdal was quick to point out that it's really a 3-in-3 for many of the players. It sounds like Dallas is going to have some players who have already been assigned to Texas fill out the roster for the Green v. White scrimmage on Saturday. For Laxdal, that puts a clear defining line on his strategy for each game.

For Friday's game, he will be looking to ice a lot of the tryout players to give them a fair shot at showing what they can do in a game atmosphere. That roster will be filled out with Texas- and Dallas-contracted players based on who is needed for Saturday's scrimmage. Ultimately on Sunday, Laxdal would like to ice as close to the complete lineup that he wants against Iowa on October 11th.

Dallas Assigns Brett Ritchie and Jyrki Jokipakka to Texas Stars

Brett Ritchie (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

After solid camps for both, the Dallas Stars have assigned forward Brett Ritchie and defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka to the Texas Stars. The two were both part of the Texas Stars' Calder CUp winning club during their rookie season. Both players have to be on the short list for Lindy Ruff to call on when injuries occur at the NHL level.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Top Pick Julius Honka Among Six Sent to Texas Today

The Dallas Stars assigned six players to the Texas Stars today: Justin Dowling, Radek Faksa, Julius Honka, John Klingberg, Curtis McKenzie and Brendan Ranford. The name that should stand out on that list is Julius Honka. The first round pick from this year's draft was expected to play in the WHL this season but instead will spend the year in Cedar Park.

As recently as three days ago, it was expected that Texas fans would have to wait as long as a year more to see Honka at the Cedar Park Center. There are special rules for the AHL eligibility of players drafted from the Canadian major junior system. Those are covered in-depth in the Glossary. Honka appeared to have been drafted under these guidelines, as he was playing for the WHL's Swift Current last season. However, a re-interpretation of his assignment from JYP as a loan and not a permanent assignment made him eligible to head to the AHL this season. This considerably moves up his development timeline. It also puts a kink in the previous plans for the Texas Stars defense.

It appeared that the signing of William Wrenn last month was a response to Honka not being AHL-eligible. Now that signing may actually be superfluous. Assuming Brenden Dillon is signed by the start of the season, take a look at pairing and detination projections for the organization before the Honka news:
Dillon-Jo. Benn

Texas (without Honka)

OK, now what? Add Honka at the AHL and what happens? Of a group that includes Oleksiak, Meech, Gaunce, Klingberg, Fortunus and Jokipakka, who do you scratch so that Honka gets ice time?

Otherwise, big camps for several others on this list. Dowling had his first NHL preseason action in his first year on a new contract with Dallas. Ranford did as well. Curtis McKenzie impressed and made a name for himself as a callup throughout the year. Klingberg and Faksa were expected assignments, but both had bright spots in the preseason that give good indication of their trajectory.

Players who are expected with Texas that are still in Dallas include Travis Morin, Brett Ritchie, Jamie Oleksiak and Jussi Rynnas.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars announced today their NHL parent club, the Dallas Stars, has reduced their training camp roster by six players. Justin Dowling, Radek Faksa, Julius Honka, John Klingberg, Curtis McKenzie and Brendan Ranford will join the Texas Stars training camp in Cedar Park.

Honka (HAHN-kuh) is the only member from the group that did not skate with last year’s Texas Stars squad that won the 2014 Calder Cup championship. The 19-year-old defenseman was the 14th overall pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft for Dallas. McKenzie was awarded the Dudley “Red” Garrett award last season as the AHL’s Rookie of the Year, scoring 65 points (27 goals, 38 assists) in 72 games.

Faksa (RA-dehk FAWK-suh) was Dallas’ first-round pick (13th overall) in 2012. Dowling and Ranford each played significant roles for Texas in their championship run last season, and Klingberg tallied 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) as a defenseman in 50 games last season in the Swedish Hockey League.

Texas Stars Open Camp with Full Roster

The Texas Stars did physicals last night and are kicking off their first practice of training camp today, Tuesday the 30th, at 10am. Here's the roster for training camp, just released.

Most of the players are ones that you already know: Jack Campbell, Derek Meech, Scott Glennie, etc. The PTOs this season include Colton Beck, Mike Dalhuisen, Wade MacLeod, Jesse Root, Jason Bast, James Livingston, Charlie Dodero, Steve Qualier and Randy Cure. Contrary to prior years, the Stars have all Dallas-contracted goalies in camp.

With the mild concussion to Kari Lehtonen last night, Jussi Rynnas is likely going to be in Dallas for a bit longer. When Lehtonen is healthy, Rynnas will be sent down, having lost the backup battle in Dallas.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Dallas Announces First Round of Cuts, Many Headed to Texas

The first round of training camp roster cuts has been announced by the Dallas Stars. All but Jason Dickinson are expected to join Derek Laxdal and the Texas Stars for training camp in Cedar Park this week. Here's the list:

Assigned to Texas Stars (AHL): G Jack Campbell, F Ludwig Karlsson, G Henri Kiviaho, G Max Lagace, C Taylor Peters, F Gemel Smith, F Matej Stransky, F Branden Troock, D Troy Vance

Assigned to juniors: F Jason Dickinson (Guelph/OHL)

Released from PTO: F Nicolas Blanchard, D Derek Meech, D Maxime Fortunus

Released from ATO: F Derek Hulak

Scott Glennie and Cameron Gaunce were also placed on waivers and will be assigned to Texas if they clear tomorrow.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Several Texas Stars Looking to Make an Impression in This Weekend's Preseason Games

With Texas Stars camp starting early next week, it is expected that the first round of assignments to Texas will come this Sunday. According to Josh Bogorad, ten players will be making their debuts tonight, including several former Texas Stars:
Sceviour is a lock for the opening roster. Ritchie and Klingberg are expected to fight for roster spots, especially with the on-going disputes around the contracts for Brenden Dillon and Cody Eakin. Tonight's game is a big one for Brett Ritchie. After getting injured in Traverse City, it's his first game action since. He was reportedly dominating in the tournament after manhandling the AHL's best throughout the playoffs in Texas. If he is eventually assigned to Cedar Park, we could see a Colton Sceviour-like season out of him: high goal numbers and a late season callup, after which he is never seen again.

Another Texas Star making noise in the preseason is Jyrki Jokipakka. The Finn with finesse has been making waves thanks to his touch on offense and his solid positioning on defense. After some rough spots early in the 2013-14 campaign, Jokipakka became a lineup staple for Texas.
I personally expect him to spend most of the season with Texas. Depending on what type of power play style Coach Laxdal rolls out, Jokipakka could see time on the power play this season along with Swede John Klingberg (if he comes to Texas at all). Pair left-shot vet Derek Meech with right-shot Klingberg and lefty Jokipakka with righty vet Maxime Fortunus at the points and you could have a nice power play set up for the season.

This weekend's game are the biggest for players who are on that next level, the second line of callups. After the McKenzies, Ritchies and Morins have been called, where do they go? Is it speedy winger Brendan Ranford? Is it deft center Justin Dowling? Now is the time to make that impression so that when injury strikes in November or December or January, Lindy Ruff calls your name.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Catching Up: Prospects Finish Second, Texas Stars Shine in First NHL Preseason Game

McKenzie (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
I've been a bit out of pocket over the past week. However, here's a catchup of the major events in the last week.

  • The Stars prospects fell to the Columbus Blue Jackets last week in overtime of the final game at the Traverse City Tournament. It was a great showing by many on the squad, including Radek Faksa, Gemel Smith and Brendan Ranford. Those three are all expected to play for the Stars in Cedar Park this season. It was also a great showing for Derek Laxdal. It was not his first time coaching the tourney for Dallas though. He won with the 2008 squad. Good chance for him to get his feet wet though in the organization again.
  • Kevin Henderson will be joining the Texas Stars again. Although he is property of Nashville, the Predators did not invite him to NHL camp. Regardless of whatever turned sour in Milwaukee for Henderson, the Stars found his presence a huge boon in the post season. He had 6 points in 21 games on the "Czech"-ing line with Radek Faksa and Matej Stransky.
  • Dallas camp began in Fort Worth on Friday, bringing with it a huge outpouring of 'hockey's back!' excitement. While many Dallas players had nearly five months off from hockey, the Texas players in camp were working on just three months' rest.
  • The Stars iced a prospect heavy lineup on Monday night against St. Louis. Here is the lineup, thanks to
    Antoine Roussel – Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky
    Curtis McKenzie – Travis Morin – Scott Glennie
    Brendan Ranford – Vernon Fiddler – Ryan Garbutt
    Remi Elie – Jason Dickinson – Erik Cole

    Jordie Benn – Kevin Connauton
    Patrik Nemeth – Julius Honka
    Jyrki Jokipakka – Jamie Oleksiak

    Kari Lehtonen
    Anders Lindback
    McKenzie and Morin combined for a tally in the game. Morin assisted McKenzie's third period goal off the rush. McKenzie led the Stars with four shots on goal.

    Regarding McKenzie, Lindy Ruff told the media after the game, "I just think he does a lot of good things inside the game. He does the little things right, and it starts there. He’s got a good goal-scoring touch, he’s got a physical side to him, so there’s a lot to like about the way he plays and way he carries himself on the ice."

    Further, Ruff had good things to say about Jamie Oleksiak's game: "I thought he kept the game in front of him. His gap was good for a defenseman. He made quick, smart plays with the puck; he didn’t try to chase the game at all; he stepped up physically for us when someone got close to our goaltender, or bumped into our goaltender, which was great to see. So his overall game was good for us."