It's going to be an odd season for the Dallas Stars in terms of player development. After severing connections with Iowa of the American Hockey League, the Stars will not have their own AHL farm team this season. They hope to have a team in Austin, Texas, for the 2009-10 season.
"We have agreements with four teams to place our players with their farm teams," said Scott White, a professional scout and director of hockey operations for the Stars' former AHL affiliate. "It's not something we want to do for very long, but we think we can make it work for a year, and we hope we'll have a team in Austin after that."
For the second year in a row, the Stars did not have a first-round pick in the Entry Draft, though they made a big splash during the playoffs when they signed Fabian Brunnstrom, a free-agent left wing from Sweden who was being pursued by several NHL teams. They've also had good success in bringing along youngsters like Loui Eriksson and Matt Niskanen, both of whom played key roles last season.
Here's a look at the state of the Stars' player development system as they enter the 2008-09 season:
James Neal -- Neal figures to get a long look at training camp after a strong finish with Iowa last season. He had 18 goals and 37 points in 62 games, but had 13 of those goals in 28 games after returning from a knee injury.
"He has a real chance to stick with us this year," White said of the Stars' second-round pick (No. 33) in 2005. "He had a good season with Iowa and came on strong in the second half.
"James is young, he can skate and he's got a little bit of nose for the net. He adjusted well to the (pro) game. The biggest thing about James is that he matured, both on and off the ice. He's right there, and it's going to be up to him in training camp."
Perttu Lindgren -- Lindgren, a third-round pick (No. 75) in 2005, missed much of development camp with an injury, but the Stars are still very high on the six-foot, 185-pound Finnish center.
Lindgren had a decent first season in North America, scoring 10 goals and adding 24 assists in 69 games at Iowa. He turns 21 next month.
"Perttu is a skilled, playmaking Finnish center," White said. "He came over as a 20-year-old last year and had a lot on his plate. He got off to a little bit of a slow start, but that's not unusual for some Europeans coming over. After January, his game really moved forward. He's able to buy time for his teammates and make plays. He's good on the power play -- he can play the point and did so in the AHL. He has a good shot, but I'd say he's more of a pass-first, shoot-second kind of player. He'll continue to adjust to the North American game."
Fabian Brunnstrom -- The Stars won a bidding war for Brunnstrom, an undrafted 23-year-old who signed a two-year entry-level contract in May after getting 37 points, including a team-high 28 assists, in 54 games for Farjestads in the Swedish Elite League. The 6-foot-1, 203-pound forward had 37 goals and 73 points for Boras in Sweden's second division in 2006-07.
"We like his speed and his moves," White said. "We didn't have a first-round pick this year, but if he pans out, he'd be like getting a first-round talent. He's a real late bloomer. He'll be given every opportunity at training camp."
Brunnstrom didn't attend development camp. According to co-General Manager Brett Hull, "he didn't need it."
B.J. Crombeen -- Dallas extended a qualifying offer to Crombeen, son of former NHL player Mike Crombeen, after a season in which the second-rounder (No. 54) in 2003 got his first taste of the NHL.
Crombeen, who's 6-2 and 215 pounds, had 14 goals, 28 points and 158 penalty minutes for Iowa, then registered two assists in eight games with Dallas while piling up 39 penalty minutes. He also dressed for five playoff games, but didn't score.
"He was given every opportunity, and he earned every opportunity. He plays hard, he plays honest, he's up and down the wing. He's not going to dangle anybody to score goals. He's tenacious on the forecheck, and I think defenders will remember him when they get hit by him on the forecheck."
-- Scott White, professional scout, discussing Ray Sawada
Ray Sawada -- Dallas' second second-round pick (No. 52) in the 2004 draft impressed the Stars when he joined the team after completing four years at Cornell. The 6-2, 215-pound right wing brings lots of energy, plays a physical brand of hockey, can finish his checks and showed some scoring touch.
Sawada had 10 goals and 36 points for Cornell as a senior and finished his collegiate career with 31 goals and 76 points in 137 games. He also had two goals and nine points in 10 games with Iowa.
"Ray showed a lot in Iowa after he finished at Cornell," White said. "His game is very simple, and that fits the pro game well. He and James (Neal) are the most likely to make the team this year.
"He was given every opportunity, and he earned every opportunity. He plays hard, he plays honest, he's up and down the wing. He's not going to dangle anybody to score goals. He's tenacious on the forecheck, and I think defenders will remember him when they get hit by him on the forecheck.
"He just let it go and took full advantage. We put him with some talented players in Iowa, and he was able to do some things -- go to the net."
Ivan Vishnevskiy -- The Stars have high hopes for Vishnevskiy, their first-round pick (No. 27) in 2006. The 20-year-old Russian, who came to North America in the 2005-06 season, is small (5-11, 180 pounds), but skilled. He's a smooth skater, distributes the puck well and has excellent on-ice vision. He'll have to get bigger and work on his play in his own zone, but he has the skills to succeed despite his lack of size.
Vishnevskiy had 17 goals and 45 points for Rouyn-Noranda in the Quebec League this past season and could eventually take over for Sergei Zubov as the Stars' power-play quarterback.
"Vishnevskiy is a terrific skater with excellent offensive skills," White said. "He's going to have to get bigger, but down the road, he has the potential to be really good.
"He's going to need some mentoring and tutoring in the American Hockey League. But the one thing he has is the ability to skate. He can get up the ice, and puck-moving is vital the way the game is going. We just have to work on the defensive part of the game, and that's very coachable. He's got NHL skating ability; now we just have to tune up the rest of his game."
2007-08 SEASON STATS
(5th West/8th NHL)
|Change from 2006-07||-10|
(8th West/14th NHL)
(3rd West/4th NHL)
Trevor Ludwig, now 23, spent four seasons at Providence College, scoring one goal and adding three assists with 28 penalty minutes as a senior. He got his first taste of pro hockey with seven games at Iowa in which he had three assists and 12 penalty minutes.
"Trevor joined us in Iowa at the end of his college hockey season for about a month, just to get acclimated to the pro game, and I think it was a valuable experience for him," White said. "He's a stay-at-home, physical defenseman. I think he has to get a little more comfortable with the pro game. Hopefully, he'll find himself in the American League and play full-time there this year."
As to comparisons with his father?
"He's not as tall as his dad, but they're similar in that they have big legs, a big trunk," White said. "He's physical when he needs to be, and can handle himself well when he needs to."
Tobias Stephan -- With Marty Turco firmly ensconced in net, Dallas doesn't have to worry about a starter. But Stephan, Dallas' second-round pick (No. 34) in 2002, showed last season that he's capable of being at least an adequate NHL backup.
The 24-year-old native of Switzerland had a solid season with Iowa, putting up a 2.65 GAA, a 27-25-2 record, a .910 save percentage and six shutouts. He also impressed in a one-game trial in Dallas, losing 2-1 in overtime to Chicago.
"He covers a lot of the net, and he's improved his puck-handling," White said. "Stephan has had a couple of solid seasons in the AHL, and he did a good job in his one game with us. We think he may be ready to step up to the next level."
Richard Bachman -- Bachman, Dallas' fourth-round pick (No. 120) in the 2006 draft, is coming off a spectacular freshman season with Colorado, going 25-9-1 with a 1.85 GAA, a .931 save percentage and four shutouts. He was named the Hockey Commissioners' Association Division I Rookie of the Year and the WCHA Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year.
"He took advantage of his opportunity at CC and played very well," White said. "He won all kinds of accolades. He's a very down-to-earth, athletic kid whose stock is only going to get better over the course of time. Goalies take a little longer to develop, but he's certainly on the right track."
The Stars have a history of being patient with their goaltenders, and they have no intention of rushing Bachman.
"He's going back to Colorado College in the fall, where we'd like him to continue his sound play and continue to improve," White said. "He's a good athlete, he stops the puck and he plays the puck well, which fits the mold of how we like our goalies to be. He's doing all the right things."