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Tufte adept at shifting gears on road to Stars

Forward prospect looking to refine game in second season at Minnesota Duluth

by Sean Shapiro / Correspondent

FRISCO, Texas -- Dallas Stars forward prospect Riley Tufte is used to making adjustments in his game with the hopes that it will lead him to the NHL.

At Blaine High School in Blaine, Minnesota, Tufte was named Mr. Hockey as the top senior player in the state. He initially struggled as a freshman at the University of Minnesota Duluth, but his play improved midseason, and he was a key contributor in Minnesota Duluth's run to the NCAA Division I men's ice hockey title game last season.

The No. 25 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft opened eyes during Stars development camp last month, in large part due to his size (6-foot-5, 205 pounds).

Tufte, 19, looked comfortable skating, and after a year of college hockey, added 10 pounds of muscle since being drafted.

"I've noticed it on the ice," he said. "I'm faster and knocking guys off the puck. It's been a good process so far."

The Stars have noticed, too.

"What really excited us is the last half of the season is he really took off," Stars general manager Jim Nill said. "He was a dominant force in the (NCAA) playoffs. We are looking for great things from him this season back in Duluth."

Tufte's freshman season did not begin well. He missed the first four games after breaking his wrist in the offseason, and didn't a point in his first 14 games. 

But in December, that began to change. Feeling more comfortable in college on and off the ice, his game improved. Tufte had 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) in his final 23 games, and scored a goal in Minnesota Duluth's 3-2 loss to Denver University in the title game.

"Everything just kind of fell into place after Christmas break," Tufte said. "It was awesome. I felt healthy. I felt I was playing well the first half, but it just didn't go my way points-wise. If anyone was there watching, they wouldn't say I was playing bad.

"[College] was a little different from high school," Tufte said. "Guys are a little bigger, stronger and faster. It was a bit of an adjustment, but it's good now."

This season could be busy for Tufte. He is taking part in the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan, and might play for the United States in the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo. 

"I'm going in the right direction," he said. "Getting a year (of college) under my belt was huge for me. Going in there and knowing what I need to do. I think it will be a good season and I think I am going to play a bigger role this year. I am excited for that."

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