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Honka, Gurianov among Stars' top five prospects

by Sean McCullen

The Dallas Stars had four defensemen 23 or younger play significant minutes last season, including 22-year-old John Klingberg, who was fifth in Calder Trophy voting after he scored 11 goals with 29 assists in 65 games.

Klingberg, Jamie Oleksiak, 22, and Patrik Nemeth and Jyrki Jokipakka, each 23, played a total of 174 games.

Three of the Stars' top prospects are defensemen, and a handful of others could be playing in the NHL soon.

"On the back end, we've got lots of depth," general manager Jim Nill said.

Here are the Stars' top five prospects, according to

1. Julius Honka, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 14), 2014 NHL Draft

Last season: Texas, AHL: 68 GP, 8-23-31

The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Finn acquitted himself quite well in his first professional season, but that didn't come as a surprise.

"He's only 19, but he's going to be knocking on the door," Nill said.

An offensive-minded defenseman, Honka played one season of junior hockey in North America before Dallas drafted him. He had 16 goals and 40 assists in 62 games for Swift Current of the Western Hockey League in 2013-14, and had an assist and plus-1 rating to help Finland win a gold medal at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

2. Denis Gurianov, RW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 12), 2015 NHL Draft

Last season: Togliatti 2, Russia-Jr.: 23 GP, 15-10-25

Gurianov (6-foot-3, 192) saw his stock rise among 2015 draft prospects when he led Russia with seven points (six goals) in five games at the 2015 Under-18 World Championship.

Gurianov, 18, was the No. 7 European skater on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking for the draft, leaving some surprised the Stars selected him so high.

"We had a good feeling he might be there," Nill said at the draft. "If one or two other names happened to get thrown in there, it might have changed. We had a feeling he'd be the guy there."

Gurianov compares his game to Dallas forward Valeri Nichushkin, a highly skilled Russian who Nill selected at No. 10 in his first draft as Stars GM.

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

3. Stephen Johns, D

How acquired: Traded from Chicago Blackhawks on July 10, 2015

Last season: Rockford, AHL: 51 GP, 4-17-21

The Stars were pleased to get Johns (6-foot-3, 229), a big, physical defender, as part of the trade that brought Patrick Sharp to Dallas on July 10.

"I was able to watch him in the [American Hockey League] and watched him play [the Texas Stars] in the playoffs, and I thought he was the best player on the ice," Nill told the Stars website. "We're excited about his potential and think he's going to be a good fit for us down the road."

Johns, 23, tied for the AHL lead with a plus-30 rating last season.

Chosen by Chicago in the second round (No. 60) of the 2010 draft, Johns has some speed to go with his imposing size.

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

4. Brett Ritchie, RW

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 44), 2011 NHL Draft

Last season: Stars: 31 GP, 6-3-9; Texas, AHL: 33 GP, 14-7-21

The 22-year-old had three goals in his first six games with the Stars after being called up last December, including a goal in each of his first two NHL games. An undisclosed injury sustained in mid-January slowed him, but many believe Ritchie will push for a top-six forward role this season.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound forward scored 98 goals in 217 Ontario Hockey League games with Sarnia and Niagara.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

5. Patrik Nemeth, D

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 41), 2010 NHL Draft

Last season: Stars: 22 GP, 0-3-3; Texas, AHL: 8 GP, 0-2-2

Nemeth missed 52 games last season after he was cut above his right wrist by the skate blade of R.J. Umberger of the Philadelphia Flyers on Oct. 18. The 23-year-old was supposed to miss the rest of the season but returned in early March.

"After suffering such a serious injury, his drive and determination to return to action before the season ended was quite remarkable, and he made a solid impact upon returning," Nill told the Stars website after Nemeth (6-3, 230) signed a two-year contract in June. "We know he'll be ready from Day One of training camp to come in and strengthen our back end."

The Stars were 14-6-2 in games Nemeth played, 27-25-8 in the others.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

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