FRISCO, Texas -- As with all NHL teams, the Dallas Stars' annual development camp is where prospects from various nations unite each summer to hone their skills.
At camp this year, three players from South Korea -- forward Jinhui Ahn, defenseman Wonjun Kim and goaltender Kye Hoon Park -- participated alongside Stars prospects.
Dallas general manager Jim Nill invited them at the request of Jim Paek, the first Korean to play in the NHL. Paek, who debuted with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990 and was part of their Stanley Cup-winning team in 1991, is the director of hockey for the Korean Ice Hockey Association and coaches the South Korean National Team.
Paek spent nine seasons as an assistant coach of the American Hockey League's Grand Rapids Griffins, which is where he met Nill, a longtime assistant general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. So, when Paek asked for the favor, Nill was receptive.
"It's a great story. Jim Paek gave me a call back last November," Nill said. "They have the Olympics that they're hosting [in PyeongChang 2018], and it's his task to get them into the Olympics. So he gave me a call and said, 'I've got three kids I'd like to bring to camp. They need to get the experience, learn what it takes to make the next step.' So I said, 'Hey, we'd love to help you out.'
"They're great kids, great people off the ice. But on the ice, they've been as good as everybody else and played very well."
Ahn and Kim, each 24, are teammates on Anyang Halla of Asia League Ice Hockey.
"It was like an amazing experience for us. It's nice to be here," Kim said. "This gives us a lot of confidence, improves our skills and makes us better players, I hope."
Park, 23, who plays for Korea University, participated in a goalie camp with the Buffalo Sabres before Stars camp. He said he remembers watching a game in elementary school, and when one of the goalies in that game quit, he volunteered to replace him and was hooked.
"My elementary teacher used to be a hockey manager," Park said. "I used to get in fights all the time in elementary school, so my elementary school teacher was like, 'If you're going to get in fights, just play hockey.' That's how I got started."
Kim played three years of junior hockey in Finland.
"When I was young, my apartment was nearby the ice rink, so I had a chance to skate," Kim said. "It was nice to skate, so I started to play hockey. It was a lot of fun."
Kim and his countrymen are accustomed to a different style of play in Korea, one that emphasizes skating over everything else. But being exposed to the North American game, where physicality is a much higher priority, is something they said will benefit them.
Forward Jinhui Ahn skates during the Dallas Stars'
annual development camp.
Photo: Courtesy of Dallas Stars (Click to enlarge)
"It's different than North American hockey," Kim said. "We are smaller than these guys, so we play more with skates. It's quite different there [in Korea]. Here, players are huge and strong."
Getting their first taste of the American lifestyle was a bonus.
"At first, the cultures are different, so it was very difficult for me. But I've made a lot of friends here," Park said. "It's been quite an adventure and a lot of fun. I did goalie camp in Buffalo first, and that's where I had a chance to really learn the culture and make a lot of friends."
Nill said having the Korean players in camp will benefit the Stars prospects because they get to experience a different culture and style of play.
"It's good for them and, I think on the flip side, for our prospects they get to meet some other people and see a little culture change," Nill said. "That's good for everybody."
With the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics less than three years away, Kim, Ahn and Park realize this camp was another opportunity to see how they measure up against the type of players they likely would face.
"It really motivates me and it's like reaching the sky," Ahn said. "I'm just so excited. I haven't pictured [being in the Olympics] yet. I'm just more focused on being out there first.
"It's very important for Korea to be in the Olympics because [hockey] is not a big deal in Korea. For Korea to have hockey in the Olympics, it's kind of a big deal to raise awareness."