After being drafted, most European prospects can't wait to get to North America to start their professional careers. Virtually all North American youngsters want to start climbing their respective club's pecking order as soon as is humanly possible. After his first season in professional hockey in 2005-06, split between the AHL Iowa Stars and ECHL Idaho Steelheads, Crombeen broke that norm to go to the Finnish Elite League for a year to further improve his skills.
"We spoke to B.J. last summer and determined the biggest areas of improvement we wanted him to focus on were his speed, skating and puck skills," said Les Jackson, Dallas' Assistant General Manager. "B.J. has all the qualities you could ask for in terms of gritty, physical, North American style of play. We thought he'd be well served going to Finland, getting a great deal of ice time and polishing his offensive skills. We've sent players to Assat Pori in the Finnish Elite League in the past and we like they way they work, so we saw it as an excellent development tool. He had a good season over there and should bring a new set of skills to training camp this fall."
In 55 games for Assat Pori in 2006-07, Crombeen placed third on the club in goals (13) and seventh in points (22), while -- not surprisingly -- ranking second in penalty minutes (152). He showed his durability by skating in all but one of the club's games, which was also good for second on the team.
Upon completion of the Finnish Elite League season, Crombeen joined the Idaho Steelheads late in their ECHL season, in time to contribute to the club's run to the Kelly Cup championship. Crombeen notched 11 points (7 goals, 4 assists) and 43 PIM in 13 regular season contests, before collecting five goals and five assists in Idaho's 22 playoff games this spring.
The native of Denver, Colo., was one of three Dallas Stars' selections in the second round of the 2003 Entry Draft (No. 54 overall), after a star-studded career with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. Crombeen was a two-time OHL All-Star with Barrie, captained the club in 2004-05 and played for Team Canada's gold medal-winning club at the 2003 Under-18 World Championships.
The 6-2, 212-pound right wing comes from rich hockey bloodlines, as his father, Mike, was a first-round pick in the both the 1977 NHL (No. 5 overall by Cleveland) and WHA Drafts (No. 4 overall by Edmonton) after a stellar junior career with the Kingston Canadians. Mike Crombeen played in 475 career NHL games over eight seasons with the Cleveland Barons, St. Louis Blues and Hartford Whalers, recording 55 goals and 68 assists for 123 points. He also added eight points (6 goals, 2 assists) in 27 Stanley Cup Playoff games, all with the Blues.
Crombeen, who will turn 22 in July, is expected to play a key role for the Iowa Stars next season. He plans to take a couple weeks off after his grueling season before beginning his summer workouts in advance of the Dallas Stars' training camp in September.
DallasStars.com recently had a chance to visit with Crombeen to discuss his year in Finland, his thought on Idaho's ECHL championship and his goals for next season.
DallasStars.com: How did the decision come about for you to play with Assat Pori in Finland this season, and what kind of experience was it for you? Crombeen:
"Les Jackson contacted me last summer and asked me if I would be interested in going over to play in Finland. I thought it was a great opportunity for a player like myself, because the game there is based a lot more on speed and skill. I knew I needed to work on those aspects of my game. The decision was made in talking to Les and the coaches in Iowa and Dallas, and it ended up being a great opportunity. I got to play quite a bit and unfortunately, our team didn't go as far as we would've hoped, but it was a great experience to go over and see the difference in the game over there."
DallasStars.com: Was it difficult for a North American to play in the Finnish Elite League, from a language and culture standpoint?
Crombeen: "It wasn't too bad. Everyone over there spoke English, so I didn't have to learn a whole new language. There were a few other guys in the same boat as me -- a Swede, a Russian, a couple other North Americans -- so thankfully, pretty much everything was in English. You do gain a new respect for the Europeans who come over to North America, to see how different the lifestyle and culture can be from the other side of things. Finland is a beautiful country and I have some fond memories from playing there for a year. It was a unique experience that I'm glad I got to be a part of."
DallasStars.com: Dallas Stars prospect Tom Wandell was a teammate of yours in Finland. What kind of player is he and how do you see his development coming along?
Crombeen: "I got to know Tom really well this year. He's a really good player, more of a finesse player with really good hands, a good shot and a great skater. He's a skilled player who can put the puck in the net. He's still really young -- he's only 19 -- so I think he'll be really good in the next few years."
DallasStars.com: What kind of experience was it to be a part of the Idaho Steelheads' Kelly Cup championship run this year?
Crombeen: "It was just a great experience for me, and for all of us. I knew coming back over here that it was going to be a good team and we would have a chance to do some special things. We got some good players come from Iowa that made our team stronger and stronger, so it was exciting to play in meaningful games this time of year. It was a great opportunity to be a part of a playoff push and it teaches you a lot about winning."
DallasStars.com: How much momentum can a championship run like this give you heading into training camp and next season?
Crombeen: "It's huge. Anytime you get to play longer than anyone else, you get a step ahead. You get to play more games, meaningful games, and that gives you a chance to push your game to a higher level. It was a great opportunity and I'm going to take everything I learned from it and bring that into camp next season and use that to my advantage."
DallasStars.com: What can you tell Dallas Stars fans about the city of Boise and the Idaho Steelheads franchise? Crombeen:
"Boise is a really nice city and they have a new arena there that seats around 5,000. Toward the end of the season, we were selling out just about every night and we had great fan support. When we got home from Dayton after winning the Kelly Cup, there was a ton of people there at the airport waiting for us. We had a big celebration back at the arena there on Friday night and that was packed, so we had great fans there. Boise is a great town that really rallied behind us, and the affiliation with the Stars seems to be going really well."
DallasStars.com: What are your plans for this summer, and what will you focus on the most in your off-season training?
Crombeen: "First and foremost, I'm going to take a couple weeks to rest and recover since it's been a pretty long season. I went over to Finland in mid-August, so it's been quite a long season, so I can use the rest. I'm going to start training and looking forward to next year. I'm going to work on my speed and quickness this summer, and I'm going to come to camp in the best shape I can possibly be in. You don't show up for training camp to be in second place, you want to make the team, so I'm going to do everything I can to make that happen."