Slowly, but surely, the Stars are adding young scorers to their lineup -- and the results could be seen fairly quickly at the AHL level.
Dallas on Tuesday announced the signings of college players Rhett Gardner, Joseph Cecconi and Josh Melnick, and also the assignment for 2018 first-round draft pick Ty Dellandrea to the Texas Stars. All four could be in the lineup within the next two or three games.
[RELATED: Stars sign prospects Gardner, Cecconi and Melnick to entry-level contracts]
Gardner is known more for faceoffs and defensive play, but Melnick was the leading scorer at Miami (Ohio) University, and Cecconi is a two-way defenseman who was second on the University of Michigan in assists. Dellandrea, meanwhile, had 63 points in 60 games for Flint in the Ontario Hockey League.
Combine those two with draft pick Jason Robertson and free-agent signing Tye Felhaber and you have a great deal of skill coming into the organization. Robertson led the OHL in scoring with 117 points (48 goals, 69 assists) in 62 games, while Felhaber was third with 109 points (59 goals, 50 assists) in 68 games.
"We had five guys in the top 50 scorers (in the OHL), so that's pretty good," said Stars general manager Jim Nill. "We've got some good young kids in Europe. (Denis) Gurianov has been scoring at the lower level, (Joel) L'Esperance is up here, (Roope) Hintz is up here. We like our forward group the way they're coming up."
Robertson was the 39th overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft. The left-handed right wing was traded from Kingston to Niagara this season and has taken off. In 38 games with the IceDogs, Robertson has 79 points (25 goals, 54 assists) and is plus-36. He is expecting a long run in the playoffs, so there's a chance he won't be available for any AHL time. The same goes for Felhaber, who was signed as a free agent March 1. The 20-year-old winger is playing for an Ottawa team that had the best regular season record in the OHL, and also is expected to be involved in a long playoff run.
While both Robertson and Felhaber are expected to move up to the AHL next season full-time, rules state that Dellandrea must play in the NHL or return to junior hockey. Still, this opportunity to play at the AHL level should be both educational and motivating. Dellandrea is playing for Flint, the worst team in the league, and that means the chance to play with better players could make him even better.
Video: Nill on Stars' three signings, Dellandrea to Texas
"It's part of the process," Nill said. "He gets to test himself, to see what's at the next level. We can tell him he needs to get stronger or needs to get quicker, but this is a chance to see for himself."
Melnick joins what is becoming an impressive pool of free-agent signings. Dallas inked L'Esperance in the summer and he had 29 goals in the AHL before moving up to the NHL this season. Felhaber and Melnick now will be given the same opportunity to advance through the AHL.
"Any time you can increase your odds of adding good players, it's going to help," Nill said of the highly-skilled free agents. "We want to use every means possible to makes ourselves better, and that's what we're doing."
The college-aged players also have the ability to make a more immediate impact.
Melnick is 23 years old, Gardner is 23, Cecconi is 21. Melnick and Cecconi were both captains in college. In a perfect world, they will join the Texas Stars and go on a long playoff run. That's what happened for L'Esperance last season, and it helped set him up for his ascension to the NHL this year.
"They're older, usually a little stronger, a little bit more mature, so that's a big advantage," Nill said. "Everybody is different. What I like is this gives them a chance in the next four, six, eight weeks, a great opportunity to get their career going and it really sets them up well for next year. They know the system, they know the players, they know the coaches; when they come to camp, they're ready to go."
And ready to battle with a group of teammates who are more and more skilled.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.