TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Playing in North America is nothing new to Swedish defenseman Niklas Hansson.
He played at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City last year, and he saw some games with the Texas Stars of the AHL at the end of the 2015-16 season. And now, the talented 22-year-old Dallas prospect will make the jump to North America full time, and it will be a big season for him.
"I have been looking forward to that for some time, so I am really excited," Hansson said. "It's going to be fun."
Hansson is a right-handed shot defenseman who leans toward the offensive side of the game. That offensive ability was on display in Friday's opening game at this year's Traverse City tournament when he rifled a shot into the corner of the net with the Stars on a 5-on-3 power play.
"He is a smart defenseman," Stars scout Rickard Oquist said. "He plays with his head up. He has good puck skills. In a way, he is offensive-minded, but he can defend too."
But Hansson's confidence may have taken a hit after a rough season in Sweden.
His offensive numbers and ice time were both down from the previous season. After putting up 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) and averaging 19:09 of ice time in 44 games with HV 71 of the Swedish Hockey League in 2015-16, he put up 11 points (one goal, ten assists) and averaged 14:35 of ice time in 2016-17. He played in just two of 16 playoff games as HV 71 won the SHL championship.
"I had my ups and downs," Hansson said. "I wanted to take a big step, but I improved in other areas, getting bigger and stronger and better defensively. As a team, we had a really good year, a really fun year together, and it ended in the best way."
Oquist said Hansson was in a tough spot last season after playing for the Stars at the 2016 Traverse City tournament but hopes the young defenseman can learn from the experience.
"When he came back home, the league had already started, and he missed a couple of games. If you miss a couple of games, you hit adversity since you are in some competition for your spot," Oquist said. "His confidence went down, and it was a tough year for him, but his team won the championship. I think in the long run this could be good for him because he had some adversity. The year before that he played really well."
So now, the goal is to get Hansson back on track as he comes to North America, where he is expected to play for the Texas Stars of the AHL. He's been struggling to find his game so far at this year's prospect tournament.
"We liked him in Traverse City last year. He went back to Sweden and didn't play a lot last season, and we're going to have to continue to grow his game and get his confidence up," said Texas coach Derek Laxdal, who is coaching Dallas prospects in Traverse City. "Talk about feeling the love; we've got to show him some love. He's going to make mistakes, that's what development is all about. We have to let him make those mistakes to gain that confidence. He had moments [in Saturday's game]. He was hard on himself on a couple of plays, so the care factor is there. If the care factor is there, the confidence will come."
This season will be a fresh start for Hansson, and he has a certain comfort level as he makes the move. He played six games with Texas at the end of the 2016 season.
"It was a good experience to see Austin, see all the guys and see how it works there," Hansson said. "I know more about the game and the coaches better. I'll feel getting more comfortable getting there."
And the hope is he'll put last season behind him and take a step forward in his development.
"Nick had a tough last year. He'd be the first to admit it," said Dallas Stars assistant GM Scott White, who is the Texas Stars GM. "His experience in Texas the year before was a good one. I think he just has to get in and adjust quick. He's got to play, and he's going to have to dig in. He has the ability. It's just get some confidence and go. The pro game is the pro game.
"The clock is ticking, and he's got to get going."
Stars prospects fall to St. Louis 7-6
Stars prospects played better in their second game at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City but fell 7-6 in overtime to St. Louis Saturday. The Stars built a 6-3 lead in the game, but the Blues scored three straight goals - two of them on the power play - over at 4:20 span late in third period to tie the game and then won with 49.5 seconds left in overtime.
"I thought we had a better effort from our guys," coach Derek Laxdal said. "I thought we had a more balanced attack from all four lines. I thought our guys did a better job of responding after we challenged them to be better. St. Louis had a game [Friday] night where they let a lead slip away, and tonight they battled back.
"I didn't like a couple of the calls late, but I thought our guys played a lot harder."
Forward Brett Davis (sixth round/2017), defenseman Ondrej Vala (free-agent signing), Sheldon Dries (Texas Stars signing), and Tomas Soustal (free-agent invite) all had one goal and one assist. Samuel Laberge (Texas Stars signing) and Shaw Boomhower (free-agent invite) also scored goals. Nick Caamano (5th round/2016) had two assists. Landon Bow (free-agent signing) stopped 20 of 27 shots in goal.
* There are no games at the tournament on Sunday. Click here for the full tournament schedule and streaming information.
* The Stars, who are 0-1-1 through two games, play Minnesota (1-1-0) Monday at 2:30 p.m. Central Time.
* Nick Caamano leads the Stars in scoring through two games with three points (one goal, two assists).
Jason Robertson - Roope Hintz - Denis Gurianov
Nick Caamano - Sheldon Dries - Tomas Soustal
Samuel Laberge - Max French - Brett Davis
Zach Roberts - Shaw Boomhower - Cole Tymkin
Gavin Bayreuther - Niklas Hansson
Chris Martenet - John Nyberg
Eric Sweetman - Ondrej Vala
Scratched: Shane Hanna, Vince Loschiavo
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.