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Honka Impresses in Traverse City

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

Julius Honka put on a Dallas Stars jersey for the first time at the NHL Draft in Philadelphia back in June. Now, he’s playing games in that jersey for the first time at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan.

“It feels good to wear that jersey,” Honka said. “Every time it is 100 percent out there. It’s an awesome feeling.”

Honka, a talented offensive defenseman, has been impressive playing for the Stars in Traverse City, displaying the skills that led to his selection in the first round (14th overall) of the draft.

“I saw a lot of Honks in the Western Hockey League, and he is dynamic,” said Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal, who coached against Honka in the WHL last season. “He moves well. He’s agile. He moves east-west as well as he moves north-south. He gets pucks to the net. He’s a forward playing defense. He’s an exciting player to watch and he’s going to be an exciting player for the Dallas Stars for years to come.”

Honka’s puck moving skills have been in high gear at the tournament. He slices his way through the opposition with slick skating and puck handling. At times, he’ll slip a defender with a deft head fake, a clever pause or a burst of speed. He has one assist in the tournament so far, and it was a nice one. He made a long outlet pass to Brett Pollock that led to a Jason Dickinson power play goal off the rush against Carolina Saturday afternoon.

“I think what you’ve seen is what he does,” said Stars scout Dennis Holland. “He is a guy that has ice water in his veins. He has great vision and great puck control. He shoots the puck well for a smaller defenseman, and he is highly competitive.”

The Stars also like that he is a right-shot defenseman, a need the team the addressed in this summer’s draft with the selection of Honka.

The Stars also like that he is a right-shot defenseman, a need the team addressed in this summer’s draft. The 5-11, 185-pound Honka plays a strong overall game but, as with any young defenseman, there is still room for improvement.

“He’s got to get a little stronger. He’s got to get that man’s strength,” said Holland. “He’s got to continue working on his game and defensively he has to make sure he is at the right spot at the right time. These young defensemen will jump a little early trying to make offense, and he has to make sure that he takes care of his own zone. That just comes with maturity. But he’s a pretty well-rounded defenseman. He makes good plays, and he’s positionally sound.”

Honka, who is from Finland, played with Swift Current of the WHL last season, registering 56 points (16 goals, 40 assists) in 62 games and leading all league defensemen in scoring. He played on Finland’s team that won a gold medal at the 2014 World Junior Championship.

The tournament in Traverse City is another opportunity for the 18-year-old Honka and other young Dallas prospects to play with and against other top young players, some who have pro experience.

“This is good experience,” he said. “But I love to play the game. It doesn’t matter what is coming up or who it is against, it’s just play your own game and make your own game happen.”

After Traverse City, the next stop for Honka will be Dallas Stars training camp, which gets underway Friday in Fort Worth. Where Honka goes after that is still up in the air. The Stars haven’t made a decision as to where he will play in 2014-15.

“He’s new to the organization. We know what he is, but how close is he? That’s what we want to see,” said Stars GM Jim Nill. “He is still a young kid, so we are going to be cautious. He’s a right-handed shot, high skills and we are excited to watch him.”

For Honka, his goal is to come into training camp and convince Dallas management that he is ready to wear the Stars jersey to start this season.

“I just want to show that I can be a good player at the highest level I can,” Honka said. “Just be myself out there and play my game. I just want to play at the highest level I can. The NHL is my goal, but we’ll see what happens.”

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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