On Monday the Dallas Stars inked Julius Honka, their first round pick in last month’s NHL draft, to a three-year, entry-level contract. The signing came just days after Honka and 33 other players took part in the Stars development camp in Frisco. The recent events on the Stars calendar serve as a good reminder that with all the excitement about the present of this team, the future also remains a huge source of confidence for the Stars organization.
With Honka included, the Stars are very excited about their entire 2014 Draft class, as well as their lengthy list of 2013 draftees, whose progress has been well monitored throughout the summer. Many experts predict the Stars have a few different guys who could have solid NHL careers when their time comes. It’s just that that time is not quite here yet.
When the Stars selected Honka with the 14th overall pick, a number of fans asked when they could expect to see him in Victory Green full time. Some expressed frustration upon hearing that it was most likely two to three years down the road. It’s important to remember, however, that this is much more the norm than some realize.
Many could be fooled by the impact that then-18-year-old Valeri Nichushkin had for Dallas after being selected 10th overall last year. However, the fact is that of the 201 players selected outside of the Top-10, only two played in the NHL last season, and they combined for just eight regular season games. Furthermore, if you look at the 2012 Draft, only six total players drafted after the first round have made it to the NHL. That’s two seasons of hockey, and only 3 percent of those selected in rounds 2-7 who have played in the NHL. It’s just the way development in this sport works. If you’re still not convinced, take solace in the fact that current top-end defensemen like Erik Karlsson, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson all were selected in the top half of the first round, and none of them played in the NHL the year they were drafted.
The good news for fans who still can’t wait to see the Stars “next big thing” is that while the time is not yet here for this summer’s draft class, it might be for those picked a few years ago. Just as two, three and four years from now, we will be anxiously awaiting the arrival of Honka, Brett Pollock and Alex Peters in Dallas, we are months away from potential unveilings that could turn a lot of heads this season. Stars draftees from 2010 like Patrik Nemeth and John Klingberg will be in Fort Worth in two months fighting for roster spots. If you followed the Dallas or Texas Stars late this season, chances are you know all about Nemeth’s ability to perform at the NHL level or clinch championships with incredible goals. Klingberg, who is coming off of a splendid season in Sweden, could wind up being a key offensive cog from the blue line as the lone right-hand shot among the current NHL-ready Stars defensive corps. The 2011 draft provided 6’7” defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, and talented power-forward Brett Ritchie who will both have the chance to earn opening day roster spots in Dallas. They are joined by 6’3” defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka who is someone else to keep an eye on in the preseason. Training camp will be rounded out with additional names like 2009 selections Scott Glennie and Curtis McKenzie, the latter of whom was last year’s AHL Rookie of the Year.
The Stars are happy with who they currently have on their NHL roster. They are excited about their newly drafted players whom they expect to be ready in a couple of years. And they are ready to see breakout seasons from the next wave of players who can make the jump to the NHL this year. The front office has already made a splash and strengthened their team this summer. And the sight of Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky in Stars jerseys will certainly be the marquee story on opening night. But there are still roster spots to be won and impressions to be made.
The majority of focus is where it should be. On the nucleus of a Stars roster that all of a sudden has been labelled as contenders. However, with the signing of Honka and Stars development camp in recent days, we should all be reminded that the future remains vital no matter how good the present looks. And now comes the time where yesterday’s future merges with today’s present. The result will be on display for all to see.
Training camp is 64 days away.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for the Stars radio broadcasts. He can be heard 30 minutes before face-off and immediately after games all season long on SportsRadio 1310AM and 96.7FM The Ticket. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.