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Prospect Development a Winner in Texas Stars’ Playoff Run

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

The Texas Stars have had a lot of success in their first five years. They’ve made the playoffs four of those five years and now they’re headed to their second Calder Cup Finals in franchise history.

Another trip to the American Hockey League’s championship series is great for the Texas franchise and it’s great for the Dallas players involved in the long playoff run, especially the team’s young prospects.

“That’s kind of a dream season for development,” said Dallas Stars assistant GM Les Jackson. “Anytime you keep adding up wins it is good. It’s great for each individual, it’s great for the team down there and for the organization. It’s a great situation for everybody.”

Twenty players under contract to Dallas have suited up for the Texas Stars in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Among them are nine Dallas draft picks who are in their first, second or third year of professional hockey. All of them have been seeing regular time in the playoffs when healthy and all have played key roles. The group includes first round picks Jamie Oleksiak, Radek Faksa, Jack Campbell and Scott Glennie, second round picks Patrik Nemeth and Brett Ritchie and later round picks Curtis McKenzie, Jyrki Jokipakka and Matej Stransky. There also is Cameron Gaunce, who has been a regular on defense, and free agent signing Taylor Peters, who played well while providing injury relief.

“It’s huge for their development,” said Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill. “They’re playing in pressure situations, pressure games.”

Texas swept Oklahoma City 3-0 in round one, but the first two games went to overtime and the third was tied midway through the third period. Texas ousted defending Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids 4-2 in round two, taking a 2-0 series lead only to see Grand Rapids bounce back to tie the series at 2-2. The Stars won a pivotal Game 5 in Grand Rapids in overtime. Then they beat Toronto 4-3 in the Western Conference Finals, losing the first game to fall behind in a series for the first time, rallying to win a pivotal Game 5 with the series tied 2-2 and then overcoming a 2-0 deficit to win the seventh and deciding game of the series.

“You’re going through all the different emotions that take place in the playoffs,” said Nill. “You are winning two games and thinking you’ve got a series won and your losing two games or getting behind in a series. You’re getting behind 2-0 in a game and you have to battle back to win a Game 7.

“There’s the emotional part and then there’s the physical part. You’re playing three games in four nights against the best teams. It’s very physical, very demanding and it is winner takes all. It’s a big, big part of their development and a big learning tool for the players.”

Texas made it to the Calder Cup Finals in 2010, the franchise’s inaugural season, losing in six games to the Hershey Bears. Current Texas Stars that played back then are center Travis Morin and defenseman Maxime Fortunus, two key veterans on this year’s squad. Dallas Stars Jamie Benn and Colton Sceviour played for Texas during that 2010 playoff run as well.

Dallas sent Benn to Texas after his NHL rookie campaign concluded for the AHL playoff experience, and Benn finished tied for first in playoff goals and third in points. Dallas believed the experience paid big dividends for Benn.

“Jamie really embraced that opportunity when he went down. You could see this year in the playoffs he was doing the same thing at the NHL level,” Jackson said. “It’s a good experience to be in the American League, play and take that step. A lot of the guys that come out of juniors don’t realize the step it is to get into the American Hockey League. It’s a tough league. There are lots of things that prepare players for the NHL. It’s travel, practice, working out every day. Even with the regular season it is a great tool, but the playoffs there are different challenges and it helps guys grow.”

And some other Dallas prospects are gaining benefits from the playoff run. Those are the players who joined the team late in the season after their college, junior or European league seasons came to an end. They aren’t playing in the playoffs or have seen limited time, but they are around the team and soaking in the experience. That group includes forwards Alex Guptill and Branden Troock, defenseman Ludwig Bystrom and goaltender Philippe Desrosiers.

“They are getting to practice in a pro setting now, so it’s important for them in that way to know what it takes if they are going to join the team next year,” said Nill. “Here’s the commitment, here’s how hard they practice and they get to see the level of play. They’re watching. They are in the dressing room before and after the games. They are seeing what these players are going through, the emotions the players are going through and they are listening to the coaches and how they are talking to get prepared. It’s a huge learning tool for them, too.”

Calder Cup Finals will have some breaks

There will be some lengthy breaks during the 2014 Calder Cup Finals due to the home buildings of the Texas Stars and St. John’s IceCaps having prior commitments.

Game 3 is scheduled for Wednesday June 11 at Mile One Centre in St. John’s, but Game 4 won’t be played until Monday June 16 because the Canadian Anesthesiologists’ Society is in town for its annual meeting and trade show.

Games 6 is scheduled for June 19 in Cedar Park, but a Game 7 couldn’t be played until June 23 because a rodeo is being held at Cedar Park Center from June 20-22.

Statistical notes

*Forwards Travis Morin (4 goals, 11 assists) and Mike Hedden (6 goals, 9 assists) are tied for second in Calder Cup Playoff scoring with 15 points.

*Forwards Dustin Jeffrey and Brendan Ranford are tied for fifth in playoff goal scoring with 7.

*Jeffrey is tied for first with 3 power play goals.

*Morin leads the playoffs in shots on goal with 55. Curtis McKenzie ranks second with 51.

*Hedden is tied for second in the playoffs with a plus-10 rating. Defenseman Jamie Oleksiak is tied for third with a plus-9.

*Goaltender Cristopher Nilstorp ranks fifth in goals against average at 2.14. He ranks ninth with a .914 save percentage.

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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