Dallas Stars director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell said if there were several players the team liked when it was their turn to pick 14th in Friday’s NHL Draft in Philadelphia he would probably lean towards a defenseman and the Stars did just that, selecting Julius Honka out of the Western Hockey League.
It didn’t hurt that the Finnish-born Honka is a right shot, something Stars GM Jim Nill said the organization could use these days.
“That’s what we were looking for,” Nill said. “We don’t have a lot of that in our organization other than [John] Klingberg. Somewhere along the lines you’ve got to start addressing those needs, and he is a power play type of player.”
The 18-year-old Honka played for Swift Current in the WHL this past season, leading all rookie defenseman with 56 points (16 goals, 40 assists) in 62 games. He had 24 points (8 goals, 16 assists) on the power play.
“He’s just a very heady hockey player,” said McDonnell. “He sees the ice very well. He’s a good skater. Down the road I believe he is someone who is going to be able to run the power play for you.”
While the Stars filled a need for a right-handed defenseman Friday night in Philadelphia, Honka had a dream fulfilled.
“It feels awesome. It’s a dream come true,” Honka said moments after being drafted by the Stars. “It’s the one goal in my career. It’s been an awesome time at the draft.”
Honka had some success on the international stage as well, playing on Finland’s gold medal team at the 2014 World Junior Championship in Sweden. He was the youngest player on Finland’s roster.
“That was an awesome tournament. We had a great team there,” Honka said. “It was an awesome time there and winning the gold was the cherry on the top. It was a great experience.”
Honka came to North America to play in the WHL this season to put himself in a better position for the NHL Draft, and it paid off.
“It was the right decision to see the style of hockey over here,” Honka said. “It was a good experience. It was good for my future.”
Honka drew rave reviews for his offensive game in the WHL this season, his first in North America. He not only was tops among rookie defensemen in scoring but finished fourth among all rookies in the league.
“It’s my strength and what I want to bring where ever I play,” Honka said. “I want to be a big part of the offensive game of the Dallas Stars.”
Like any young defenseman, Honka needs to work on the defensive side of things, but McDonnell said the young Finn is no slouch in his own end.
“I think any defenseman at that age needs work in their own end, especially at the pro level. But he plays it fine. He competes,” McDonnell said. “Obviously he is not a 6-3 defenseman, but he plays bigger than he is. He goes into the corners to make plays to get the puck out of his zone. He makes a great first pass out. But all defenseman at that age need to learn how to play defense at the pro level.”
There were some concerns about Honka’s height. He has been listed anywhere from 5-7 to 5-11, but the Stars said the young defenseman is closer to 5-11 and is still growing. McDonnell said concerns over Honka’s height were alleviated during interviews, including at the NHL combine.
“He’s going to end up playing at 6-0, he’s around 5-11,” McDonnell said. “Our biggest concern was his height, but when he came to the door and we shook his hand, he’s not that small.”
While Honka came over to play in North America this season, there is a chance he could return to play in Finland next season.
“He’s possibly going to play next year in the men’s league over in Finland. We are going to discuss that with him over the next couple days,” Nill said. “That would be great for his development. He is going to play against men. He is going to realize how important it is to get stronger. It’s a great league. It is really going to help his development. It will make him closer to making the American League in a couple of years and we’ll see how he develops.”
*Julius Honka is scheduled to attend the Stars development camp, which will begin July 7.
*Whether Honka would play at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City is to be determined.
*Stars GM Jim Nill said the Stars considered moving back in the draft on Friday. “We had offers to do it, but it was too far back,” Nill said. “It would have taken us from 14 to the 35 range, and you miss too many good players. We didn’t want to do that.”
*Nill said the prices to move up in the draft were too high. “We knew there were three or four players we could get, so why make a move and cost you assets.”
*Nill said the Stars would like to try to get another second round pick on Saturday. “That’s easier said than done. We’d have to make a trade,” Nill said. “We’re going to look at our list, see who is still sitting there and see if we can make a move to do something. If not, we still have lots of picks.”
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 DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.