The Dallas Stars take their turn.
Jack Campbell - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Campbell is one of the biggest puzzles I've ever seen. During his time in the OHL, I haven't been impressed one bit with him. But internationally, he's been stellar and looks like a different goaltender. Then he goes to the AHL following the conclusion of this past OHL year and he fits right in. Go figure. All I know is that his time in the OHL has to considered a failure. In particular this season, where he was part of the disastrous Hounds/Spits deal. In the times I saw the Soo play this year, Campbell looked to lack focus. His rebound control was quite poor, as was his ability to read and react to plays. He wasn't squaring up shooters particularly well and was prone to bad goals. Despite being such a strong NHL prospect, I wouldn't even call him a top 10 goalie in the league this past year. Was it a lack of motivation that prevented him from performing admirably in the OHL? Who knows. All I know is that I saw a different goalie at the WJC's than I did in the OHL. Hopefully the strong international performer is the real Campbell. He'll obviously be in the AHL this year where it looks like he has a realistic shot of starting for Texas. I wish him all the best.
Jamie Oleksiak - Niagara IceDogs
I generally liked what I saw from Oleksiak this year. He looked way more comfortable offensively when he got to Niagara, and began to take some chances in leading the rush, instead of just passing the puck out. He's definitely a good, fluid skater for a big guy and that aids him both offensively and defensively. He began to be paired with the small, offensively oriented Jesse Graham, and the two became one of the league's finest pairings in the last few months. Defensively, I found Oleksiak to be a little too cautious in using his size to be physical. It's true that he picks his spots well to rub out guys along the boards or with a big hit, but it couldn't hurt him to amp it up a bit and become even more intimidating to play against. I found him to be a little too reliant on the stick check at times, when I'd rather see him manhandle guys trying to get to the net. He'll definitely have to become more of a presence in front of the net this year in the AHL. In his first AHL season, I could see him taking on more of a defensive role and not putting up many points as he gets comfortable. He does have some offensive potential though and isn't just a big, stay at home guy.
Brett Ritchie - Niagara IceDogs
It was a tale of two seasons for Ritchie. In Sarnia, things just weren't going well and he looked unhappy and unmotivated. But following the trade to Niagara, he really took off. He got better and better as the season went on too, and even though his playoff stats aren't phenomenal, I thought he had a great post season. In the last few months, he was often one of the best players on the ice when I saw the Dogs play. A lot of this had to do with the fact that he was much more aggressive with and without the puck. Ritchie, previously, has always been a little tentative in using his size to be a bulldog net crasher and board player. But with Niagara, on that small ice surface, this part of his game really took off. Next year, he'll likely see time on Niagara's first powerplay unit and should easily hit the 30 goal plateau for the first time in his career. That's if he's still a Dog. Niagara will likely be rebuilding this year and there are some rumours out there suggesting that Brett would love to play with his brother on a stronger Peterborough squad. Wherever he plays, I'd expect Ritchie to have a big season, as long as he continues his aggressive play.
Radek Faksa - Kitchener Rangers
I'm sure the Rangers are holding their breath in anticipation of Dallas training camp, as they await word on whether Faksa will be returning to them this year. To throw some fuel on the fire, the Stars signed Faksa to his ELC recently. He's already a fantastic defensive player and someone who's able to win battles along the boards. His play away from the puck is ready for the NHL IMO. But I don't think his offensive game is, nor is he strong enough. Keeping him in the NHL would be a mistake IMO, especially with Dallas recently adding the likes of Jagr, Whitney and Derek Roy. Keeping him in a checking line role will only hinder the development of his offensive game, which some scouts are already a bit down on. I think he's got a lot of potential as a responsible two-way center. Going back to the OHL would allow him to play top line minutes and in all situations for one of the better teams in the league. He'll also have some talented players flanking him potentially, such as Tobias Rieder or the newly acquired Matt Puempel. If he's back in the OHL, I'd expect him to crack the 75 point barrier and develop into one of the league's top two-way forwards.
Gemel Smith - Owen Sound Attack
The Stars got a gem when they selected Smith in the 4th. He may be small, but he's got a huge heart and is very dedicated to improving. You have to love the energy he brings to the ice; his motor never stops running. The majority of his offense is produced from outhustling the opposition to the net, outworking them in the corners, or using his great speed to fly by them on the rush. The next big step will be him adding strength to make him even harder to stop off the rush or in front of the net. It'll especially help his puck protection skills and allow him to slow the game down in certain situations. I think added strength would also allow him to play more of a physical role. Adding that dimension to his game (at least consistently) would make him even more effective, especially as a two-way player. The Attack should be pretty solid yet again this year, and Smith will be right at the forefront of that. I'd expect him to crack the point per game barrier this season.
*of note, it is possible that 2nd round pick Ludwig Bystrom will join the Plymouth Whalers this season after getting selected in the Import Draft. The Whalers are losing arguably their top 3 defenseman (Schmitz, Levi, Trutmann), so this would be a terrific opportunity for Bystrom. He could jump right into the top pairing of the Whalers, and their first powerplay unit. The Whalers should be terrific yet again this year, so he'd also be in a winning environment. If he comes over, I'd expect him to put up 30+ points. He recently signed on with Dallas, but there are rumours he's being loaned to MoDo for the year. I don't think we'll find out until September where he's playing.