Alright, here comes a novel: The Dallas Stars
1. Ty Dellandrea - Flint Firebirds
All things considered, not a bad draft +1 year for Dellandrea. Flint floundered to start the year and Dellandrea had a lot of attention focused on him from the opposition's best. Dellandrea's performance wasn't the most consistent, but when you're on a last place team, this can be a difficult task. Most of his production was done 5 on 5 too, considering how poor Flint's powerplay was. From a development point of view, I'm not sure Dellandrea really progressed as a player. Skating, tenacity, hockey IQ are all positives still. But I'd still like to see him dominate in possession more consistently. He is the type of guy who should be impossible to separate from the puck in the offensive end, with his size, skating ability, and puck skill. And I want to see his goal scoring numbers jump. Working on his shot, and being more confident in using his skating ability to open up those shooting lanes for him would really help him to become a more overall dangerous offensive player. I have Dellandrea still ranked first for a reason (despite Dallas having some tremendous OHL prospects) and that's because I believe in his ability to develop into a very good NHL player. I have very high expectations for him this year and I think Flint makes the playoffs. I'm hoping for a 35 goal, 55 assist type of performance from him, in addition to being the third line anchor for Team Canada at the WJC's. Of course, there's always the chance that Dellandrea cracks the Dallas lineup. But playing him on the 4th line as a 19 year old would be a mistake IMO. I'd like to see him dominate his own age group first and helping Flint establish themselves as a playoff team would be terrific for his already great character.
2. Jason Robertson - Niagara IceDogs
Couldn't really have a better year than Robertson did from an individual perspective. Not only was he the top scorer in the OHL (Eddie Powers trophy), but he was also the top scorer in the entire CHL. We know difficult Robertson is to separate from the puck in the offensive end. He drives possession time in the offensive zone. But his skating looked so much better this year. Almost to the point of not even being the same player. There were multiple times this year that Robertson was able to get the step on defenders and exploded by them to create breakaway opportunities or odd man advantages. I would go as far as saying that I have zero concerns about his skating now for the pro level. Robertson's two-way game also improved greatly, to the point where the IceDogs were able to use him on the penalty kill quite frequently. Robertson is now just a very well rounded player who can beat you in so many different ways. As he turns pro this year, I would expect him to spend the year the AHL level to get used to the speed and strength of the pro game. His game is so dependent on being able to outwork defenders down low, I wonder if he'd be able to do that currently at the NHL level. In the AHL, I would expect him to be a near point per game player and one of the top rookies in the league. Long term, I see Robertson as a great complimentary first or second line winger.
3. Thomas Harley - Mississauga Steelheads
The foundation of Harley's game is his skating ability. He's already one of the best skaters in the OHL and he uses it to his advantage any chance he can get. Watching him play in the OHL, he's good for at least one end to end rush per game that sees him break through the defense. He has such explosive, long strides that makes him very difficult to stop cutting through the neutral zone. Harley also has good vision. You don't see him make a ton of mistakes with the puck on his stick and he picks his spots pretty well to activate. And even if he does get stuck, his skating ability gives him the opportunity to recover. Other parts of his game are still a work in progress. I think he moves the puck well as a powerplay QB, but I'd like to see him use his mobility a little more aggressively to open up lanes. He also needs to improve his point shot to make him more of a double threat back there. Defensively, I think he's already made some great gains. But continuing to increase his intensity level in his own zone would be priority number one. At times he is too passive at denying the zone and can leave too large of a gap on attackers. Will need to improve his play in tight quarters too, improving his strength to tie up forwards in close. I would expect Harley to inch closer or actually hit the point per game mark next year, even with the Steelheads going through a bit of a rebuild. He could be a leading candidate for the Max Kaminsky as defender of the year.
4. Riley Damiani - Kitchener Rangers
Without question, one of the OHL's most improved players this year. Damiani took a larger role with Kitchener, and ran with it, emerging as a go to offensive player in the league. His 1.47 point per game average was the 3rd best among the 2000 age group in the OHL, behind only Barrett Hayton and Akil Thomas. One of the biggest reasons for that was improved strength which allowed him to really take better advantage of his gifts as a puck handler and distributor. He could control the wall and was just way more elusive. Add that to the fact that his energy level never seems to waver and you have a real puck hound. Damiani's shot really improved this year too, perhaps even more than I expected it to. Added velocity to it and his wrister has actually become a nice weapon for him to use when attacking off the rush. Of course, Damiani remains a terrific three zone player and penalty killer. That brings me to his skating. No question he looked quicker this year. But I'd like him to be even quicker this year, especially given his lack of elite size. Adding a little more explosiveness to his stride would make things easier for him so that he's not always having to fight through traffic and checks like a man possessed. I have very high expectations of Damiani this coming year. Kitchener is going to be really good and I think Damiani cracks the 100 point mark and puts up a fight for the Eddie Powers Trophy.
5. Tye Felhaber - Ottawa 67's
Speaking of improved players, how about Felhaber? He exploded in his overage season, nearly hitting the 60 goal mark and earning a contract from Dallas. Felhaber has always had the talent to produce offensively in the OHL. He was a high OHL priority selection for a reason. His skating ability and puck handling skill have always made him a dangerous North/South attacker. But he was essentially a perimeter player who had difficulty navigating the middle of the ice. That all changed this year as we saw a shift in Felhaber's game for the better. The light bulb went on and we saw him transform into an absolute puck hound who became aggressive in attacking the middle of the ice, rather than living on the outside. In fact, most of his goals probably came between the hash marks. His release is just so lethal; it's lightning quick. And he is such a smart player. He just seems to find those soft spots and he anticipates the play so well, jumping on rebounds or attacking holes and slipping behind defenders. Normally, I'm a little hesitant to project OA breakouts as NHL players. But Felhaber is different in this regard. He's not a hulking winger who was able to exploit his size advantage over younger players. He's a skilled player who was highly touted and who changed the way he played to be more effective. I think he's a legit NHL prospect. So long as he continues to play aggressively and not become intimidated by the size of AHL players, I would expect Felhaber to be a 20 goal scorer this year and project as a middle six goal scorer who can play with a strong playmaking center.
6. Nicholas Porco - Saginaw Spirit
It's actually really interesting that the Stars drafted Porco this year. He profiles very similarly to Felhaber did in his original draft year. He uses his speed to attack North/South and is a skilled kid who can fire the puck. But he doesn't attack or play through the middle of the ice nearly enough. And he lacks the strength to be a major factor away from the puck. His place in Saginaw's lineup really shifted from week to week this year with their offensive depth, and by the second half and playoffs, he had been relegated to third/fourth line roles with little special teams responsibility. So for Porco, let's see if it takes him nearly as long as it took Felhaber to really figure things out. In Saginaw next year, he likely slots as a top 6 player, but Saginaw does have depth and if his production and play remains inconsistent, he could find himself moved down the lineup again. In terms of a projection, his case is a difficult one. He could explode like Damiani did this past season. Or he could have a small breakout that sees him around the 30 goal, 30 assist mark. Maybe the middle is safe ground.
7. Curtis Douglas - Windsor Spitfires
Douglas' progressed as expected last year, operating at close to the 30/30 mark as I had predicted for him in last year's write up. He remains a long term project for the Stars and their development team. Obviously his strength lies in his size. He just seems to keep growing too, now listed at 6'9. He is just so hard to stop near the crease. Once he establishes that position, he's a near immovable object. And he really upped his physical game this year too. He hits people hard. The issue remains his skating and his ability to carry the puck through the neutral zone and across the blueline. He is kind of like an old steam engine train out there. He takes a while to get things moving and when he does, it's mostly in a straight line. Douglas continues to go back and forth between center and wing too. He started the year on the wing and finished the year at center. It will be interesting to see where Windsor slots him in to start the upcoming year. I think there are positives and drawbacks to him playing at either spot. In order to earn a contract from Dallas, I would think that he would need to be in the 40 goal and 80 point range for the upstart Spitfires.
Tuesday, August 6, 2019
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