Several Dallas Stars prospects will get a jump on the season when they hit the ice this week at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan.
The tournament, which starts on Thursday and runs through Monday, also includes prospect teams from the Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues.
The Stars are taking a stacked lineup to Traverse City this year. It includes five first round picks: goaltender Jack Campbell (2010), defenseman Jamie Oleksiak (2011), center Radek Faksa (2012), forward Valeri Nichushkin (2013) and center Jason Dickinson (2013). The Stars roster features several other top prospects including right wing Alex Chiasson (second round/2009), right wing Brett Ritchie (second round/2011), defenseman Patrik Nemeth (second round/2010) and right wing Matej Stransky (fifth round/2011) to name just a few more.
Other teams will bring impressive rosters as well. Buffalo’s roster features five first round picks. Detroit has nine players selected in the first or second round over the last four years.
“For the time of year, the hockey is as good as you are ever going to find,” said Stars GM Jim Nill. “It’s high level hockey, the kids want to impress you and show you what they can do, and there are kids on tryouts who are trying to earn jobs. They know you are watching and other teams are watching.”
The Red Wings created the tournament in the 1990’s as a better way to evaluate their young players, something that was hard to do in an NHL training camp when prospects were on the ice with seasoned veteran players.
“We wanted to create something where we could evaluate kids on a similar playing field and we came up with an idea of let’s have a prospect tournament,” said Nill, who was with the Red Wings when the tournament began. “Everybody is going to be the same age and it’s a good chance to see your kids play against kids from other teams, and it gives you a chance to see where you are as far as drafting and developing. It’s just grown into a great tournament.”
If you want to know how great a tournament, Nill suggests finding out who has played at Traverse City over the years. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk and Jeff Skinner are a few of the names. Jamie Benn, Kari Lehtonen and Vernon Fiddler are among the Stars players who have suited up at the tournament.
The Stars will get an early look at some prospects who are expected to be roster players this year in Chiasson and Nichushkin. Oleksiak is knocking on the door of the NHL as well. They’ll get a chance to evaluate all the prospects, taking stock of how much progress they’ve made over the summer.
Nichushkin, the tenth overall pick in this summer’s draft, should get a lot of attention at the tournament. Nill said the games in Traverse City will be a good opportunity for the 18-year-old Russian.
“It’s a chance to get your feet wet,” Nill said. “It’s high pressure, but it’s not the end of the world. When I was in Detroit, Datsyuk and Zetterberg came in and got a chance to get used to the smaller ice. It’s a chance to see how competitive guys are. It’s just a chance to get used to North American style hockey. It’s good hockey, you are playing with good players, but it’s not the Stanley Cup Final where it is do or die. It’s a good chance to get your feet wet.”
Nichushkin is one of several Stars prospects playing in the tournament who have been skating in Frisco recently. Chiasson, who skated in Frisco last week before heading off to the NHL’s Rookie Orientation Program, said he sees the tournament as a good opportunity to get things rolling before training camp starts next week in Fort Worth.
“I am excited,” he said. “I think it is going to be a good chance for me to get an early start, play a couple games. I see it as a good experience. I am excited for that.”
Nemeth played just one game after the middle of February last season due to concussion issues. He’s excited about the opportunity to play a game instead of just scrimmaging, which he did in Sweden over the summer and in Frisco the past couple weeks.
“I’m looking forward to playing a real game,” Nemeth said. “And it’s going to be a lot of fun to measure myself against other top prospects.”
And Campbell will be playing in Traverse City for the third time. He has just one thing on his mind.
“This year we are just going to win, and that’s my favorite thing,” Campbell said. “I just want to go up there and win.”
And with their roster, the Stars have a strong chance at doing just that.
Dallas Stars schedule (Times are Central)
Thursday Sept. 5, vs. St. Louis, 6 p.m.
Friday Sept. 6, vs. Detroit, 6:30 p.m.
Sunday Sept. 8, vs. Minnestoa, 2:00 p.m.
Monday Sept. 9, TBA
Rosters for all teams, including the Stars, can be found here.