Even though the NHL season is currently on hold, professional hockey is still being played in the United States. The players in these games may not be household names at the moment, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be soon.
Right now, anybody who has a chance to see action from the AHL is getting to watch the future of the NHL. Some players in the top minor league affiliates are high draft picks who have had limited playing time. Others in the league are superstars waiting to emerge.
This is a quick glimpse at some of the up-and-comers in the Dallas Stars organization. Take note of these guys because they’ll be working their way up in a matter of no time.
The name Benn makes Stars fans think of the All-Star goal scorer, but this is not Jamie Benn. It is his older brother Jordie. Now the older brother is looking like a solid prospect on defense, which is a big area of concern for the Stars
Benn started in the Stars organization in 2009 with the Allen Americans. He has managed to work his way up from the CHL all the way to the big club. He made his NHL debut last season against the Red Wings. Benn has only played in three games at the elite level, but he managed two points in those games.
Last season, he finished fifth in assists for the Texas Stars. This season, Benn’s assists are down a tad. He is on pace for roughly 18, but his goal production is up and is on pace to a career high of 12.
That may not translate into a lot of offense in the NHL, but right now any support from the defenseman is welcome.
This is Oleksiak’s first season playing professional hockey, and so far he has been able to keep up. He is currently tied for fifth in overall points on the team and tied for second in assists with nine. The Stars used the 14th overall pick on him in 2011, and so far his career looks promising.
It is a small sample size to go on but, again, he is a defenseman who is doing well. Without much standing in his way to make it to the pro level, he could make the NHL roster before he turns 21.
Oleksiak also brings something that the Stars don’t have at the big league level: He is a giant at 6’7 and 254 pounds. Bringing a strong and powerful body on defense should add a big physical element that the Stars haven’t much of in recent memory.
Eakin was part of the trade that sent Mike Ribeiro to the Washington Capitals. The Stars also received Washington’s second-round pick in the 2012 draft in the trade.
Right now Eakin is doing very well in the AHL. He leads the Texas Stars in points with 15. Eakin is only 21 and has a lot of hockey in front of him. He also has a little experience in the NHL since he played 30 games on the Capitals roster last season.
Eakin’s career high in points came last season with 27. He is on pace for around 45 with the Stars this year. If this offensive awakening continues, he will be a lock for the NHL roster.
He might top out for Dallas as a third-line center because he is being blocked by Jamie Benn and Derek Roy. But having one too many centers isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially since Benn has missed some serious playing time in the past two seasons.
Smith was signed last year out of Miami University, where he put up some spectacular numbers. He finished second in the nation in goals scored his last season with the Redhawks and finished first with eight game-winning goals.
This is his first stint in the AHL because, after he signed his contract last year, he jumped right onto the Dallas roster. He only played three games in the NHL, so the time in the AHL will do well to help finish rounding out his game.
With aging forwards Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney in front of Smith, he might sniff the NHL again sooner rather than later.
The Stars used their first-round pick on Campbell back in 2010 so he could be the future of the team at goalie.
Campbell has played a lot of international competition as part of the US National Developmental Program. He was part of three IIHF under-20 teams. On those teams he managed to pull down a lot of hardware, including gold medals and individual awards.
This goalie has a ton of upside and almost no pressure, since Kari Lehtonen has posted back-to-back fantastic seasons. Campbell is sharing time with Christopher Nihlstorp for the Texas Stars right now, but that may not last long.
Right now, Campbell doesn’t look like he’ll be sniffing the NHL roster soon because he must play past Nihlstorp and current Dallas backup Richard Bachman. Bachman has a little international experience as well, since he was part of the United States team that went to Finland in the IIHF tournament this past summer.
All it would take, though, is one lengthy injury to Bachman or Lehtonen for Campbell to get his chance in Dallas. Assuming everyone in front of him stays relatively healthy, though, he could be up in two to three years as a backup. Much like the depth at center, it never hurts to have too many goalies with a lot of upside.