It's hard to build up young talent in an organization without first-round draft picks, and that's the situation the Dallas Stars faced this spring.
In fact, the Stars didn't make a selection until the 60th pick overall, when they added goaltender Tyler Beskorowany from the Owen Sound Attack.
It was the second consecutive season that Dallas did not have a first round selection. The last time the club made a first-round selection was in 2006, when they made defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy the 27th-overall pick.
The Stars have tried to address the lack of top-level prospects by signing a couple of top European prospects, most notably winger Fabian Brunnstrom. And while the young talent in the Dallas system may not rival that of the Chicago Blackhawks or Columbus Blue Jackets, they have done a credible job identifying talent in the later rounds.
Here are the Fantasy Hockey Network's choices for the top five fantasy prospects in the Dallas Stars' organization:
1. Fabian Brunnstrom, RW
The 23-year old is still a mystery to most hockey observers in North America.
One of the top young players in the Swedish Elite League in 2007-08, many scouts compare his skill set to that of Daniel Alfredsson. The winger has good size (6'1”, 203 lbs.), blazing speed, and great hands—all the attributes required to be a true NHL sniper.
He still needs a little time to develop, but he's almost certain to land a spot on one of Dallas' top two lines in 2008-09, probably next to superstar center Brad Richards.
If that happens, Brunnstrom's North American debut could be highly successful. If everything falls into place, a Calder Trophy nomination is not out of the question.
So while the jury is still out on whether he's the next Swedish superstar or just another solid European player with offensive skills, Brunnstrom is certainly one to watch this season.
2. James Neal, LW
Despite a slow start with Iowa in the AHL last season, Neal rebounded with 25 points in his last 30 games to reclaim his position as one of Dallas' top prospects.
The 6'2”, 185-lb. forward plays a tough, bruising style, reminiscent of current Stars' captain Brenden Morrow. He also possesses a hard accurate shot and great passing skills, making him a serious threat in the offensive end. Add in natural leadership abilities, and it's not hard to see why the Dallas brass is so high on the 2007 World Junior gold medalist.
To be successful at the next level, the Whitby, Ontario native must continue to improve his skating and take a few less bad penalties.
Still at least a year away, the Stars will be looking for Neal to continue the improvement he showed in the second half of 2007-08. If he stays on track, a full time gig in Dallas could be in the offing in 2009.
3. Ivan Vishnevskiy, D
Probably no prospect in the Dallas system has more upside than the 20-year-old defender, but the chance of him becoming a complete bust are also very high.
A super-skilled, puck-moving defenseman, Vishnevskiy has all the attributes needed to quarterback an NHL power play. A silky-smooth skater, the young Russian has excellent on-ice vision and distributes the puck well.
Unfortunately, at this point, his NHL potential is limited by his size (5'11”, 176 lbs.) and his lack of defensive awareness. If he's to become more than just a power-play specialist, he'll have to add some muscle and figure out what happens inside that other blue line on the ice. He also seems prone to injury, which may have something to do with his lack of size
Still a few years away, but the young rearguard should make his pro debut this season. He's definitely not a sure thing, but maybe one worth taking a chance on in a year or two.
4. Sergei Korostin, RW
A potential third-round steal in 2007, Korostin made his North American debut last spring and an immediate impression, tallying 18 points in 19 games with the Texas Tornado of the NAHL Junior “A” league.
The 19-year-old winger's major assets are speed and his ability to handle the puck at top speed. He's also a ferocious forechecker, and has shown a willingness to crash the net looking for scoring chances—which is impressive, considering his rather modest frame (5'10” 187 lbs.).
If the young Russian has a weakness, it is that he tends to get afflicted with tunnel vision occasionally and doesn't make the best use of his teammates.
A work in progress to be sure, and still a few years away—but an unquestioned talent with 40-goal potential.
5. Jamie Benn, LW – A fifth-round pick in 2007 (129th overall), Benn has risen quickly on the Stars' organizational depth chart, after being somewhat of an afterthought in his draft year.
A natural goal scorer with a great shot and deceptive one-on-one moves, the 6'2”, 185-lb. winger excels at finding loose pucks and getting himself in goal-scoring positions, both to receive passes and cash in rebound opportunities.
Like most young players, Benn must get better in his own end and learn to use his body more effectively—things that should come with maturity and another 25 pounds of muscle.
Needs another year of junior and probably a couple of years in the AHL before becoming a fixture as a top-six forward and power-play specialist. A 40-goal upside is possible.
Up next, we'll profile the top fantasy prospects in the system of the 2008 Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.
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