TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – Last week, prospects from five NHL clubs took to the ice in northern Michigan to showcase their talents against other young, high-level players. The Dallas Stars’ prospects took to the ice for four games and gave us a glimpse of what we might see in the future.
Let’s get this out of the way; the Stars did not have a good tournament in terms of Win/Loss. The opening night matchup with the Detroit Red Wings started off horrendously. Despite falling into a 5-1 hole after two periods, the Stars threatened with three third-period goals but ultimately fell short. The following night offered a look at the Columbus Blue Jackets’ rising stars. Unfortunately, a strong first half of the game would be overshadowed by a pair of CBJ goals that effectively sank any hopes the Stars had at winning this game.
Night three, enter the Toronto Maple Leafs. A vaunted roster containing NHL-caliber players like Nick Robertson and Mikhail Abramov completely overwhelmed the Stars’ defense as the game wore on. Although the Stars were tied roughly halfway through the game, the second half belonged solely to the Leafs. Three games, three losses. Not exactly the most encouraging results.
The Stars concluded their showcase with a 7-3 thrashing of the St. Louis Blues, and, suddenly, team spirits were high. This was not the most encouraging tournament for the young prospects, but it was an opportunity for the players to demonstrate what they can do against other future pros.
Riley Damiani, a projected top-line winger for Texas, produced at similar levels to his AHL totals over the past couple of seasons. Netting one goal and assisting on another four, Damiani is making an argument for an expanded role with the organization. I wouldn’t be surprised if Damiani gets a few games in Dallas at some point this season. At 21 years of age, there is time for him to keep developing, but keeping him in the AHL long-term just doesn’t seem like a viable application of Damiani’s talents.
Wyatt Johnston, the Dallas Stars’ 2021 NHL Entry Draft first-round pick, who at the time was widely regarded as a reach, was truly impressive. His development was assumed to have been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic when the OHL was shut down.
Put those assumptions to rest. Johnston came out guns blazing and rippled the twine four times and assisted on another. Held scoreless only once, Johnston had two multi-point games, including a two-goal outing in the finale against St. Louis. At 18 and fresh out of the draft, he is certainly raising expectation levels in the front office. I look forward to seeing Johnston’s progression over the next year or two before making his NHL debut.
Riley Tufte, one of the oldest, most seasoned players on the roster for Traverse City, may have had his big breakthrough. There were concerns surrounding Tufte’s offensive abilities, and many left believing he would be a career AHLer. If his production this past week is any indication of what is to come, he may finally be able to make it to the top.
With three goals and an assist, Tufte was third in scoring, and it only took him two games to do it. While he was held off the score sheet in the final two games, I think his performances against Detroit and Columbus are more indicative of what he can really do. Even with this production, Tufte is 23 and still battling to be promoted. If he keeps throwing pucks on net and exerts his physical presence, there’s no reason to think he won’t see some time in Dallas.
The team results in the tournament were not the most encouraging, but remember this is a tournament with players varying in age from 18-24. Temper expectations and be excited about the talent these players displayed. If you are disappointed certain players weren’t “standouts,” do not lose confidence in them. This tournament takes place before training camp even begins; there is no reason to read too deep into lackluster performances.
Let’s get excited about the future of hockey and our teams. Get ready, it’s that time of the year. Ladies and gentlemen, the 2021-22 hockey season is upon us.
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