Happy New Year!
I hope everyone had a happy and safe New Years Eve, likely watching hockey, and is looking forward to 2015.
As part of the new year I’m launching a weekly Texas Stars and AHL mailbag, which will run each Thursday throughout the season.
If you have questions about the team, a certain player, or anything else that comes to mind send them my way. I’ll be fielding questions via Twitter, the Wrong Side of the Red Line Facebook page, and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s see what we’ve got for this week:
Let’s start with this one after last night’s events in Dallas.
In case you missed it, Brett Ritchie made his NHL debut against the Arizona Coyotes and scored on his first shot when he scored in the second period of a 6-0 Dallas Stars victory. Ritchie was a bit of a surprise call-up after he had skated that morning with the Texas Stars and didn’t learn of the call-up until noon that day.
So, immediate knee-jerk reaction points to Ritchie, right?
Possibly. But to answer this question properly let’s define “graduate to the NHL,” first.
Let’s consider former Texas Stars that have been with Dallas from Day 1 this season (Colton Sceviour, Patrik Nemeth, etc.) as graduates. We’ll also consider players that started the season in Cedar Park but have since moved their family or belongings to Dallas full-time (John Klingberg) as graduates from the AHL team.
That leaves us with a group of three players to consider: Curtis McKenzie, Travis Morin, and Ritchie.
And I’m going to take a bit of a cop out here and take both McKenzie and Ritchie. But, I’m not expecting that graduation until opening night of the 2015-16 season.
Both will play more NHL games this season, but neither is going to be permanently moving out of the apartment they share in Central Texas any time soon.
For Dallas, the ability to shuttle McKenzie and Ritchie back-and-forth to the AHL in a relatively short time (45-minute flight or three-hour drive) is a tool Dallas general manager Jim Nill will continue to use this season.
I also don’t think Morin is in Lindy Ruff’s future plans.
The mix of healthy scratches, odd line combinations, and the fact Morin hasn’t been trusted with ice time in key situations, aren’t good signs for the 30-year-old. If Morin is to graduate to the NHL it may have to be with another NHL franchise.
What do you think of Matt Mangene so far since his debut with @txstars? I think he is filling in well for Honka and will be a good addition for awhile until Honka comes back from Injury. he is always in front of the Stars net defensively and has made some great saves at times. I hope he becomes a permanent addition to our defense and not just another sign and release.
Joseph via email.
First off, Julius Honka is not injured. He’s just playing for Finland at the World Junior Championships. He’ll return to Texas in early January.
I really like Matt Mangene’s game and what he’s brought to this team. He may not be the most physically-imposing player (5-foot-11, 190 pounds), but his offensive skills and ability to move the puck in all three zones has been a pleasant surprise after he was signed.
The most impressive thing about Mangene has been how he’s adapted to the system with very little practice. Remember, he was signed before Texas played a 3-in-3 and then the Stars went on a holiday break, making this past Tuesday his first full practice with the team, which didn’t hinder him from registering three points in five games.
It’s certainly made life interesting for Derek Laxdal in his first AHL season. That, combined with a rash of injury and illness-related ailments, have turned the Cedar Park Center into a revolving door for players.
So far, Texas has used 34 different players this season and they’ve only played 31 games. Maxime Fortunus, Scott Glennie, and Brendan Ranford are the only players who haven’t missed a game this season and it’s created a myriad of lineup combinations.
However, that’s a fact of life in the AHL.
That’s a question without a simple answer.
Looking at raw numbers, Campbell has not played well this year.
He has a 3.31 goals against average and .896 save percentage in 14 games. By comparison he had an eye-popping 1.49 GAA and .942 save percentage last season, but only played 16 games due to injury.
Those injuries, combined with his age (he’ll be 23 on Jan. 9), have made Campbell a difficult prospect to figure out. He has the raw tools and ability to be a future NHL goalie, but his mental approach to the game still needs some work.
A fine-tuned mental game, which he’s been working on with Andy Moog, could also help limit his injury problems — which were partially attributed to overuse last season.
Campbell competes 100 percent on every shot, every time — whether it’s the playoffs or an optional practice. That’s good, but there is also a required happy medium and mixing in rest that allows the body to heal.
Let’s go from one tough prospect to figure out to another.
Jamie Oleksiak has the raw size and skills to be a dominant NHL defenseman someday, so I’d say that’s his ceiling. Before he can get there, and if he can get there, the 22-year-old has to improve his decision making.
Oleksiak is also a frustrating player to watch when he is at the AHL level, especially with his skills. In four games this season with Texas he hasn’t played well and has looked, frankly, disinterested on AHL ice.
— Tanner Wilson (@TexSR_Tanner1) December 31, 2014
We know Maxime Fortunus will be there as the Western Conference Captain, that was announced in December.
I would say there are good odds Travis Morin or Brett Ritchie would join him if they’re sent down from Dallas soon.
I’ll give you two rules the AHL should consider during the off-season and I doubt we’ll see either of them.
1. Give teams two points for an overtime or shootout victory instead of three. Similar to the format for international round robin play.
2. If a player commits a penalty and the other team scores they should get a minus. Taking a penalty that harms your team should impact a player statistically.
Have a question or thought for next week’s mailbag? Send it on Twitter, comment here, or email me at email@example.com.