Texas Stars mailbag: passing out mid-season grades

We’re taking a slightly different approach to the mailbag this week in honor of the AHL All-Star Break, which serves as the de facto halfway point of the Texas Stars season.

I’ll still be answering questions, but we’ll be intertwining those answers into Stars individual midseason grades after 42 of the 76 regular season games have been played. Since an AHL roster is so fluid, we’re only grading players that are on the roster this morning (Jan. 28).

Feel free to leave your mid-season grades in the comments.

We will be going in numerical order.

#1 Jack Campbell (19 GP, 3-10-0, 3.36 GAA, .890 SV %)

Anyway you slice it, Jack Campbell has not played well this season.

He ranks 45th in goals against average and 47th in save percentage amongst goalies that have played at least 840 minutes (roughly 16 games). The quality of goals against has also been bad.

Campbell has been beat short side or five-hole too many times, he’s also allowed weak goals at inopportune times in close games. That combination has turned Jussi Rynnas into the de facto starter, even though Rynnas hasn’t exactly been a brick wall this season.

Yes, Texas should be worried.

Grade: D.

#2 William Wrenn (23 GP, 1 goal, 2 assists, -3, 19 PIM)

Wrenn hasn’t played much this season for a variety of reasons — injuries and loaded depth on the blue line — so it’s been hard to judge his play. When he’s been in the lineup, he’s been solid in his defensive zone and hasn’t been a liability.

Grade: Incomplete.

#7 Julius Honka (37 GP, 3 goals, 8 assists, -13, 26 PIM)

Let’s first remember Honka’s age: he’s a 19-year-old playing in a league where the de facto minimum age is 20 due to the NHL-CHL agreement.

And that’s what he’s looked like this season, a 19-year-old with phenomenal raw talent adjusting to a higher level.

Let’s take a look at Saturday’s 5-4 win against Chicago. In that game Honka scored a goal, was consistently pushing the offense, but also committed a couple key turnovers, and was caught flat footed on a Chicago goal — as my grandfather once told me, “With every blessing there is a curse, with every curse there is a blessing.”

For Honka, age is that blessing and curse. It allows him to blow by older players and his athletic potential is sky high, but he still has to corral the mental side of the game and fine tune his decision making.

He’s going to need another season or two before playing in the NHL on a full-time basis. However, multiple scouts have told me Honka has the skill set to play in the NHL sometime during the 2015 Calendar Year if Dallas needed him in a pinch.

Grade: B

#8 Kevin Henderson (29 GP, 0 goals, 4 assist, -6, 10 PIM)

Henderson has had an unlucky season. He’s dealt with a couple injuries that have de-railed his efforts to stay on the ice consistently.

That being said, he hasn’t had nearly the impact he had after arriving in a trade from the Milwaukee Admirals last season.

Grade: C

#9 Derek Meech (37 GP, 6 goals, 14 assists, -12, 20 PIM)

Meech may be on an AHL contract, but he’s a big part of Dallas’ development as a veteran to help mentor young defenseman.

That mentorship has worked well. Julius Honka has been paired with Meech for most of the season and the 19-year-old has grown under his tutelage.

In his own right, Meech could probably be third-pairing defenseman in the NHL if he was more consistent and a had a bit more speed.

Grade: B

#10 Justin Dowling (32 GP, 10 goals, 13 assists, -8, 14 PIM)

Injuries have hampered Dowling a little this season, but he’s been a reliable center and is on pace to set a career-high in points if he stays healthy in the second half of the season.

Dowling has also improved in the face-off circle. There have been times in the past that he’s struggled on draws, but that hasn’t been an issue this season.

It would probably be a competition between him and Radek Faksa for that top-line center role. And that will all depend on how Faksa returns from injury.

Grade: A-

#11 Branden Troock (22 GP, 1 goal, 4 assists, +2, 13 PIM)

Troock has had a difficult season to judge this year due to injuries (upper and lower body) that have limited him to 22 games.

I’ve liked his performance when he’s been in the lineup, but now it’s time to see how well he can maintain his success.

Grade: Incomplete.

#14 Gemel Smith (35 GP, 5 goals, 8 assists, +2, 16 PIM)

Smith has been that kid who got the mid-semester wake-up call and has worked to raise his GPA before midterms.

After registering just four points in his first 22 games, the rookie has nine in his last 12 games. He’s also shown he can play multiple roles and has filled in admirably on the top line a couple times this season.

Grade: B-

#15 Scott Glennie (40 GP, 5 goals, 16 assists, -7, 24 PIM)

Scott Glennie may have appeared in 40 of 42 games, having just missed the last two with the flu, but it’s a fair guess that he’s only been 100 percent healthy for 30 to 35 of those games.

The positive is Glennie is on track to play at least 70 games for just the second time in his four-year career, he’s also pace for a career year in points. However, like the past couple seasons, he hasn’t had the impact Dallas was looking for when he was drafted eighth overall in 2009.

Grade: C

#16 Curtis McKenzie (19 GP, 5 goals, 11 assists, -3, 22 PIM)

Thanks to NHL call-ups, Curtis McKenzie has spent just 19 games in the AHL this season. With that constant yo-yoing, the 2014 AHL Rookie of the Year has struggled a little bit to find his game at times.

In Dallas, he’s asked to be a more physical player. In the AHL, they want him to score on a point-per-game basis, which can be difficult expectations to juggle.

That being said, aside from a couple turnovers, McKenzie is an impact player in the AHL.

I don’t foresee any trades right now. But other teams could covet McKenzie in a potential deal.

Grade: B+

#17 Eric Faille (7 GP, 0 goals, 0 assists, -3, 0 PIM)

He’s on a PTO and has been good on face-offs, but it’s been a very small sample size for Faille with just seven AHL games.

Love how that line has played the past two games. If they can maintain that presence it could become the permanent fourth line.

Grade: Incomplete.

#18 Maxime Fortunus (42 GP, 7 goals, 13 assists, -5, 18 PIM)

The captain has done everything the Stars have asked him to do this season, and he’s responded by playing heavy minutes in crucial situations. In fact, don’t be surprised if Fortunus’ ice time is trimmed a bit in the second half to keep his 31-year-old legs fresh for the duration of the season.

Fortunus’ drawbacks are the barriers that have kept him from making the jump to the NHL before including his speed.

He’s also done a great job of mentoring younger players, something I wrote about earlier this week.

Grade: A-

#19 Brendan Ranford (42 GP, 11 goals, 20 assists, -2, 10 PIM)

Ranford is second on the team in scoring and has consistently been on the top line since opening night. He’s also been a consistent contributor on the power play and should easily surpass his 33 points in 65 games from last season.

He’s also a streaky scorer, something that Texas has benefited from when he had 11 points in 11 December games.

Grade: B+

#21 Jesse Root (26 GP, 4 goals, 5 assists, -1, 6 PIM)

Root has played very well lately and has been a pleasant surprise after signing an two-way AHL/ECHL deal with Texas.

He’s finally started finding the back of the net with three goals in January, hopefully he continues to score in the second half.

Grade: B

#22 Scott Valentine (24 GP, 1 goal, 2 assists, -1, 38 PIM)

Scott Valentine was a nice find out of the ECHL when Texas signed him to an AHL contract early in the season. The 23-year-old defenseman has also filled in at forward and done a little bit of everything for the Stars.

He’s also a more physical body on the blue line and has been reliable in the defensive zone.

Grade: B

#23 Travis Morin (32 GP, 14 goals, 20 assists, -3, 22 PIM)

Morin has appeared in just 32 games, but he still leads the team offensively and is one of the best two-way forwards in the AHL.

I’d say the over/under would have to be training camp next fall. The only thing Morin has to do to stick in the NHL is put the puck in the net.

Grade: A

#24 Cameron Gaunce (41 GP, 2 goals, 4 assists, -4, 39 PIM)

Gaunce has been reliable, but relatively unnoticeable while appearing in all 42 games this season.

He’s been part of the leadership group that has helped groom younger players, but hasn’t made many steps to push for his own NHL opportunity.

Grade: C

#25 Taylor Peters (27 GP, 0 goals, 3 assists, -7, 5 PIM)

I like Peters. I think he does a good job in both the offensive and defensive zones, he’s also a bulldog in the face-off circle.

For whatever reason, this season hasn’t clicked for him and his playing time has reflected that.

Grade: C

#26 Matt Mangene (15 GP, 0 goals, 7 assists, -3, 2 PIM)

Mangene has been a fantastic find for Scott White out of the ECHL. He’s a quick puck-moving defenseman who also is talented enough to play forward, which he’s done a handful of times.

Mangene has 10 games left on his current PTO, I would be shocked if he doesn’t get another one.

Grade: B

#27 Greg Rallo (39 GP, 11 goals, 8 assists, -15, 18 PIM)

Rallo was brought in to provide veteran leadership, power play scoring, and a couple other intangibles.

The results have been a mixed bag. Rallo has scored, he’s tied for second on the team in goals, and he’s been a leader, but he’s also been on the ice for a lot of goals against and has a team-worse minus-15.

Rallo also deserves credit for his ability to play on all four lines and his knack for clutch goals.

Grade: B-

#28 Matej Stransky (40 GP, 3 goals, 5 assists, -4, 46 PIM)

Stransky has bounced around on a couple lines this season, he’s also struggled to find the back of the net.

His ice time has also suffered this season and he was recently a healthy scratch in favor of defensemen Scott Valentine and Matt Mangene.

Grade: C-

#39 Derek Hulak (38 GP, 9 goals, 14 assists, -4, 16 PIM)

Hulak has been one of the Stars unsung heroes this season. He’s a 25-year-old rookie who will do anything and everything to help the team win, whether it’s on the first line or the fourth line.

Hulak has also grabbed the attention of NHL scouts and the Dallas brass, possibly earning a NHL contract during the coming off-season.

Grade: A

#40 Jussi Rynnas (22 GP, 12-3-5, 2.81 GAA, .909 SV %)

Some nights Rynnas is unbeatable, others he’s allowing bad goals on sharp angle shots that have cost the Stars crucial points.

For now, the big Finn is the starter in Texas. He should hold on to that title since Campbell hasn’t done much to push him.

Grade: C+

The mailbag will return to it’s typical format next week.

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