FRISCO — A year after being drafted, two things have evolved into facts about Julius Honka.
He’s confident and he loves being on the ice.
For those who haven’t watched Honka closely in the AHL, Dallas Stars development camp this week was another chance for the 2014 first-round pick to validate those statements.
He was the last player off the ice Tuesday, pushing himself through a series of wind sprints around the Dr. Pepper Arena practice rink here in Frisco.
One day later he spoke to a throng of media members, answering each question with the same confident swagger he displayed as a teenager in the AHL last season.
For Honka, the next step is a potential leadership role on the Texas Stars’ blue line, which will be one of the youngest in franchise history.
Veterans Cameron Gaunce, Maxime Fortunus, and Derek Meech have all signed elsewhere this summer. While 24-year-old Jesse Blacker was signed to an AHL contract Tuesday, the 19-year-old Honka will get top-pairing minutes and will be expected to set an example for Esa Lindell, Mattias Backman, and Ludwig Bystrom — fellow European prospects who will be spending their first full season with Texas.
“Now when there’s only the young guys, they have to step up and be those leaders on the team,” Honka said. “I think that’s a good thing for them for the future. To have that leadership (role) while they’re young.”
While the veterans have moved on, Honka has taken lessons from Fortunus, Meech, and Gaunce to heart. During the second half of the 2014-15 season he progressed as a professional on and off the ice, and his game advanced from a “mental adventure” to a defenseman consistently making the right play.
“The second half was better,” Honka said. “Because of that, I got my comfortable in the game.”
And comfort is a key word for Honka.
He’s at his best when he’s “comfortable and self-confident,” and that’s why he spends so much extra time on the ice — and pushed himself through self-imposed sprints when he easily could have filed off the ice.
“These camps are for getting yourself in good shape,” Honka said. “It’s good time to improve your cardio and stuff.”
“I just like being on the ice.”