Looking to make the leap: Julius Honka

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This post is part of Stars Day on PHT…

When the Stars were eliminated by the Blues in Game 6 of their second-round series, Alex Goligoski logged 25:16 of ice time, Jason Demers logged 19:57, and Kris Russell 16:17. The first two are with other teams now, the third still unsigned and not expected back.

So the Dallas defense will look significantly different in 2016-17. There’s still John Klingberg, Johnny Oduya, and Stephen Johns, the three other defenders who played in that elimination game. And Dan Hamhuis was signed in free agency, with GM Jim Nill expecting the veteran to play a big role, possibly even skating with Klingberg on the top pairing.

After those four, though, the competition for minutes should be pretty wide open. Jordie Benn was re-signed for three years, so he’s definitely in the running. Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak both need waivers to go to the AHL, so they’ll be given a good shot to stay up. Esa Lindell got his first taste of the NHL in January, so he’s in the mix as well.

Which brings us, finally, to Julius Honka, the 20-year-old the Stars drafted with the 14th overall pick in 2014. It may take an injury or trade for Honka to get the call next season, but after piling up 44 points (11G, 33A) in 73 games for AHL Texas last season, the Stars have themselves a serious puck-moving threat waiting in the wings.

He’s been compared to Anaheim’s Sami Vatanen.

“Outstanding puck-handling, mobile defenseman,” said TSN’s Bob McKenzie when Honka was drafted. “Loves to shoot the puck, loves to walk the blue line, and he’s a guy that skates pucks out of trouble. Not a big guy (5’11, 185)… some scouts wondered how his game will translate to the next level at that size. But this Finnish player has tremendous wheels, one of the best skaters in the draft.”

As mentioned, it may be tough for Honka to make the Stars out of training camp. He can still be sent to the AHL without waivers, as can Lindell.

But whichever way it all shakes out, Nill is confident that he has the right head coach, Lindy Ruff, to make the decisions.

“Lindy has a history of working with some of the best defensemen in the world at the Olympics, so he knows what he’s doing,” said Nill, per the Dallas Morning News. “We’re in transition and this is a process, but I have full trust in our players and our coaches, and I think we’ll be better moving forward.”

Related: Dallas loves its young defensemen, which could mean goodbye for some vets