Jyrki Jokipakka

Looking to make the leap: Stephen Johns

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To some Dallas Stars fans, the Patrick Sharp trade was as much about grabbing Stephen Johns as anything else.

(Granted, that might be a small sampling, but there was such chatter.)

Following the move, Stars GM Jim Nill probably summarized the most exciting takes: he’s the sort of defenseman the franchise might just be lacking.

“Stephen was a big part of that trade,” Nill said. “We’re trying to change a little bit of the dimension of our back end … he’s 6-foot-4, 220 lbs. and can skate.”

That’s what makes the 23-year-old especially interesting: while he packs some punch and snarl – relevant factors on a blueline that leans more toward finesse – it sounds like he’s swift enough that he won’t bring the Stars’ high-octane attack to a crawl.

Of course, it’s a big assumption that Johns can make the roster.

The Stars currently have eight defensemen under contract, and while some seem like they could be trade fodder if needed (Jason Demers?), Johns would need to impress to force the Stars’ hand.

Johns thinks he has what it takes, at least.

“Personally, I think I’m ready but it’s not up to me,” Johns said in July, according to the Dallas Morning News. “I’m going to do the best that I can, play the best hockey I can, and try to impress them.”

If you’re looking at young players who have the highest odds of making the team, Johns isn’t that guy.

One would think that Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak and Jyrki Jokipakka would have a significant head start after playing quite a few NHL games in 2014-15. To some extent, they made their leaps – or steps up – already, however.

Johns is a more interesting story to follow during training camp. There’s a good chance that he’s not even the prospect with the highest ceiling hoping to make an impression – Julius Honka fits that bill – but Johns is at the age where he must be getting awfully antsy for a longer look.

For all we know, he may prove that he’s just too useful to send to the AHL.

Dallas has ‘deepest bench of defense prospects in the league,’ says owner

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Though his team’s defensive play left plenty to be desired last season, Stars owner Tom Gaglardi is bullish on the blueline’s future.

“We’ve got the deepest bench of defense prospects in the league quite honestly,” Gaglardi told the Stars website this week.

The remark came during a wide-ranging interview about the club’s offseason moves. It’s certainly an interesting one to make — Dallas allowed the fourth-most goals per game last year (3.13) — though Gaglardi had no issues explaining his thought process:

— John Klingberg “has become the player we thought he might be able to become and maybe even better than that.”

— Patrik Nemeth “is a top four defenseman for a long time in the league.”

— Jyrki Jokipakka, “a seventh-round draft pick, two years ago he is a guy who has a chance and he comes in and plays, and he’s an NHLer.”

Those three, all 23 or younger, make up the core of Dallas’ young defensive prospect pool. But according to Gaglardi, there’s plenty of talent behind them:

“The list of guys back there – [Esa] Lindell is going to be a player, [Mattias] Backman, [Ludwig] Bystrom. In terms of the roster guys, there’s [Jokipakka] and Jordie Benn is capable to playing great hockey and [Jamie] Oleksiak is a first-rounder who is in that group as well. There’s a lot of promise there.

A year or two ago there were guys who were concepts and have now proven they can play at the NHL level and give us lots of options. We’ve got a healthy situation. We’ve got six spots for a game and eight guys on one-way contracts that are going to be battling to play.

And there are some guys coming up that have the capability to knock those guys out in Stephen Johns, Lindell and [Julius] Honka.”

It’ll be interesting to see which of the guys Gaglardi mentioned, if any, will push for minutes this year. Dallas’ top six looks to be comprised of Johnny Oduya, Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers, Klingberg, Nemeth and Jokipakka, with Benn and Oleksiak as the Nos. 7 and 8.

Just don’t set that in stone.

Johns, acquired in the Patrick Sharp trade, said he’s ready for the NHL and Honka, the 14th overall pick in 2014, might be the most promising of the lot.

Guess that’s why Gaglardi’s so excited about what’s on the horizon.

Dallas d-man Johns, acquired in Sharp trade, says he’s ready for the NHL

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Patrick Sharp isn’t the only former Blackhawk looking to make his mark in Dallas.

Defensive prospect Stephen Johns, acquired by the Stars two weeks ago in the Sharp deal, is looking to make his big-league debut next season and challenge for a spot on the blueline.

“I am just going to be like every other guy here, battling for a spot, competing and doing whatever I can,” Johns said, per NHL.com. “Personally, I think I am ready, but it’s not up to me.

“I am going to do the best that I can, play the best hockey I can and try to impress them.”

Johns, 23, was held in high regard by the ‘Hawks, who took him 60th overall at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He’s big (6-foot-3, 229 pounds), showed good offensive upside in Rockford this year — 21 points in 51 games, missing time to a knee injury — and garnered some consideration as a darkhorse candidate to step in on Chicago’s defense in the playoffs, following Michal Rozsival‘s season-ending ankle fracture in Round 2.

A broken forearm kept Johns from making that leap, but a new opportunity came calling two weeks ago when he and Sharp were flipped to Dallas for Trevor Daley and forward Ryan Garbutt.

Dallas’ blueline is hardly set in stone; while the likes of John Klingberg, Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers and Johnny Oduya are all experienced NHLers, Johns should (theoretically) compete with fellow youngsters Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak, Jyrki Jokipakka and ’14 first-rounder Julius Honka for minutes.

It also remains to be seen where Jordie Benn, who struggled mightily last season, fits into the grand scheme of things.

Stars re-sign towering d-man Oleksiak: one year, $875,000

Dallas has re-upped with one of the largest players in the league — 6-foot-7, 250-pound rearguard Jamie Oleksiak.

Oleksiak, 22, agreed to a one-year contract extension on Thursday, the club announced. The deal comes after Oleksiak split time between Dallas and AHL Texas last year, scoring eight points in 36 games for the Stars.

The club’s first-round pick (14th overall) at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Oleksiak took a one-year pact for $875,000 (per the Dallas Morning News), opting for less term and slightly less money than fellow Stars d-men Patrik Nemeth and Jyrki Jokipakka took. In June, that pair signed matching two-year, $1.8 million deals with average annual cap hits of $900,000.

Though he’s still relatively young, Oleksiak is heading into something of a “prove it” campaign. He was picked ahead of some other noteworthy d-men in ’11 — like Nathan Beaulieu, Connor Murphy and Oscar Klefbom — and all three of them have played more games at the NHL level than Oleksiak.

 

Stars add Reese to goalie coaching mix, sign Jokipakka

The Dallas Stars really struggled in net (and in preventing goals in general last season), but they took further measures to improve in that area on Monday.

In an interesting twist, the Stars hired Jeff Reese as goalie coach as expected, yet they’re not parting ways with Mike Valley. Instead, Valley will work under the title director of goaltending development.

ESPN’s Craig Custance was impressed by the Stars’ creativity there:

The only “salary cap” for coaching is a team’s own budget, after all, so why not add more keen minds on that subject?

Of course, improving on defense would also make life easier for the Stars’ goalies, and they also kept a young defenseman in the fold. Amusingly named blueliner Jyrki Jokipakka received a two-year contract today. Jokipakka (pictured) played 51 games with the Stars last season, collecting 10 assists and a -2 rating. He also managed five points in 19 games at the AHL level. It seems like he might show more potential than his draft status (195th overall in 2011) may have initially indicated.

Stars GM Jim Nill still has some work to do to ensure that the Stars’ defense starts to catch up with its blistering offense, yet this counts as a step or two in the right direction.