looking to make the leap

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.

Looking to make the leap: Lawson Crouse

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Hey, when you’re huge, you don’t need to make as much of a leap.

Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon didn’t do the usual hemming and hawing you’d expect when talking up Lawson Crouse, the 11th overall pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. Instead, he threw down the gauntlet after signing the sizable young prospect to an entry-level contract in July.

“He was one of our best players in development camp and we are confident he can make an immediate impact on our roster, playing on one of our top lines,” Tallon said via a Panthers release.

It’s not just Tallon pumping him up, either, as head coach Gerard Galland said that Crouse “will be given every opportunity to earn a top-six forward position on our roster during training camp.”

That’s quite the accelerated outlook for a towering 18-year-old (listed at 6-foot-4, 215 lbs) whose offense seemingly came up short at times; Crouse managed just 51 points in 56 games at the OHL level in 2014-15.

Such modest production would leave the impression that the Panthers might be wise to allow Crouse to marinate at the junior level for at least a little while, yet it sounds like the organization thinks he’s on the right track. Florida might be growing a touch impatient with the slow-and-steady approach, and one can also imagine that they see an “NHL body” in Crouse.

Of course, it’s not as if the Panthers are committed to a decision yet. They can change their mind during training camp or even through a few regular season contests and decide to let him develop at a slower pace with no harm done.

All disclaimers aside, it sounds like he’ll get a real chance to make the roster right out of the draft.

Want to know more about Crouse? Check out this profile.