Texas Stars fortunate to sign Brandon DeFazio late in the process

Brandon DeFazio adds another scoring threat for the Texas Stars. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Brandon DeFazio adds another scoring threat for the Texas Stars. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

It was a bit surprising that Brandon DeFazio was still looking for a job in the middle of the July.

The 27-year-old unrestricted free agent has registered 86 points in the past two season, and put together back-to-back 20-goal seasons for the Utica Comets and Providence Bruins. He played a pair of NHL games during the 2014-15 season with Vancouver, and he’s a versatile winger that can play on either side.

“We’re fortunate to get him, and he was still available late in the process,” Texas Stars general manager Scott White said. “To get him under an AHL contract is a bonus. He’s a good character guy and he’s been in the league for a while now. But he still has that drive and passion for the NHL, that’s what we are looking for.”

White said DeFazio’s availability was a ‘trickle down’ impact from the NHL.

“There were some names that lasted longer or are still available on the top-tier market, that’s probably why he was still available,” White said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for our team. And we’re going to get a player that can help us win.”

DeFazio also adds leadership and internal competition, which White was looking for. A product of Clarkson University, DeFazio was an assistant captain with Providence and Utica, and he helped the Comets to the Calder Cup Finals in 2015.

With Texas, he’ll be one of the top candidates for a top-six role, and his presence (along with Adam Cracknell) will force younger prospects to earn their playing time. It’s also going to create one less AHL roster, forcing several AHL-ECHL bubble players to come through with a strong training camp.

Texas Stars sign Brandon DeFazio to standard AHL contract

Brandon DeFazio, left, talks to the Texas Stars bench during the 2013-14 season. DeFazio signed an AHL contract with the Stars this week. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Brandon DeFazio, left, talks to the Texas Stars bench during the 2013-14 season. DeFazio signed an AHL contract with the Stars this week. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

The Texas Stars have signed Brandon DeFazio to a standard AHL contract.

DeFazio is an AHL veteran that has scored 43 goals during the past two seasons with the Utica Comets and Providence Bruins. It gives Texas an additional veteran forward and creates more competition for a top-six role with the AHL club.

Here is the official release:

CEDAR PARK, Texas – The Texas Stars, American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Dallas Stars, announced Monday the club has signed forward Brandon DeFazio to an AHL contract for the upcoming 2016-17 season.

DeFazio, 27, is set to begin his sixth full season in the AHL and has appeared in 359 career games between the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Utica Comets and Providence Bruins. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound forward also brings 33 games of Calder Cup playoff experience to the Stars. DeFazio was a part of the 2014-15 Utica team that reached the Calder Cup Final before falling to the Manchester Monarchs in five games.

The Oakville, Ontario native tallied 43 points in each of the past two AHL seasons, and also reached the 20-goal mark in both of those campaigns. His 21 goals in 2014-15 led Utica during the regular season. Prior to his pro career, he was a four-year player at Clarkson University from 2007-2011.

He made his NHL debut with the Vancouver Canucks on Nov. 9, 2014, in a 2-1 shootout win over the Anaheim Ducks.

Report: Austin Fyten signs with the Texas Stars

According to his agent, Austin Fyten will be re-joining the Texas Stars this season.

Fyten played for Texas during the 2012-13 season and appeared in 11 AHL games.

The Texas Stars have yet to confirm the signing, but it’s believed that Fyten has signed an AHL standard contract.

Texas Stars Mailbag: Thoughts on Pacific Division, prospect outlook, and goalies

It's the middle of summer. Why not kick around the soccer ball like Jason Dickinson? (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

It’s the middle of summer. Why not kick around the soccer ball like Jason Dickinson? (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

We’ve reached the slowest point on the hockey calendar.

Free agency has simmered down (anybody seen Kris Russell lately?), the draft was a month ago, the World Cup is still two months away, and most of the NHL’s big news breakers are enjoying some free time lakeside in Canada right now.

So, what better time to answer some mailbag questions?

The Pacific Division is always going to be the most polarizing division in the AHL. A combination of geography (California plus Arizona) and schedule imbalance (68 games vs. 76) guarantees that.

The off-season moves should also grab league-wide attention.

In Bakersfield, the Condors added veterans Mark Fraser and Taylor Beck, while Tyler Pitlick re-signed with the Oilers. Ontario brought back much of the core from a team that won the Western Conference regular season title and added T.J. Hensick.

You also have the Tucson Roadrunners entering the division, and they should be much improved from last season’s pitiful showing as the Springfield Falcons.

However, the best off-season moves happened down in the Alamo City where the San Antonio Rampage will be greatly improved under new head coach Eric Veilleux. Rocco Grimaldi returns to San Antonio (he was traded for Reto Berra), Trent Vogelhuber brings Calder Cup experience, Mike Sislo and Joe Whitney were added to the fold, and J.T. Compher is coming off a great college career at the University of Michigan.

Speaking of San Antonio, the former Rampage captain (and more recently Texas Stars alternate captain), is still looking for a job this summer. And it’s been quiet on that front, however it’s a near certainty that he won’t be returning to Texas.

Gemel Smith, Cole Ully, and Remi Elie are three prospects at slightly different phases of development.

Smith, 22, is a in the final year of his entry-level contract and is playing for a contract this season. The center needs a big campaign to earn his qualifying offer as an RFA, otherwise the Stars will likely let him walk next summer.

Ully, 21, is coming off his rookie season in the AHL and dealt with a season-ending collarbone injury this past spring. Ully may have a smaller frame, and that was exposed against more physical teams, but he’s a natural finisher and is at the right place at the right time in the offensive zone. He should get more opportunities this season, and he fits the high-flying model the Stars plan to build around in the future.

Elie, also 21, is in a similar spot to Ully but has different adjustments to make. While Ully has to find a way to physically compete in the AHL (and later the NHL), Elie has the size and abilities to be an NHL player. However, the left winger needs to mature mentally and establish some consistency. Last season he was one of the last cuts from NHL training camp, but then struggled and never really established himself as an AHL player. Rookie struggles tend to be the norm in the AHL — it’s a big jump from major junior to the AHL — so this will be a much better season to judge Elie as a future NHL player.

Of those three players, Elie has the best chance at an NHL future, while Smith is least likely to play an NHL game in his career.

Matej Stransky will be in the group battling for a NHL call-up this season from Texas, but ultimately I don’t think it’s going to happen during the 2016-17 season.

It’s simply a matter of fit and other cards in the deck.

Justin Dowling, Jason Dickinson, and Devin Shore are more versatile call-ups that can play wing or center for the NHL club. Add in the fact Adam Cracknell was signed to compete for an NHL roster spot, and that likely leaves Cracknell or Curtis McKenzie in the AHL and contributing to Stransky’s glass ceiling.

On the goalie front, I think the 2017-18 season is a legitimate target for Maxime Lagace or Philippe Desrosiers NHL debut.

Barring a major injury, the Stars are going to have Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi (or another goalie they trade for at some point) play every game. While a minor injury could result in a call-up for Lagace or Desrosiers this season, both Niemi and Lehtonen are used to a heavy, so one Finn would likely play out the entirety of the others injury.

There’s also a confidence factor in play. While the Stars are happy with the development paths of Desrosiers and Lagace at this moment, neither has proved they’re ready to play an NHL game tomorrow.

I like Texas’ current setup. It’s a group with a couple veterans in place (Travis Morin and Adam Cracknell), but it’s really prospect heavy and will give younger players a chance to step into larger roles.

With prospect-laden squads there are going to be ups and downs, but Texas should be a playoff team and possibly advance to the second round of the playoffs (depending on who the Stars matchup with).

Julius Honka is ahead of the curve. Remember he’s only 20-years-old and most players his age would be entering their AHL rookie season at this point.

The talented Finn has made nice strides the past two seasons in the AHL, and he really started to make better decisions after the Stars scratched him for a game against San Antonio near the middle of the season. That moment really sent a message to Honka, who started moving the puck better and realized he had to be held accountable for his mistakes after watching from the press box.

Honka also isn’t ready for the NHL at this moment. He still needs to improve his decision making, and he needs to earn his first opportunity. Signing Dan Hamhuis is a nice stop gap to allow Honka to “over-ripen” and really take a step as an AHL leader this season.

(On a side note, I disagree with Dallas carrying eight defensemen this season. It’s bad for the group overall and really turns Jamie Oleksiak or Patrick Nemeth into a wasted asset. It would have behooved the Stars to trade either Oleksiak or Nemeth this summer.)

I disagree with this. As mentioned before, there are several forwards close to the NHL.

Matej Stransky, Brendan Ranford, and Justin Dowling could all play NHL games and be trusted to contribute for Dallas tomorrow if needed. These may be closer to 4A players (AHL leaders, that seemingly can’t get over NHL hump), but they’re NHL-ready if Dallas needs them.

If you’re looking for “bonafide” or big-time forward prospects, the Stars have forward prospects Denis Gurianov, Riley Tufte, and Roope Hintz in the system and a couple years from hitting that “over-ripe” stage.

Overall, the Stars forward situation is in good shape. Especially when you consider the NHL roster is built around players just entering their prime (Jamie Benn is only 27, Tyler Seguin is 24).

I think Los Angeles is the perfect situation for Jack Campbell. The former first-round pick needed a fresh start, and he’s going to be given time to find his game with the Kings.

Jonathan Quick is the present and future goalie for the Kings, and Jeff Zatkoff is a nice two-year stop gap as the back-up in LA. That leaves Campbell to work with Peter Budaj — arguably the AHL’s MVP last season — in Ontario, and find his confidence that was lost in Texas.

Campbell is probably going to back-up Budaj this season in Ontario, which will give him time to build for the 2017-18 season. A strong showing in the second year of his contract with the Kings could set up Campbell for a back-up job in the NHL during the 2018-19 season.

Before we close the book on Campbell, I want to point out a couple things. Campbell has the talent to be an everyday NHL goalie — frankly he’s more talented than Maxime Lagace and Philippe Desrosiers. However, something never clicked mentally and he never really found that even-keel level he needed in Texas. Maybe it was the pressure thrust upon him and the 20-20 hindsight that Dallas passed on Cam Fowler, maybe it was his goalie coaching in the Stars organization. Either way, Campbell will have a fresh start with the Kings and at 24 he still has time to piece together an NHL career.

The Stars and Rampage will remain in the Pacific Division until a seventh team makes a drastic move west — likely the Canucks moving their AHL affiliate closer than Utica, New York.

And moving to the Central Division wouldn’t be much of a travel change for the Texas-based AHL clubs. Either way the Stars and Rampage are going to fly for road games (except when they play each other seemingly one thousand times), so where they’re flying isn’t that big of a difference.

I will say this, moving to the Central would allow the Pacific Division to exist in it’s own pod of 68 games. That would create much less confusion in the standings and allow Texas and San Antonio to play teams on even schedule footing.

My ultimate goal is to be a full-time hockey writer, whatever that means. Right now I’m a freelance writer that covers high school football, auto racing, basketball, baseball, etc. If you name the sport, I probably have a story about the time I covered it (I’ve even covered bocce and pickleball at one point in my career).

In an average week I probably write anywhere from 20 to 30 stories for various publications on various topics. I certainly enjoy the variety, but I’m always looking for that opportunity to be a full-time hockey writer and journalist.

Enough about me, back to hockey questions…

I only had a chance to watch Josh Morrisey once in person this season, while I also caught a handful of the Manitoba Moose games on AHL Live (Manitoba has one of the better feeds in the league). I also watched Morrisey live during the 2014 Calder Cup playoffs with the St. John’s IceCaps.

From what I’ve seen, the first-round pick in 2013 lives up to his billing. He moves the puck well and he can start the rush from his own end. He also makes smart decisions on the power play. Morrisey should have had better numbers this season with Manitoba, but the cupboard was close to empty in Winnipeg.

I can’t give an exact judgement since it’s a small sample size, but based on what I’ve seen and heard he should be an NHL defenseman sooner than later.

Earlier this summer I floated the idea that the Stars should sign Michael Leighton as an AHL mentor and NHL insurance option. However, that’s not going to happen.

The Stars are going to live and die with the young goalies they have in the AHL. It’s going to create a competitive atmosphere in training camp, and it should bring the best out of Maxime Lagace, Philippe Desrosiers, and Landon Bow.

No, the Stars are still going to be coached by Derek Laxdal and Karl Taylor. They’ve done a nice job nurturing the Stars development the past two seasons.

Why don’t you live in Chicago or Boston?

Texas Stars sign Caleb Herbert to AHL contract

(Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

(Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

The Texas Stars have signed forward Caleb Herbert to a standard AHL contract, the team announced today.

Herbert is a right-handed shot that can play center or wing, and provides forward depth for Texas. He’ll have a chance to make the AHL opening night roster, while it’s highly likely he’ll also spend some time in the ECHL this season with the Idaho Steelheads.

Herbert was a fifth-round (142nd overall) draft pick by the Washington Capitals in 2010, that never cracked the NHL roster. He spent the past two seasons bouncing between the ECHL and AHL, and was not issued a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent this summer by Washington.

Here is the official release:

CEDAR PARK, Texas – The Texas Stars, American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Dallas Stars, announced Thursday they have signed forward Caleb Herbert to an AHL contract for the upcoming 2016-17 season.

Herbert, 24, joins Texas after splitting last season between the AHL’s Hershey Bears and the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays. The 6-foot, 200-pound forward tallied a pair of assists in 26 games with Hershey, and 14 points in 15 contests with South Carolina (10-4=14). In 2014-15, the Bloomington, Minn. native recorded two assists in 12 games with the Bears, and 28 points in 48 games with the Stingrays (19-9=28).

Herbert also helped lead the Stingrays’ charge to the ECHL’s 2015 Kelly Cup Final with 14 points in 27 playoff games before falling to the Allen Americans in seven games.

Prior to his professional career, Herbert competed for three seasons at the University of Minnesota-Duluth from 2011-2014, and also skated with the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers in 2010-11. He was a fifth-round pick of the Washington Capitals (142nd overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

July Edition of Dallas Stars Prospect Insider now available for subscribers

Maxime Lagace and Phil Desrosiers think you should subscribe for monthly Stars prospect content. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Maxime Lagace and Phil Desrosiers think you should subscribe for monthly Stars prospect content. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

The July Edition of the Dallas Stars Prospect Insider published last night for my subscribers on Patreon.

The July prospect update includes 12 pages of scouting reports, and updates on every prospect in the Stars’ system — no matter where they’ll be playing next season.

It’s only $3 per month to subscribe, and Dallas Stars Prospect Insider comes out around the middle of each month. In addition, subscribers receive occasional unannounced bonus content, which will pick up during the regular season.

You can subscribe here: https://patreon.com/user?u=3339200&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter&utm_campaign=creatorshare2

Stars sign RFA Matej Stransky to a one-year contract

Matej Stransky in warmups last weekend against San Jose. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Matej Stransky in warmups last weekend against San Jose. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Restricted free agent Matej Stransky has signed a 1-year contract with the Dallas Stars. The move was first reported yesterday by General Fanager.

It’s a slight AHL raise for Stransky from $60,000 last season, and it’s a make-or-break year for his future in the Stars’ organization. The Czech winger has had an up-and-down AHL career in Texas, but really found his role last season and started getting an expanded role (he became a regular on the penalty kill and the power play).

Long-term Stransky projects as an organizational depth player who could get a handful of NHL games. He’s a smart player positionally and works hard, but doesn’t appear to have the raw tools (his skating ability in particular) to be an everyday NHL player.

Simple approach works best for Texas Stars’ Landon Bow

Landon Bow looks on during Dallas Stars Development camp last week. (Photo by Dylan Nadwodny)

Landon Bow looks on during Dallas Stars Development camp last week. (Photo by Dylan Nadwodny)

Landon Bow is at his best when he’s playing a simple game.

He is a big goalie (6-foot-5, 208 pounds) that can take away much of the net with his positioning and he’s got underrated athleticism, which allows him to make the big save when needed.

“Really good at using my body to shift into saves and really cut down angles with that (size),” Bow said. “I’ve got decently good hands for being a bigger guy. And I battle, that’s one of my main things.”

And he needs to play to his strengths, which Bow learned during his final season in the WHL with the Swift Current Broncos and Seattle Thunderbirds.

The first half of the season with Swift Current was average at best. Bow had a 3.09 goals against average and a .913 save percentage for the Broncos. He was overcommitting on certain plays, and wasn’t letting the game come to him.

“I was doing a little bit too much in Swift Current,” Bow said. “But as soon as I got to Seattle, I kind of focussed on my game and I didn’t try to do too much of what everyone else’s job was.”

And his numbers reflected that after the trade. In 23 regular season games with Seattle he posted a .938 save percentage and 1.76 goals against average. Bow ended up winning 16 games for the Thunderbirds and posted five shutouts.

It was a performance that landed Bow an AHL contract with the Texas Stars for the 2016-17 season.

Bow had a number of AHL contract talks, but he and his agent looked at the opportunities in Texas and decided to sign with the Stars.

“We thought Texas was the best place to sign, there’s a good opportunity here with hard work,” Bow said. “And we knew the coaches here were really good guys, only heard positive things about them. We thought this was the best place for me to develop the year.”

Landon Bow makes a save during development camp. (Photo by Dylan Nadwodny)

Landon Bow makes a save during development camp.
(Photo by Dylan Nadwodny)

Bow will immediately jump into a three-way battle with Philippe Desrosiers and Maxime Lagace for the starting job in Texas. At first glance Lagace and Desrosiers have the edge as NHL-contracted players, but Texas Stars general manager Scott White said he expects Bow to be in the running.

“That’s incredible,” Bow said. “To come in with an opportunity like that, it means the world to me. Now it’s just on to me that I prepare myself this summer and that I get myself as ready as I can and show what I can do.”

Bow started to show the Stars what he could last week at development camp in Frisco. Desrosiers stood out as the most outstanding goalie amongst the group, but Bow was a close second and started to prove he could be an asset at the AHL level.

Either way, this all sets up nicely for the ECHL-affiliated Idaho Steelheads. The loser of the AHL goalie battle will get the lion’s share of the starts in Boise, while the Steelheads will have a reliable tandem with ECHL-contracted goalie Brandon Komm.

AHL announces rule changes for the 2016-17 season

The AHL announced a couple rule changes for next season. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

The AHL announced a couple rule changes for next season. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

The AHL Board of Governors wrapped up it’s annual meeting this week and announced a couple key changes for the 2016-17 season.

Teams will wear light jerseys (white for Texas) at home until the Christmas break, and dark jerseys (green for Texas) at home after the Christmas break.

I’m a big fan of this change. I think it brings more variety for the fans, and allows Texas to wear victory green at home more often.

It’s also making photographers happy.

Icing Rule Adjusted – In addition to not being permitted to make player substitutions, the offending team on an icing violation also may not use its team time-out.

This rule is likely being test-run by the AHL for the NHL, even if the league hasn’t officially announced that. Past NHL rule changes, including hybrid icing and 3-on-3 overtime where tested in the AHL before being adopted by the senior circuit.

Dry Scrape Before Overtime Removed – The ice cleaning procedures used during promotional timeouts will also be used prior to overtime during the regular season, replacing the “dry scrape.”

The #DryScrape had been a necessary evil in the AHL the past couple seasons and I made it my mission to document how long it took to prepare the ice. In the Cedar Park Center — AKA the HEB Center At Cedar Park — the #DryScrape typically lasted a little more than five minutes.

Eliminating the #DryScrape is a step in the right direction and will help the flow of the game, especially after the lengthy delay would suck the energy out of an overtime session after a back-and-forth third period.

Fights Off the Faceoff – Players who enter into a fight prior to, at, or immediately following the drop of the puck for a faceoff will be assessed an automatic game misconduct in addition to other penalties assessed.

The AHL is working on eliminating staged fights from the game, this is a new infraction that should help limit that.

Fighting suspensions – During the regular season, any player who incurs his 10th fighting major shall be suspended automatically for one (1) game. For each subsequent fighting major up to 13, the player shall also be suspended automatically for one (1) game. During the regular season, any player who incurs his 14th fighting major shall be suspended automatically for two (2) games. For each subsequent fighting major, the player shall also be suspended automatically for two (2) games.

This rule won’t impact the Texas Stars very much, especially after they had an AHL-low 16 bouts last season. It’s an interesting change, and it raised some eyebrows amongst AHL players.

Texas Stars sign Mike McMurtry and Brandon Anselmini to AHL contracts

Mike McMurtry joined Texas on a PTO late in the season. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Mike McMurtry joined Texas on a PTO late in the season. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

The Texas Stars have agreed to terms on AHL contracts with center Mike McMurtry and defenseman Brandon Anselmini. The team is expected to formally announce the signings later today.

McMurtry played in five games with Texas last season after finishing his collegiate career at Northeastern University. McMurtry provides center depth for Texas and plays a simple two-way game. The 24-year-old was given expanded responsibilities in the Stars brief playoff run against the San Diego Gulls.

Anselmini finished up his collegiate career last season at Ferris State and appeared in four games with the Orlando Solar Bears in the ECHL. Anselmini, 23, is now the seventh defenseman slated to start the season in Texas.