The Milwaukee Admirals hope to break out of their current three-game winless skid at the expense of last season’s Calder Cup winners the Texas Stars. The two will meet on Saturday and Sunday and, to preview the match-up, we have a very special guest. Stephen Meserve of 100 Degree Hockey took the time to answer some questions and give us all some insight on the Stars season and their pair of former-Admirals.
~Texas Stars: Scouting the Enemy~
Admirals Roundtable: Following last season’s Calder Cup success the Texas Stars have struggled a bit this season. What has factored into the up and down season?
Stephen Meserve: Texas lost a lot of talent all over the roster. It’s the blessing and the curse of success.
Goalie Cristopher Nilstorp headed back to Sweden after leading the team to victory in the playoffs. Goalie Jack Campbell has had a very forgettable season and found himself on an ECHL stint recently to get playing time. Big-time scorers Mike Hedden, Chris Mueller, and Dustin Jeffrey all departed for various locales. Mueller, who your readers are surely familiar with, was a huge part of the Stars win last year. He currently holds the record for points per game in team history with just one season of work. On defense, the team lost Patrik Nemeth, Jyrki Jokipakka, and Jamie Oleksiak. Additionally, John Klingberg, who is currently lighting up the NHL rookie scoring, was slated to be an AHL defenseman for much of the year but only lasted 10 games before callup.
Also, Dallas has had some issues in various positions that have led to instability. Forwards have gotten hurt and forced the recall of Curtis McKenzie and Brett Ritchie for much of the year. Waiver claims took David Schlemko and Kevin Connauton, which put gaps in the roster.
Par for the course in the AHL though.
AR: Have you run out of superlatives to describe Travis Morin‘s presence for the Stars?
SM: Absolutely. He and Maxime Fortunus are the only remaining players from the first season. Recently Texas scored its 1500th goal in franchise history and Travis Morin has scored just a hair under one of every eleven goals in franchise history. In fact, 25% of all goals scored ever have Morin as the goal scorer or one of the two assists. You can’t overstate what he does for this team. He’s a player that does little things on the ice. He kills penalties for Texas and is the first one over the boards on a unit with Greg Rallo. He just re-signed with Dallas on a two-year deal, and I’m sure he’s getting well-compensated in the AHL for his services. Chris Mueller made 300k last year for Texas and I’m certain Morin will make at least that on the new deal.
AR: Our old pal Kevin Henderson joined the Stars last season. What have you seen from his game since he arrived and how has he looked this season?
SM: Henderson has been an interesting story this season. He was injured in the mid-season stretch and lost a lot of playing time there. He didn’t score his first goal until the past month, but has scored three since then. Maybe things are heading in the right direction for him. Henderson has played a checking line winger role. Last year, he was on the ‘Czeching’ line in the playoffs with Radek Faksa and Matej Stransky. The three had scoring prowess and also shut down defensive capability. This year, he’s had some difficulty finding linemates, but he is now settled in with Stransky and a new center, Éric Faille. Radek Faksa was lost to shoulder injury for the season early on.
He’s playing for a new contract because it’s pretty clear Nashville won’t be re-signing him. He needs a solid final 18 games and playoffs to ensure a North American deal.
AR: Another former-Admiral turned up in Texas this season by the name of Scott Valentine. How has he fit in since joining at the start of the season?
SM: Once Dallas called Klingberg, Scott Valentine was up with the Texas Stars. Valentine started with Idaho of the ECHL and was signed to a standard contract right away. From his time in Milwaukee, Texas GM Scott White knew what he’d get with Valentine. He plays bottom 4 minutes for Texas and has that physical edge that he’s always had. He’s been in and out of the lineup at times with players like Jokipakka, Oleksiak or Nemeth making appearances form Dallas on occasion. Overall a solid defender for Texas though.
AR: There is some pretty exciting talent in the Texas Stars lineup – favorite of which for me is Julius Honka. Who are some of the top performing prospects that you think are set for the NHL?
SM: Julius Honka, oh my. This kid is only 19 and has a lot of promise. He’s raw. He’s a rookie. But he can skate like the wind, puck handle like a forward and, despite his size, has a heavy shot that catches goalies offguard. He scored a beauty PPG last game and had a nice assist to Kevin Henderson for another goal. He’s learning still, but there’s so much promise. Scouts in the press box Wednesday night audibly exclaimed when he made the moves that led to the Henderson goal. Everyon’s impressed.
Others to watch include: Justin Dowling, skilled center who joined Texas on a PTO and now has a Dallas contract; Devin Shore, high draft pick who just joined on an ATO and is an unknown; Derek Hulak, currently on an AHL only deal but very talented and solid winger who has earned top six time.
AR: This playoff race is as tense as it always seems to be. How do you think things are going to shake out in the Western Conference?
SM: There’s some smoke and mirrors going right now in the West with regards to games played. Hamilton has played way more than Texas, so their rank is deceiving. I think Texas makes it in as the seven or eight seed. As Dallas fades down the stretch but also gets healthier, some players may return and give the Stars a boost at just the right time. If Texas can matchup against OKC in the playoffs, they might be able to trip up the Barons. Otherwise, it will be a tough row to hoe.
Thanks very much again to Stephen Meserve for taking the time to shed some light on the Texas Stars our way. You can read his work at 100 Degree Hockey and follow along with him on Twitter via @100degreehockey.
Expectations for this weekend’s games against the Texas Stars? Miss the seeing the likes of Henderson or Valentine at all?