Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Teravainen leads Blackhawks' top 10 prospects

The Chicago Blackhawks have no doubt raised the bar on how to build an organization through the NHL Draft.

The Blackhawks won their second Stanley Cup in four seasons in June 2013 on the strength of 12 homegrown players in a star-studded lineup. The list included defensemen Duncan Keith (2002 draft pick), Brent Seabrook (2003) and Niklas Hjalmarsson (2005) in front of goalie Corey Crawford (2003). Forwards Dave Bolland (2004), Bryan Bickell (2004), Ben Smith (2008), Marcus Kruger (2009), Brandon Saad (2011) and Andrew Shaw (2011) followed the path highlighted by captain Jonathan Toews (2006) and fellow star Patrick Kane (2007) in the pipeline.

"Everyone's a young player at some point, and they go through their growing pains," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman told the Chicago Sun-Times. "It's a progression. It takes time. We're fortunate we don't have to rush guys into spots where they may not be prepared. But every year, we've seen one or two young guys come in."

Patience has always been the key for those making the decisions on when a blue-chip prospect is ready to make the jump. It certainly isn't an exact science, but production, confidence and swagger are all a part of the process. Chicago will enter training camp in September with a slew of young players exhibiting just that in an attempt to earn their spot on the big club.

"We target players in the draft that fit the criteria we're looking for," Blackhawks director of amateur scouting Mark Kelley told NHL.com. "In our meetings it's one voice, and whether it's coming from Stan or myself, it's the same message. The biggest key is we're very patient. They develop the way we want them to, but it allows them to develop at their own pace. Sometimes it's hard for the player to understand what their pace is, and I think that's where our development side comes in and really helps guide them along."

Here's a look at the Blackhawks' top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:

1. Teuvo Teravainen, C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 18), 2012 draft

Last season: 49 GP, 9-35-44, Jokerit, Liiga; 5 GP, 2-0-2, Rockford, AHL; 3 GP, 0-0-0, Chicago, NHL

The addition of Brad Richards on July 1 was not only done to give the team a veteran presence at second-line center, but enable the exceptionally talented Teravainen (5-foot-11, 176 pounds) to ease into the lineup. Much of the hockey world got their first good look at the 19-year-old at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship when he scored twice and had 13 assists in seven games as captain to lead his native Finland to a gold medal. The organization will need to determine how much stronger Teravainen has gotten since last season and if he is indeed ready for a full 82-game regular season.

"What stood out about Teuvo at the World Juniors was his ability to make plays when they were needed," Kelley said. "Teuvo was a quiet leader. He took that team and willed them to where they got to, and another thing was his ability to handle the pressure. He has a comfort level with the puck."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

2. Adam Clendening, D

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 36), 2011 draft

Last season: 74 GP, 12-47-59, Rockford, AHL

After spending two productive seasons at Boston University where he scored nine goals and 59 points in 77 games, Clendening (6-0, 194) has proven to be just as effective with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. The offensive-minded defenseman with creative skills, who excels on the power play, has 21 goals and 105 points in 147 AHL games in two pro seasons. There's no doubt the 21-year-old native of Niagara Falls, N.Y., will challenge for a spot on the blue line during training camp in September.

"He's a right-shot, which is like signaling a left-hander out of the bullpen; they're hard to find," Kelley said. "His comfort level with the puck is special. He can quarterback a power play and make a breakout pass. We love those defensemen who can make those tape passes coming out of our zone, and Adam can do that."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

3. Mark McNeill, RW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 18), 2011 draft

Last season: 76 GP, 18-19-37, Rockford, AHL

McNeill, 21, made a seamless transition from center to right wing in his first professional season with Rockford. He had a willingness to block shots and kill penalties and was committed to winning and becoming an all-around player. That type of attitude caught the eye of scouts and coaches. The team would like to see him use his 6-2, 218-pound frame more often by taking the puck harder to the net. He was among Rockford's top-six forwards last season and will likely play a similar role this season.

"I think over the course of last season, it really started to come together for him," Kelley said. "I think Mark has a good idea of what it will take for him to be a regular with the Blackhawks. We just need to see him assert that size and strength he has."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

4. Stephen Johns, D

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 60), 2010 draft

Last season: 40 GP, 8-12-20, University of Notre Dame, H-EAST; 8 GP, 1-4-5, Rockford, AHL

Johns, 22, got a taste of the professional life after concluding his senior season for the Fighting Irish and is a solid prospect based on the fact he's 6-3, 215 pounds and might just be the most physical of any top defensive prospect in the organization. He had 15 goals, 57 points and 300 penalty minutes in 162 games with Notre Dame. He tightened up his game in 2013-14, becoming more of a leader and producing career highs in goals and points as an alternate captain.

"What stands out is his size, skating, character and compete," Kelley said. "It's not a surprise that he was a captain for Notre Dame. We were thrilled what he did when he got to Rockford, and I think he fits in as a right-hand shot. He'll be a good partner in our top four at some point."

5. Kevin Hayes, RW
How acquired: 1st round (No. 24), 2010 draft

Last season: 40 GP, 27-38-65, Boston College, H-EAST

Chicago has until Friday (Aug. 15) to sign Hayes, who was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award as a senior last season as college hockey's MVP. The 22-year-old finished second in the country with 65 points and ranked fifth with 27 goals on a line with Calgary Flames prospects Bill Arnold and Johnny Gaudreau, who won the Hobey Baker. Hayes, who can play center or wing, has good size (6-3, 205) and enjoys a fast game. He had 44 goals, 132 points and a plus-37 rating in 142 games for the Eagles. If the Blackhawks don't sign Hayes or trade his rights, they will receive a compensatory second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.

"He isn't signed, but our position on Kevin hasn't changed; we're very high on him," Kelley said. "We were high on him even after his injury as a junior [when he underwent season-ending quadriceps surgery]. We were patient with him, and he worked hard to come back and have a good senior season. Kevin fits with what we do."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

6. Ryan Hartman, RW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 30), 2013 draft

Last season: 52 GP, 25-28-53, Plymouth, OHL; 9 GP, 3-4-7, Rockford, AHL

Hartman (5-11, 190) has been a workout fanatic this summer with the intent of getting bigger and stronger, and he'll have to be in order to crack a lineup that remains deep on the wings. What makes the 19-year-old an even more intriguing prospect is the fact he can play all three forward positions, although he played a lot at center with the Plymouth Whalers the past two seasons.

He's an aggressive player, capable of throwing huge body checks and defending teammates when necessary. He represented the United States at the World Junior Championship in 2013 (gold medal) and 2014 (fifth place).

"Ryan is right on track; he continues to work hard and you always notice him, whether it's on the score sheet or just in the tenacity with the way he plays," Kelley said. "He a character-type player, and he wears his heart on his sleeve."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

7. Joakim Nordstrom, C

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 90), 2010 draft

Last season: 58 GP, 17-16-33, Rockford, AHL; 16 GP, 1-2-3, Chicago, NHL

Nordstrom (6-2, 192), who is scheduled to become a restricted free agent after the 2014-15 season, was a surprise addition to the Blackhawks lineup out of training camp last season and even played seven games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The coaching staff liked his defensive play; he was on the ice for 144 shots for and 142 against in 5-on-5 situations. The 22-year-old Swede also had a nine-game point streak for the IceHogs from Dec. 20 through Jan. 8, scoring four goals and 12 points over that span. He can play wing and center, and is an effective penalty killer.

"What he proved last year was that he's very close to becoming a regular in the lineup," Kelley said. "He plays hard, is enthusiastic and he has great speed. But he also has the intellect to complement that speed. Sometimes a player goes too fast and they can't coordinate the feet with the thinking, but Joakim combines the two very well and he's capable of fitting into many roles for our team."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

8. Phillip Danault, C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 26), 2011 draft

Last season: 72 GP, 6-20-26, Rockford, AHL

Danault (6-0, 190) completed his first full season in Rockford and settled into a third-line, penalty-killing role. The coaches liked his attention to detail and reliability as a two-way center. He has a knack for playing any type of game, making him a versatile commodity within the lineup. The coaching staff would like to see the 21-year-old model his game after Blackhawks fourth-line center and trusted penalty-killer Marcus Kruger.

"Coaches gravitate to players like Phillip because he's smart, competes and does things to make teams win," Kelley said. "There's not a lot of flash, but an incredible amount of substance to his game. He can play third line and fourth line, but is skilled and smart enough that he can step up and play with skilled players as well."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

9. Nick Schmaltz, C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 20), 2014 draft

Last season: 57 GP, 18-45-63, Green Bay/USNTDP, USHL

Schmaltz (6-0, 172) led the Gamblers of the United States Hockey League in points and assists and was tied for third in goals, including 11 power-play goals. Schmaltz, 18, will continue his career at the University of North Dakota, where he'll join brother Jordan Schmaltz (St. Louis Blues, 2012 draft, No. 25) in September. Nick Schmaltz had 37 goals and 119 points in 130 USHL games spanning three seasons. He won a silver medal with the United States at the 2013 Under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, scoring five goals and eight points in five games. He also led the U.S. to a gold medal at the 2013 World Junior A Challenge with a tournament-high 12 points (four goals) in four games and was named the World Junior A Challenge MVP.

"What stood out about Nick was his skill set, his quick hands and his ability to make passes and score," Kelley said. "We see him as a center even though I know he played some wing and might continue to do so at North Dakota. His skill set stood out at development camp. Playing for North Dakota will be great for Nick; it worked out pretty well for Jonathan Toews."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

10. Klas Dahlbeck, D

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 79), 2011 draft

Last season: 75 GP, 10-25-35, Rockford, AHL

Dahlbeck (6-2, 194) has really impressed in his two seasons in the AHL and appears to have a bright future with the organization. He's currently the IceHogs' all-time leader in plus-minus with a plus-32 rating in 145 games. Kelley said the 23-year-old Swede is on the verge of challenging for an NHL roster spot out of training camp this season.

"We think he's capable of playing in [the NHL] now as a depth player," Kelley said. "He's reliable, efficient. He fits that mold of defensive-defenseman since he has that ability to shut down an opponent. At the same time, he's comfortable with the puck, makes good passes and gets up there to support."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

Richards' presence could put Blackhawks over the top

At first glance, it looks like a perfect match between center Brad Richards and the Chicago Blackhawks.

Each has the goal of hoisting the Stanley Cup again and each has something the other needs.
Richards, who felt the sting of losing the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, needed another Cup contender after the New York Rangers bought out his contract this offseason. The Blackhawks, after losing in overtime of Game 7 in the Western Conference Final, needed more skill at center on their second line.

Square peg, meet square hole.

It didn't take long for Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman to sign Richards on July 1, once Richards indicated his willingness to sign a salary-cap friendly one-year contract worth a reported $2 million. He'll start training camp in the middle of that second line between Brandon Saad and high-scoring right wing Patrick Kane.

"It gives us a lot more options," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "You can never have enough depth in the middle, and I think he's just going to enhance our skill and our talent in the middle of the ice. So, way more options as a coach with him in there and it gives us way more depth in all our lines."

It gives Richards, 34, another legitimate shot at winning it all. He's not getting any younger and losing to the Los Angeles Kings in the Cup Final just reaffirmed his desire to win.

"I told Stan and Joel, I think when we first talked, that when you get that close you get the itch," Richards said. "You really want to get another one. In my case, another one before I retire. So, when the Hawks were talking to me, the first thing on my mind was, 'I want to get back there and have another chance to win.' This is a great chance."

It should be a better means to an end for the Blackhawks. The last two times they won the Cup, they did it with fill-ins playing second-line center. Left wing Patrick Sharp handled it in 2010 and veteran Michal Handzus did most of the heavy-lifting in 2013, at the age of 36.
Handzus was used at times last season with Kane's line, but his age appeared to catch up with him. After finishing with two goals, an assist and a minus-8 rating in 19 Stanley Cup Playoff games he wasn't re-signed. The first crack at that role now goes to Richards, a former top center who won the Conn Smythe Trophy when the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Cup in 2004.

Richards struggled in the playoffs last season. He scored five goals and finished with 12 points in 25 postseason games and his puck-possession stats took a sizable drop from where they were after 82 regular-season games.

Still, Richards spent three seasons with the Rangers, all at age 30 or above, and his puck-possession numbers jumped from where they were with the Dallas Stars. The Rangers were a better team than the Stars, by quite a bit, but Richards' production the past three years shows he still has some talent left.

He finished last season with 20 goals, 31 assists and 51 points, with five of those goals on the man-advantage, where he's likely to find a spot in Chicago. He was also durable for the Rangers, missing only two regular-season games in his three years there.

Should that continue with the Blackhawks, Richards' numbers could go up again with yet another bump in talent on a new team. And if that happens, watch out for Chicago again in the playoffs.

"I've only watched [Kane] and he's exciting to watch," Richards said. "All of that is played out when you get on the ice. It's the part that's so hard to talk about now, because it might or might not work. All that stuff has to happen kind of naturally and then just see where it goes."

Cap, center depth top Blackhawks' five questions

They finished one goal short of reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight season, and the focus hasn't dipped for the Chicago Blackhawks.

They still have their eyes on the Cup and took steps in the offseason to compete for it in the short and long term. They signed 34-year-old free-agent center Brad Richards to help out this season, and then negotiated identical eight-year contract extensions for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the faces of the franchise.
"Whenever you see someone [else] lift the Stanley Cup, once you've done it once yourself, it kind of fuels the fire a little bit," left wing Patrick Sharp said. "It's definitely difficult to win it back-to-back, I think that's been proven over the years. Not only myself but the group of players we have, we're all excited to get back to training camp and go get that thing again."

Here are five questions they'll need to answer in order to do it:

1. Who won't be part of the equation once the offseason dust settles? -- Richards' contract is salary-cap friendly with a charge of $2 million for one season, but it puts the Blackhawks in a cap conundrum. According to CapGeek.com, they're about $2.2 million over the $69 million hard cap with a full roster under contract.

That means somebody's probably going to be traded before the Oct. 9 season opener at the Dallas Stars, barring an injury that would allow general manager Stan Bowman cap relief via injured reserve.

The most discussed names as potential trade candidates have been Sharp and defenseman Johnny Oduya. Sharp, whose agent says Bowman told him he won't be traded, has an annual cap charge of $5.9 million for the next three seasons. Oduya, who will be an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2015, has a cap charge of $3.3 million.

Chicago, however, would likely be hard-pressed to replace what either provides.

Others who've been mentioned in speculation include 35-year old defenseman Michal Rozsival ($2.2 million), 28-year old forward Kris Versteeg ($2.2 million) and 28-year old left wing Bryan Bickell ($4 million).

2. Will Richards add enough depth at center to contend with the Los Angeles Kings? -- The Blackhawks still don't have the assortment of quality centers that powers the Kings, but it should be a fairer fight down the middle if the burgeoning Western Conference rivals meet again in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Adding Richards will reset the scoring balance on all four lines for coach Joel Quenneville, who used that kind of depth in 2010 and 2013 to win the Stanley Cup. Starting out, captain Jonathan Toews will center the top line followed by centers Richards, Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger on the next three lines.

Chicago also has Peter Regin and Ben Smith who could play center, and might have forwards Joakim Nordstrom and Teuvo Teravainen at some point. Each has center experience.

3. Will a full offseason of training help Versteeg regain his previous form? -- Prior to a major knee injury while playing for the Florida Panthers in 2012-13, Versteeg had reached the 20-goal and 40-point plateaus in all four of his full NHL seasons. He was injured 10 games into the shortened season and missed the remaining 38 games following reconstructive surgery. He spent months, including last summer, rehabbing his knee rather than doing normal conditioning and training.

Subsequently, Versteeg had his worst season in the League in 2013-14 (12 goals and 24 assists in 81 games). He got into 15 games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but struggled mightily and wound up in Quenneville's dog house.

Versteeg, who got married in July, said he was looking forward to a regular summer of conditioning to see what effects it would have on his play.

4. What role will Teravainen have? -- Unless the No. 18 pick of the 2012 NHL Draft lights it up in the preseason, he probably won't get a role in Chicago to start out. Richards' presence buys time for Teravainen to develop at Rockford of the American Hockey League in his first full season in North America.

Expect the Blackhawks to take the conservative route, but the 19-year-old's high-end talent might force their hand at some point.

5. What must the Blackhawks do better in order to win the Central Division? -- The short answer is to win more games against division opponents. They were stellar against the Pacific Division in 2013-14, going 14-1-6, and had good success against both Eastern Conference divisions. Chicago went 13-13-3 in the Central.

If they want guaranteed home ice in the first round of the playoffs by winning the Central, they need to step it up in their own backyard, particularly against the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues.

Blackhawks boast elite-level talent throughout lineup

The Chicago Blackhawks could become the first franchise to win the Stanley Cup three times in six years since the Detroit Red Wings did so in 1997, 1998 and 2002.

Of course, the Blackhawks weren't far from becoming the first team to win the Cup three times in five years since 1990, but the Los Angeles Kings scored in overtime at United Center during Game 7 of the Western Conference Final. The Kings and Blackhawks have won four of the past six NHL titles, and appear to have ignited a rivalry akin to the Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche in the 1990s -- sans the line brawls.

The Western Conference remains loaded, so it is not just the Kings and Blackhawks in 2014-15, but they'll be the favorites to meet in the conference final for a third straight season. Chicago's biggest addition, Brad Richards, is a response to the disadvantage the Blackhawks had down the middle against Los Angeles in May.

Chicago is still loaded, and the expectations remain the same. Either the Blackhawks conclude the 2014-15 season with a party in Grant Park, or it is a disappointment.

FORWARDS

Patrick Sharp - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Brandon Saad - Brad Richards - Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell - Andrew Shaw - Jeremy Morin

Peter Regin - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith

Joakim Nordstrom - Kris Versteeg

The Blackhawks won the Cup twice without an established No. 2 center, but neither of those teams faced Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards in a seven-game series (Richards, along with several other Kings players, was not available or near 100 percent in 2013). Brad Richards could be that guy for the Blackhawks.

Andrew Shaw had a nice few games near the end of the conference final with Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane, and could still get another chance there if Richards falters. The long-term solution is still likely Teuvo Teravainen, who might not have a place on the roster on opening night.

Bryan Bickell did not have a lot of goals and points last season, but he was a very strong possession player and could still fit on the top line next to Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Saad took a huge step forward last season, and the quartet of him, Kane, Hossa and Patrick Sharp is unmatched on the wings in the NHL.

The player to watch for a Saad-like leap this season might be Jeremy Morin, who played well in limited duty last season but seemed to struggle when it came to earning Joel Quenneville's trust. Another to watch is Kris Versteeg, who was not good last season and could become a salary cap casualty. He might not be one of Chicago's 12 best forwards if he does stay.

If Teravainen and Morin succeed enough to earn regular roles, this might be the best forward corps of the NHL's salary-cap era.

DEFENSE

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson

Nick Leddy - Michal Rozsival

David Rundblad

Analytics in hockey is not just about shot attempts and Corsi and Fenwick, and the Blackhawks are a great example of this on the blue line. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are one of the best defense parings in the NHL, but Quenneville uses Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya against opposing team's top lines when he can to allow Keith and Seabrook's offensive abilities to flourish.

Quenneville didn't just shelter Nick Leddy at times near the end of the 2013 and 2014 playoff runs, he benched him and went with five defensemen. The Blackhawks have been adamant they are still high on Leddy's long-term prospects, and with Sheldon Brookbank gone and Michal Rozsival progressing deep into his 30s, Chicago needs to be able to trust Leddy more at the end of this season.

If David Rundblad or one of the prospects like Adam Clendening or Stephen Johns can prove ready for regular NHL duty, that would also open up a lot of options not only for Quenneville but for general manager Stan Bowman.

GOALTENDERS
Corey Crawford

Antti Raanta

There have been 40 goaltenders to play at least 100 games in the past four seasons. Corey Crawford's .914 save percentage during his tenure as Chicago's No. 1 goaltender is 24th in that group. Now, in three of those four seasons he checked in with at least a .917 save percentage, and that is enough to win a lot of games with the firepower the Blackhawks possess.

He also played very well for nearly all of the 2013 Cup run, and had a strong series against the Minnesota Wild in the second round of 2014. The issue for the Blackhawks is his contract, which makes him the joint sixth-highest paid goalie in the League. Chicago doesn't just need him to be better than his .912 save percentage overall during the 2014 playoffs to have a better chance to win more championships, it also needs more value out of that contract. Paying $6 million a year for League-average goaltending given the salary cap constraints in the Windy City is not ideal.

ALSO IN THE MIX: F Teuvo Teravainen, F Ryan Hartman, D Adam Clendening, D Stephen Johns, G Kent Simpson

Blackhawks motivated to move past near miss

The way their season ended left a bitter taste for the Chicago Blackhawks and the offseason hasn't erased it.

An overtime goal scored by Los Angeles Kings defenseman Alec Martinez in Game 7 of the 2014 Western Conference Final cut short Chicago's quest to repeat as Stanley Cup champions and made the Blackhawks even hungrier.

Watching the Kings win the Stanley Cup drove the point home even more.

"I watched a little bit [of the Stanley Cup Final], but not much," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said this summer, the day he and right wing Patrick Kane signed identical eight-year contract extensions. "I especially watched the celebration at the end, when the Kings hoisted the Stanley Cup again. I let that sink in a little bit. I think we all realize how close we were. That's not to say we were going to cruise through the Stanley Cup Final. There's no such thing. But we like to think that we were a goal away from getting another chance."

One goal.

It's no longer just the Blackhawks' organizational credo that adorns everything from stadium programs to the locker room. It's also the razor-thin margin that stood between them and a chance to become the first team in 16 years to repeat as NHL champs.

Instead of complacency following championships in 2010 and 2013, the Blackhawks are now focused on the one that got away in 2014.

"You learn a lot when you win," Toews said. "You definitely understood how difficult it was the second time around, when we beat Boston last year, but I think you learn even more when you lose, and especially when you come that close. We know what that feeling [of winning] is like, we don't want to give it up and we came really close this year. We all wanted to win again and next year it will be the same case."

It could also be tougher to get back to that precipice.

The Central Division didn't get any worse during the League's annual offseason roster retooling and most feel it actually got better. The Blackhawks will again bring back most of their roster, but the front office has buzzed with activity this summer. Along with forging new contracts for Toews and Kane -- the mid-20s faces of the franchise -- Chicago also made a splash in free agency.

After the New York Rangers used a compliance buyout on veteran Brad Richards' contract, the Blackhawks swooped in July 1 to sign the 34-year-old center to a contract for one year and a reported $2 million.

The move should buy time for highly-touted 19-year-old Finnish center Teuvo Teravainen to develop, if needed, in the American Hockey League. It also gives coach Joel Quenneville a highly-skilled, experienced center to match with Brandon Saad and Kane on the second line.

Looking back at the conference final, the Kings' biggest advantage was down the middle, where the Blackhawks lacked a true second-line center behind Toews. Adding Richards, and possibly Teravainen, should help Quenneville regain the scoring depth among his forward lines that paved the way to Cup titles in 2010 and 2013.
"You can never have enough centermen," Quenneville said. "I think your depth at the blue line, your depth [in] the middle, always impacts and exposes over the course of a season and challenges you. I really like the centermen we have, and the ability to play in different roles and in different situations and [be] comfortable with both sides of the [ice], offensive and defensive responsibilities."

The only problem is that Richards put the Blackhawks over the $69 million salary cap by roughly $2.2 million, according to CapGeek.com. That's with 23 players currently signed for the 2014-15 season, including Teravainen, who might not make the team to start out.

They'd still be over the cap without Teravainen, which means barring unforeseen injuries Chicago will likely have to move somebody before the Oct. 9 season-opener against the Dallas Stars. Names that have been speculated about most are left wing Patrick Sharp and defenseman Johnny Oduya, but general manager Stan Bowman cautioned against predicting the Blackhawks' next move.

"I don’t know if you can handicap the timing of trades," he said. "We certainly have to be ready to go by October. That's the goal. A lot of things change between now and then. You have to display some patience. Like I said all along, we have some ideas of what we're going to do."

Chief among them is winning.

Wild won't rush their top 10 prospects

The change in fortune for the Minnesota Wild came in the summer of 2012 when they signed forward Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to long-term contracts.

Those moves certainly helped the present and short-term future of the Wild, who won a Stanley Cup Playoff series last spring for the first time in 11 years. However, it also helped in a long-term way because it meant that instead of needing to force younger players into key roles, the Wild could add them as complementary parts or leave them to develop longer at lower levels.

"We have a deeper group," Wild assistant general manager Brent Flahr told NHL.com. "We're not forced to put in guys. We can let them can earn it, and when they're ready their play will dictate when they can get on the team. That's obviously a much healthier way to do business in the NHL. The NHL is a tough jump for any young person; to get the confidence playing pro hockey at the American league level first is the best way to do it."

Here's a look at the Wild's top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:

1. Matt Dumba, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 7), 2012 draft

Last season: 26 GP, 8-16-24, plus-31, Portland, WHL

Dumba made the Wild's opening-night roster for the second straight season, and in 2013-14 the 20-year-old got into 13 games. But he couldn't get into the lineup consistently and the Wild released him to play for Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship. He had one assist and a plus-4 rating in seven games, but part of that lack of output is because he was sick for most of the tournament. The 6-foot, 183-pound defender finished the season with Portland and the Winterhawks went 25-1-0 after his arrival and advanced to the WHL finals.

He'll start his professional career this season, and it could be on a full-time basis with the Wild.

"He's got the mindset that he's coming [to training camp] to make the team," Flahr said. "We're at a point now where we have a number of guys vying for a couple spots. If we feel he's best to play in Iowa [American Hockey League] for a little bit to get his game going or get ice time, especially if he's not going to play significant minuets with us, he'll be in Iowa for a little bit. … We're anxious to see him. He has lots of confidence and lots of drive. That's part of what makes him what he is. He loves the game. He plays the game with lots of passion. He's a very driven kid and a real character kid and we're happy to have him."
Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

2. Christian Folin, D

How acquired: Signed as free agent, March 31, 2014

Last season: 41 GP, 6-14-20, UMass-Lowell, Hockey East

The Wild signed Folin 6-foot-3, 215-pounds) after two college seasons and got the 23-year-old into their lineup for one game late last season. He had an assist and was a plus-3 in 19:26 of ice time and never looked out of place. He'll likely be in the Wild's lineup opening night.

"He's your prototypical late bloomer," Flahr said. "He's a big, strong kid, plays a two-way game. A very mature game. … He's a guy that we're very excited about. He's big and strong, and if you ask him that's a big reason why he's improved so much, his strength and his mobility. He's got a big shot and he can defend, he moves the puck efficiently. He plays a pretty mature game."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

3. Gustav Olofsson, D

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 46) 2013 draft

Last season: 30 GP, 4-4-8, Colorado College, NCHC

The Wild were so pleased with Olofsson's first collegiate season, as well as his strong showing for Sweden at the 2014 WJC, that they signed the 19-year-old to an entry-level contract. He got into eight AHL games late in the season and didn't look out of place.

"He's a guy that we feel has a chance to be a special player," Flahr said. "He's a little [Jonas] Brodin-like as far as his mobility and his hockey sense, his ability to defend and his ability to get pucks out of trouble. … His hockey sense is pretty elite, and his skating is terrific. He got into a number of games at the end of the year and from Game 1 to Games 3 and 4 you could see him take off. He has to get significantly stronger (6-4, 191), put weight on, which we all know. But his ability to think the game at a high level should make that transition fairly easy.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

4. Brett Bulmer, RW

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 39), 2010 draft

Last season: 43 GP, 11-8-19, Iowa, AHL

The only knock on the 22-year-old have been injuries that have slowed his development; last season it was a shoulder injury that limited him. However, he played well enough to earn five NHL games, and there's hope for more this season.

"He's battled a number of significant injuries that have held him back a little bit, but at the same time he got his game going [last season] prior to injuries," Flahr said. "He got into a couple [NHL] games and showed well for himself. He's a power forward, got some energy, some grit. He's not fun to play against. He's got good speed, good size (6-4, 212). We envision him being a quality third-line player. His injuries have probably cost him a year on the development curve. We expect him to come into camp and challenge for a spot, and if he doesn't make it be a call-up guy right away."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

5. Tyler Graovac, C

How acquired: 7th round (No. 191), 2011 draft

Last season: 64 GP, 13-12-25, Iowa, AHL

The Wild view Graovac as a growth stock, and the 21-year-old forward started paying dividends in the second half of last season, his first in the AHL. He had five goals and nine points in his first 29 games, but eight goals and 16 points in his final 35.

"He's a guy that we're really excited about long term," Flahr said. "The American league was an adjustment for him but by the second half of the year he was arguably our best player in Iowa. You see his size (6-5, 200) and his mobility and his hands and his hockey sense; he's an exciting prospect. He's just going to need time to get stronger, learn to play on both sides of the puck a little bit. He's one of the guys that when you watch he stands out down there."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

6. Alex Tuch, RW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 18), 2014 draft

Last season: 61 GP, 29-34-63 USA U-18, USHL

The Wild are looking forward to seeing the 6-4, 213-pound forward make the jump to college hockey this season at Boston College, and hopefully play for the United States at the 2015 WJC.

"You see the package," Flahr said. "He's got a little ways to go, but with his size and strength, his ability to skate, his hands, his shot, it's all NHL caliber. … Where he can get the next couple of years is pretty exciting. You've got to be patient with bigger guys like that, he'll need time to develop, but he's got all the physical tools to be a power forward at the next level. Those guys are hard to get."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

7. Johan Gustafsson, G

How acquired: 6th round (No. 159), 2010 draft

Last season: 40 GP, 12-20-4, 2.98 GAA, .903 save percentage, Iowa AHL

No goaltender in the Minnesota organization had an easy time in 2013-14, and Gustafsson, in his first North American season, wasn't immune. However, the 22-year-old progressed well enough that the team is looking forward to seeing the 6-2, 199-pound goalie again as the No. 1 in the AHL.

"The good thing for [Gustafsson] is he's played pro hockey in Sweden and played in big games and big tournaments," Flahr said. "What we like about him is he's a gamer. He has things to work on just like any young goalie but the one thing he is, is highly competitive. He's going to get a good chance to run with it in Iowa this year."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

8. Mario Lucia, LW

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 60), 2011 draft

Last season: 40 GP, 16-15-31, Notre Dame, Hockey East

The Wild are taking the long view with the 20-year-old, who has solid bloodlines -- his father, Don Lucia, is the longtime coach at the University of Minnesota -- to go with obvious skill.

"When we drafted him we knew he was a longer-term project," Flahr said. "He had the skill and the size (6-3, 195); what he needed to do was work on growing into his body and getting stronger, and he's slowly doing that. At Notre Dame he's had some success and put some numbers on the board. He's still a work in progress. He came to development camp and showed where he's at. He's made big strides physically, but whether it's one more year or two more years at Notre Dame, we have high hopes for him."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

9. Zack Mitchell, RW

How acquired: Signed as free agent, March 4, 2014

Last season: 67 GP, 31-52-83, plus-52, Guelph, OHL

The 21-year-old forward went unselected in the NHL Draft, but the Wild didn't wait for last season to end to give Mitchell a contract. A key part of one of the top teams in the Canadian Hockey League, Mitchell's strong play carried through the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, where was second among all players with 30 points and tied for third with 12 goals in 20 games, and into the Memorial Cup, where he had five points in four games.

"He's a terrific special-teams player, both on the penalty kill and the power play," Flahr said. "He's highly intelligent. He's getting significantly stronger over the years. He came to development camp and he's in very good shape (6-foot, 185). He brings a lot of confidence. He can come into the American league and right away be a significant player for us. He's going to have to get quicker and adjust to the pace of the pro game, but the way he thinks the game is impressive."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

10. Kurtis Gabriel, RW

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 81), 2013 draft

Last season: 60 GP, 16-35-51, Owen Sound OHL

The Wild like the mix of size (6-4, 214), skill and toughness the 21-year-old brings to the table. After a strong season in junior, he had two goals and two assists in eight AHL games.

"He'll be a bottom-six forward," Flahr said. "His size, his toughness … he's going to have a chance to be a useful NHL player. He'll get full time into the American league this year."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

Deep lineup makes Wild a team on the rise

The Minnesota Wild established a cache of young players and prospects, and have supplemented it with star additions during the past couple of years.

Minnesota's process of building toward championship contender status has been gradual, but the Wild might be almost there. They've reached the top end of the NHL's middle, securing a playoff berth in two straight seasons and winning a round in 2014.

The next step forward is into the League's elite, but that might be more difficult than the previous upward movement. There are still questions about the back end of the defense corps, and especially about who is going to be the goaltender.

Not only did the Wild knock out the Colorado Avalanche in the first round last season, but they gave a significantly better account of themselves against the Chicago Blackhawks than they did in 2013. It is a team on the rise, but how much higher they can go in 2014-15 is a difficult question to answer.

Here is the projected 2014-15 lineup for the Wild:

FORWARDS

Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle

Thomas Vanek - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville

Matt Cooke - Erik Haula - Nino Niederreiter*

Jason Zucker - Kyle Brodziak - Justin Fontaine

Cody Almond - Stephane Veilleux

Five of the top six forwards are set, with either Charlie Coyle or Nino Niederreiter as the likely sixth. Where everyone fits is a bit of an unsolved puzzle at this point. Thomas Vanek or Jason Pominville could play on the top line. Mikael Granlund could too; he filled in well for Mikko Koivu when he was injured last season.

Zach Parise has posted a Corsi for percentage of 57.1 percent and 56.9 percent when on the ice with Koivu at even strength in the past two seasons, so that's probably a good place to start. Vanek likes to play on the left side and has played with Pominville in the past.

Erik Haula had a strong postseason, and a third line featuring him and "El Nino" or Coyle should provide more offensive production than previous depth units in recent seasons. Jason Zucker has been trying to lock down a permanent spot on the roster for several seasons, and he could be running out of time with players like Zack Phillips and Brett Bulmer at training camp, and Mario Lucia and Alex Tuch in the pipeline.

DEFENSEMEN

Ryan Suter - Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon

Keith Ballard - Christian Folin

Justin Falk

Ryan Suter's game log is epic. He chews up ice time on a consistent basis more than any player since Chris Pronger. That said, it might be time to question what kind of effect it is his having on his performance and whether he's really a Norris Trophy-candidate type defenseman just because he plays so much.

Suter's offensive numbers have been good but not great, in line with his days in Nashville. The issue is that his puck possession numbers aren't elite, and it isn't like he's facing the toughest possible deployment like Zdeno Chara, his old pal Shea Weber or Mark Giordano did last season.

One way to help Suter could be to ease his burden, and the Wild's defense corps might be improving just in time to do that. Jared Spurgeon had a very good 2013-14, and Suter and Marco Scandella each had significantly better possession numbers when on the ice at even strength with him.
A pair of young defensemen could play a big role in shaping this group. Matt Dumba played 13 games before going to juniors last season and could push for a full-time role in camp. Christian Folin was a top college free agent in the spring and could do the same.

GOALTENDERS

Darcy Kuemper*

Niklas Backstrom

Is there a more unsettled situation at any position in the NHL? The Edmonton Oilers have some answers to find at center. The Buffalo Sabres have a lot of questions in a lot of places. The two differences for the Wild are they have iced a better team than those two franchises the past two seasons, and the options aren't necessarily unproven.

Niklas Backstrom had durability (and ability) issues last season. Josh Harding was one of the most amazing stories in sports in 2013, but has played very little in 2014 because of his battle with multiple sclerosis. Darcy Kuemper is young and was inconsistent in 2013-14.

Can one of the three become the established No. 1 starter? Will there be a two-man or three-man rotation? How many times will a prominent analyst speculate the Wild need to trade for a goaltender?

Strong work in goal could make the Wild a pretty scary opponent in the spring.

ALSO IN THE MIX: F Jordan Schroeder, F Zack Phillips, D Matt Dumba, D Jonathon Blum, G Josh Harding

*Restricted free agent

Wild hope for breakout season from Niederreiter

Nino Niederreiter tweeted during the summer that he was "proud to be on the Swiss cover of NHL15" after a season in which he posted career-highs in goals, assists and points, and scored the overtime winner in the Minnesota Wild's first victory in a Stanley Cup Playoff series since 2003.

The big question for Niederreiter and the Wild is simple: What's next?

Though it seems as if Niederreiter has been around a long time, he won't turn 22 years old until next month. And after he had 14 goals and 36 points in his 81 games with the Wild following his acquisition from the New York Islanders at the 2013 NHL Draft, coach Mike Yeo and general manager Chuck Fletcher feel he's capable of doing a lot more.
"Like all young players, there's some inconsistency in his game," Fletcher told NHL.com. "But as the season went along last year his confidence grew, he gained more experience and he was a very effective player for us in the playoffs."

The Islanders took Niederreiter with the fifth pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, but he never found his footing with the organization. He managed one goal and two points in 64 games before being traded to the Wild for forward Cal Clutterbuck and a third-round pick at the 2013 draft.

Niederreiter worked his way into a steady role with the Wild, averaging a career-best 14:05 of ice time last season and enjoying his first taste of success at the NHL level.

"I was happy to get a good opportunity to showcase my game," he told NHL.com. "I had a good season, but I know I can be better in a lot of areas."

Yeo was very pleased with Niederreiter's performance and is confident he can do more.

"He's a big body, but when we brought him into our lineup, we wanted to make sure that the foundation of his game was going to be about strong defense," he told NHL.com. "We had him playing on checking lines; we had him playing against top lines. I think that gave him the opportunity to get a little more ice time and some more opportunities, and he found himself playing on the first line. He bounced around a bit at points during the season, but he started to learn what kind of game he has to play, night in and night out.

"He brings his game every night, regardless of who he's playing with, and he's become a very effective player."

Niederreiter also feels he's just beginning to scratch the surface of his talent, something the Wild need him to do for them to build on the success from last season.

"I want to be a power forward who can score goals and play in different situations," he said. "I feel like I'm at my best when it counts the most and that I can take my game to another level when the really important games come up, like the playoffs.

"Last year, most of the time I played on the third line. This year I want to get a spot on the first two lines. It's going to be really tough, very challenging, but I'm ready to take that challenge and try to be in the top-six forwards."

Goaltending competition tops Wild's five questions

The Minnesota Wild look like a team on the rise after winning their first postseason series in 11 years and giving the Chicago Blackhawks all they could handle before losing in six games in their Western Conference Second Round series.

But going from a team that can win a round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to one that can compete for a championship is a big leap. General manager Chuck Fletcher said his players' demeanor after losing the series to Chicago indicates that they're not satisfied with what they've accomplished so far.

"The interesting thing was that at the end of the season, after we lost to Chicago and even for a week or two afterward, there wasn't any sense of euphoria," he told NHL.com. "I think everyone recognizes how competitive this League is and how difficult it is to win. We lost a series to Chicago and that stung. That's great when there's that sense that we could have done more and could have done better."

Here are five questions the Wild must answer in order to build on last season's success:
1. Who's the goalie? -- Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding, Darcy Kuemper, Ilya Bryzgalov and John Curry (who won his lone late-season start) all had at least one victory in a season of tumult for Minnesota goaltenders . Harding was 18-7-3 with an NHL-best 1.65 goals-against average, but he didn't play after Dec. 31 because of the effects of his battle with multiple sclerosis. Backstrom struggled all season and played a total of 22:25 after Jan. 11 before season-ending abdominal surgery. Minor-league call-up Kuemper (12-8-4, 2.43 GAA) and Bryzgalov (7-1-3, 2.12 GAA), acquired in a trade on March 4, got the Wild to the playoffs.

The question now is who fits where this season. Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo said they are content to go into training camp without a designated starter and see what happens in a competition between Backstrom, Harding and Kuemper (Bryzgalov remains a free agent).

"We have three guys who are quality goaltenders, three guys who at points in the season have been our starting goaltender and played very good hockey," Yeo told NHL.com. "We're expecting some good competition in camp."

2. Where does newcomer Thomas Vanek fit? -- Vanek, a native of Austria and a college star at the University of Minnesota, opted to return to his "hometown" team, and he left a lot of money on the table in the process when he signed a three-year deal reportedly worth $19.5 million.

Vanek had 27 goals and 68 points in 78 games during a season in which he was traded twice, first from the Buffalo Sabres to the New York Islanders and then to the Montreal Canadiens. He has 277 goals in 663 games since coming to the NHL in 2005 and is being counted on to boost an offense that averaged 2.43 non-shootout goals per game.

Yeo said he and his staff haven't settled on a permanent home for Vanek, but that he'll make things better for his linemates, whoever they are.

"He's an underrated playmaker, and will help the guys around him create more offense and score more goals," Yeo said. "If we can add a few more goals, it's going to equal a few more wins for us."

3. Is Matt Dumba ready for a regular spot on defense? The Wild have high hopes for Dumba, their top pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. He started the season in Minnesota and played 13 games before being sent back to junior hockey, where he helped the Portland Winterhawks to the Western Hockey League final.

Fletcher said the Wild won't rush Dumba and will send him to the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League rather than rush him into the NHL if they feel he's not ready.

"For us to keep him, he's going to have to be one of our top-six defensemen," he said. "We're happy with his progress so far."

4. Will the kids keep blossoming? The Wild have a core of solid veterans, but the real improvement has to come from a group of young players who are starting to make their mark. One of them, Nino Niederreiter, scored the overtime winner in Game 7 against the Colorado Avalanche in May, giving Minnesota its first series victory since 2003. Forwards Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Erik Haula are being counted on for improvement, and four of the six regular defensemen could be 24 and under.

"We have a lot of quality veterans, but you probably know what you're going to get from them," Fletcher said. "The exciting thing is the young players -- how high can they go? What's their upside? We think they're all just starting to scratch the surface of their potential, and if we can help them get to where we believe they can get to, we'll be a very competitive team for the next few years."

5. Are the Wild risking a burnout of defenseman Ryan Suter? -- No one in the League played more hockey last season than Suter, who dressed for all 82 games and averaged a mind-blowing 29:24 of ice time, a full 2:20 per night more than runner-up Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators and the most by any player in 12 years.

However, Fletcher said he's not worried about Suter wearing down despite a workload that has seen him lead the League in average ice time in each of his two seasons with the Wild.

"He's such an effortless player," Fletcher said. "He's not a physical player and he's not necessarily a player who's leading the rush offensively. He defends really well, he moves the puck really well. He's such an intelligent, intuitive player. He knows where to go and doesn't waste a lot of energy flailing around the ice."

Wild trying to take next step on Stanley Cup path

The Minnesota Wild have to be pleased with their progression during the past two seasons. After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs from 2009 through 2012, they returned to the postseason in 2013 and then won a playoff series for the first time in 11 years by upsetting the Colorado Avalanche this past spring. The Wild followed by giving the Chicago Blackhawks a challenge before losing in six games.

That's solid improvement under the tandem of general manager Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo, though it's still a long way from the Stanley Cup. However, Fletcher feels his team is on the right track.
"I think the group has really matured over the past two years," he told NHL.com. "I felt the year we made the playoffs in '13, there was a sense of relief that we made the playoffs and a sense that it was a good-enough accomplishment. This year, it was great to make the playoffs and great to win a round, but I think our group was striving for more than just getting in.

"I think everyone believes we're a competitive team and we can compete with the best teams in the League. We were certainly happy that we won a round, but everyone's expectations are a little higher going forward."

To meet those higher expectations, the Wild will have to sort out a logjam in the crease.

Minnesota used five goaltenders last season. Four will come to camp next month, though John Curry is expected to return to the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League. Fletcher said he's happy to have Josh Harding, Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper battle for the starting job in camp.

"We're going to let training camp sort everything out," he said. "We were pretty confident that at a minimum two or three of those goaltenders will be able to step up and play well for us. Hopefully all three will. Hopefully we'll have three healthy and productive goaltenders and we'll have to make some hard choices. All three have proved over the past two seasons that when they're healthy they can play extremely well in this League. We have no reason to believe they won't be healthy this year."

The Wild have never been an offensive powerhouse, but the addition of free-agent forward Thomas Vanek should provide a boost. Vanek, who starred in college at the University of Minnesota, turned down at least one bigger offer before opting for a three-year contract with the Wild.

It will be up to Yeo to figure out where Vanek fits. Vanek, whose 277 goals since 2005-06 are eighth in the NHL during that period, could find himself on the right side in Minnesota. Zach Parise figures to be the top-line left wing, as he has in each of his first two seasons with the Wild since signing as a free agent two years ago.

"We've toyed around with some different options," Yeo told NHL.com. "He's felt more comfortable during his career playing on the left side. I know he's had chemistry playing with Jason Pominville [in Buffalo] in the past, but I also know that Zach Parise and Jason had really good chemistry together last year as well. We're going to have to go into training camp with a bit of an open mind. We'll have somewhat of a plan, but part of that plan will be to try some different options and see which one works the best."

One area Fletcher feels Vanek will help is on the power play, where the Wild ranked 16th in the League at 17.9 percent. Vanek had eight power-play goals last season and has 113 in his career.

"Thomas is a high-end offensive talent, a player who's scored a lot of goals in this League and, in particular, a lot of power-play goals in this League," Fletcher said. "Our power play was middle of the pack last season, and what we felt we needed was a right-shot forward who could add a little versatility."

Most of the top-six forwards will be veterans. But an influx of young talent helped carry the Wild into the second round of the playoffs and Minnesota will count on its maturing kids to continue the upswing. Forwards Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Erik Haula all played key roles up front, and Jonas Brodin has become an effective partner for Ryan Suter on the top defensive pair.

Suter is the cornerstone of the defense. He had eight goals, 43 points and was plus-15 last season while averaging 29:24 of ice time in 82 games, 2:20 more per game than runner-up Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators. He and Brodin are among the NHL's best pairings.

Jared Spurgeon (26 points, plus-15) and Marco Scandella (17 points, plus-10) are a good second pair. With Nate Prosser and Clayton Stoner gone in free agency, there's an opening if 2013 first-round pick Matt Dumba, who played 13 games last season, can show he's ready for the NHL.

Winning a playoff series was an achievement for a team that hadn't done so since 2003. But to Yeo, it's also an indication of how much his team has yet to achieve.

"Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. We believe that we're closer to reaching that goal," he said. "We also recognize how hard it is. I think that's the biggest thing for us. We have to come in feeling good about ourselves, but we'd better have our work boots on. Five teams from our division made the playoffs last year, and there's not really any sign of any of those five teams going away, not to mention that there's other teams in our division that have improved as well."

Stars' top 10 prospects led by solid scorer Ritchie

Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill believes one trademark of an elite organization is the ability to train and develop players in a winning environment.

Nill can take pride in the fact the organization's American Hockey League affiliate, the Texas Stars, is doing just that. In its first five seasons of existence, Texas has already posted four 40-win seasons and made two trips to the Calder Cup Finals, winning it all last season.

"The Texas Stars have done a great job with [training and developing], and I know firsthand that the rewards from winning the Calder Cup will have a profoundly positive impact for each of our prospects and our team in Dallas as we move forward," Nill said.

The championship roster last season featured 10 players chosen by the organization in the NHL Draft.
"One thing is certain, we have a very deep pool of players in the pipeline," director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell said.

Here's a look at the Stars' top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:

1. Brett Ritchie, RW

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 44), 2011 draft

Last season: 68 GP, 22-26-48, Texas, AHL

The right-handed shot adds size (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) and power to the lineup. He had a terrific rookie season in Texas, producing seven goals and 11 points in 13 games in the Calder Cup Playoffs. His brother, Nick Ritchie, was selected in the first round (No. 10) by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2014 draft. Nill has said Ritchie, 21, is in the mix of players pushing for playing time in Dallas this season.

"The door is open," Nill said. "I am excited about the competition. I want everybody to come into training camp to show what they can do. There are going to be openings and there are going to be injuries. It's a long year and it's a battle."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

2. John Klingberg, D

How acquired: 5th round (No. 131), 2010 draft

Last season: 50 GP, 11-17-28, Frolunda, SHL; 3 GP, 0-1-1, Texas, AHL

The 6-1, 176-pound offensive-defenseman, who turns 22 on Aug. 14, could turn out to be the steal of the 2010 draft. The big Swede closed out the 2013-14 season with Texas with four assists in seven playoff games. He'll begin his first full season in the AHL after starring for Frolunda in Sweden's top division last season. He exhibits good decision-making in all three zones as well as good puck handling and hockey sense, traits that will benefit him in his first full season in North America.

"He sees the game in a different way. I mean, he's very unique," Stars assistant GM Les Jackson said. "He has some areas where he can improve, and that's exciting, because he has other areas where he really has something that very few players have. He reminds me of [Sergei] Zubov the way he sees the game."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

3. Devin Shore, C

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 61), 2012 draft

Last season: 35 GP, 14-29-43, University of Maine, Hockey East

As a sophomore, Shore (6-1, 185) led the Black Bears in points for the second straight season. He tied for 15th in the nation in points per game (1.23) and ranked second nationally, and led all of Hockey East with three shorthanded goals. The 20-year-old was named a Second Team All-American, Hockey East First Team honoree and Maine's most valuable player. The finance major will likely serve as captain for the Black Bears when he returns for his junior campaign.

"Devin had a really strong season," Jackson said. "He's a real solid player, smart. He was one of the better players in college hockey, has a great attitude and good work ethic. He is a pretty impressive player and person."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

4. Jason Dickinson, C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 29), 2013 draft

Last season: 68 GP, 26-52-78, Guelph, OHL

The 6-2, 183-pound pivot tied for fifth in the Ontario Hockey League playoff scoring race with 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists) in 20 games to help lead Guelph to the league championship. During one game of the Memorial Cup series, the 19-year-old was assigned to contain forward Anthony Mantha (24 goals, 38 points in 24 playoff games) of Val-d'Or and limited the Detroit Red Wings' top prospect to one assist and a minus-3 rating in a 6-3 victory. Dickinson, a native of Georgetown, Ontario, is expected to return to Guelph this season before turning pro in 2015-16.

"Jason has taken another step forward in his performance and is right on track developmentally; he's a good two-way player," Jackson said. "We just have to be patient with him, work with him, but he is a good young player. The coaches [in Guelph] love him, they respect his work ethic. He's a well-rounded kid and has all things in his game that will allow him to move forward."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

5. Jack Campbell, G

How acquired: 1st round (No. 11), 2010 draft

Last season: 16 GP, 12-2-2, 1.49 GAA, .942 save percentage, Texas, AHL; 1 GP, 0-1-0, 6.00 GAA, .872 save percentage, Dallas

Despite seeing limited playing time last season due to a knee injury, Campbell (6-2, 185) did make major strides. While alternating starts with Cristopher Nilstorp in the Calder Cup Playoffs, he went 2-1 with a 2.54 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in four games before sustaining an injury in Game 5 of the second round. Campbell, 22, made his NHL debut on Oct. 20, 2013, stopping 41 of 47 shots in a 6-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.

"Last year was a huge challenge for him, and when he played he was fantastic," Stars goalie coach Mike Valley said. "Would that have remained over the course of playing 50 games? Who knows? I would hope so. The reality of it is that his next step is to stay healthy and make sure that we get him to play a full season at that high level, and then we can start talking about the next step. You've got to walk before you run."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

6. Radek Faksa, C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 13), 2012 draft

Last season: 59 GP, 21-27-48, Kitchener/Sudbury, OHL; 6 GP, 1-2-3, Texas, AHL

Faksa played in six regular-season games with Texas in the AHL and also was a two-way force in all 21 playoff games, chipping in with four goals and a plus-2 rating. It was his defensive ability that caught the eye of Nill and might just give the 20-year-old left-handed shooter an opportunity to make the Dallas roster out of training camp. Faksa also represented the Czech Republic for the third straight year and served as an alternate captain at the 2014 World Junior Championship, scoring one goal in five games. Many expect the 6-3, 214-pound forward to spend one full season in the AHL before earning an NHL spot.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

7. Julius Honka, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 14), 2014 draft

Last season: 62 GP, 16-40-56, Swift Current, WHL

The right-hand shot, highly skilled off the transition and capable of running a power play from the point, led all rookie defenders in the Western Hockey League in scoring last season. Honka (5-10, 181), won a gold medal for Finland at the 2014 World Junior Championship, producing one assist in seven games as the youngest player on the talent-laden roster. He is 18 years old.

"I think any defenseman at that age needs work in their own end, especially at the pro level," McDonnell said. "But he plays it fine. He competes. Obviously he is not a [6-foot-3] defenseman, but he plays bigger than he is. He goes into the corner to make plays to get the puck out of his zone. He makes a great first pass out."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

8. Patrik Nemeth, D

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 41), 2010 draft

Last season: 37 GP, 3-7-10, Texas, AHL; 8 GP, 0-0-0, Dallas

Nemeth, 22, has a knack for coming up big in the clutch. He scored an overtime goal in Game 5 of the Calder Cup Final against the St. John's IceCaps to give Texas its first AHL championship. He also assisted on Mika Zibanejad's overtime goal in the gold medal game of the 2012 World Junior Championship as Sweden won 1-0 against Russia in Calgary. The 6-3, 212-pound stay-at-home defenseman enjoys playing a physical brand of hockey. It wouldn't be surprising to see Nemeth earn some significant playing time with Dallas this season.

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

9. Jyrki Jokipakka, D

How acquired: 7th round (No. 195), 2011 draft

Last season: 68 GP, 5-16-21, Texas, AHL

At 6-3, 193 pounds, the native of Finland could turn out to be another uncovered draft gem. Jokipakka, who will turn 23 on Aug. 20, finished third among defensemen in scoring as a rookie for Texas this season and had a plus-5 rating. He'll challenge for a roster spot with Dallas and perhaps receive a cup of coffee with the big club out of training camp.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

10. Philippe Desrosiers, G

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 54), 2013 draft

Last season: 52 GP, 31-14-7, 2.65 GAA, .907 save percentage, Rimouski, QMJHL

Desrosiers (6-1, 195), who will turn 19 on Aug. 15, set a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League record with a 243:35 shutout streak in 2013-14, and went 7-3 with a 2.34 GAA and .917 save percentage in 11 playoff games. He also won 14 straight decisions, the fifth-longest streak in league history, and ranked fourth in the league in GAA, seventh in save percentage, fifth in wins and fifth in shutouts (five).

"[Former NHL goalie] Andy Moog got to work with him and Mike Valley has been working with him," Jackson said. "The kid has a pro attitude and pro-style game, and has done really well."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

Lineup additions boost expectations for Stars

If there were an "offseason champions" banner passed out every season, the 2014 edition might belong to the Dallas Stars.

A couple of other teams, perhaps most notably the New York Islanders, could stake a claim to this fictitious honor as well, but the Stars became a media darling in short order when general manager Jim Nill traded for Jason Spezza, signed Ales Hemsky and retained Vernon Fiddler.

The Stars had a tremendous offseason in 2013 as well, first landing Nill and coach Lindy Ruff, and then adding Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley, Valeri Nichushkin and Shawn Horcoff. Dallas has gone from mediocre to playoff team to potential Stanley Cup contender in two summers, and did it without needing a full-blown "rebuilding" phase.

Expectations are going to be higher in Dallas in 2014-15, but the talent level is as well. The Stars will be one of the most fascinating teams to monitor in the forthcoming campaign.

Here is the projected lineup for the Stars in 2014-15:

FORWARDS

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Valeri Nichushkin

Erik Cole - Jason Spezza - Ales Hemsky

Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin* - Ryan Garbutt

Shawn Horcoff - Vernon Fiddler - Colton Sceviour

Patrick Eaves - Rich Peverley (injured)

Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin made magic together, quickly becoming one of the top duos in the League. Valeri Nichushkin's birth certificate may have prevented him from going a little higher in the 2013 NHL Draft, but he looked like a future star as a rookie.

The trio of Antoine Roussel, Ryan Garbutt and Cody Eakin formed a nice second line for the Stars and could be one of the top third units in the NHL if someone else can play with Spezza and Hemsky. Veteran Erik Cole seems like a good bet to get the first chance to play with the ex-Ottawa Senators, but Colton Sceviour or highly-regarded prospect Brett Ritchie could slide in there as well.

Fiddler then would go from being a decent third-line center to an above-average fourth-line pivot. Rich Peverley's status is unclear, but he is trying to work his way back after collapsing on the bench during a game in March and having heart surgery.

DEFENSEMEN

Alex Goligoski - Trevor Daley

Brenden Dillon* - Jordie Benn

Sergei Gonchar - Jamie Oleksiak

Kevin Connauton

Though the Dallas forward corps looks downright terrifying, here is the "pump the brakes on that Stanley Cup run" segment. Alex Goligoski had a strong 2013-14 season. He and Trevor Daley are a solid, underrated defense paring.

Brenden Dillon is one of the better young, physical defensemen in the NHL. His hits per game dropped in 2013-14, in part because the Stars had the puck more.

The problem for the Stars is those three players are not on the same level as the top three in places like Los Angeles, Chicago and St. Louis. It's the biggest weakness on the Dallas roster.

Jordie Benn, Kevin Connauton and Jamie Oleksiak can be solid depth players. Sergei Gonchar looks like he's near the end of a great career and could be the odd man out if he struggles, as he did at times last season.

Get prepared for plenty "will the Stars add another top-four defenseman" reading material.

GOALTENDERS
Kari Lehtonen

Anders Lindback

Kari Lehtonen struggled to stay healthy during his time with the Atlanta Thrashers, and that was part of what prevented him from reaching his vast potential. But he's played in at least 71 percent of Dallas' games in each of the past four seasons and has missed more than five games because of injury just once.

Lehtonen has a .918 save percentage in his four seasons with the Stars. That is tied for 13th-best in the NHL in that span among goalies with at least 100 games played. The others at .918 include Jonathan Quick, Semyon Varlamov and Mike Smith. Lehtonen has actually played in 13 more games than Quick and faced 1,154 more shots while producing the same save percentage.

He has almost no postseason track record to speak of, but Lehtonen's resume is better than some lingering critics think, and he's good enough to help the Stars on a deep playoff run.

ALSO IN THE MIX: F Brett Ritchie, F Scott Glennie, D Patrik Nemeth, D Cameron Gaunce, G Jack Campbell

*Restricted free agent