Stars Intrigued by Honka's Offensive Potential
When the Dallas Stars chose defenseman Julius Honka with the 14th pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, they did so knowing the 18-year-old's strengths are on offense.
That makes sense considering Honka had some impressive numbers in 62 games with the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League last season: 56 points (16 goals, 40 assists) in his first year playing in North America.
It's not surprising to hear him say he models himself after NHL defensemen known for playing a similar game: Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings and Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators.
"Offensive game [is what I bring], absolutely," Honka said at Stars development camp. "I want to be a big part of that game. I like to play on the power play and a lot of offensive game. That's my style of hockey."
Stars director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell agreed.
"He's just a very heady hockey player. He sees the ice very well. He's a good skater," McDonnell said. "Down the road he is someone I believe is going to be able to run the power play for you."
Honka being an offensive-minded defenseman means certain aspects of the defensive side of his game need some work. He admitted that one area in particular he needs to continue improving is being stronger in 1-on-1 battles.
McDonnell and the rest of the Stars brass aren't worried because they realize Honka and the rest of their draft class are, more than anything, works in progress.
"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, but all defenseman at that age need to learn how to play defense at the pro level."
The other drawback with Honka was his stature (5-foot-11). He said he doesn't see that as something that will keep him from delivering on his upside.
"I don't think about those things. I just keep focusing on my game and just do my thing," Honka said. "I know it's not a big issue if you're undersized. If you're a little bit smaller player, you have to keep focused on those little things like being smarter against the big guys. But that's hockey nowadays."
McDonnell said Honka's size won't keep him from developing.
"He's going to end up playing at 6-0; he's around 5-11," McDonnell said. "Our biggest concern was his height, but when he came to the door and we shook his hand, [we realized] he's not that small."
Something else to like about the Finnish-born defenseman is that over the course of the past year, he has gone from someone who did not know English to someone quite familiar with what has become his second language. Honka now does interviews in English with little effort.
Earlier this year, he was a member of the Finland team that won the gold medal at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.
"Well, that was a great experience. We had a great team," Honka said. "The gold medal was like a cherry on top. That was huge in Finland. Every young player wants to be on that team one day."
Honka has been in Dallas for about two weeks, and Stars general manager Jim Nill is pleased with the pick made at the draft last month in Philadelphia.
"He's highly skilled, he moves the puck well, he moves it out of his end well, he is a right shot, and he can run a power play," Nill said. "We are excited about his potential."