Stars go defensive, offensive in first round with Honka

Julius Honka prepares to put on a team sweater in front of team officials after being selected as the No. 14 overall pick to the Dallas Stars in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft.

Bill Streicher/Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

One of the few needs the Dallas Stars had within their organization heading into the start of the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia on Friday was a right-handed defenseman who was offensive minded and who could also quarterback the power play.

Well, Stars general manager Jim Nill and company got their man with the 14th overall pick by selecting Julius Honka, an 18-year-old Finnish defenseman who led all Western Hockey League rookie defensemen in scoring last season with 62 points for the Swift Current Broncos.

"Well, the one need that we need in our organization is a right-shot defenseman and a power play quarterback type of defenseman. He looks after those needs," Nill said. "He’s very highly skilled. He’s very good at moving the puck, so we’re very excited about his upside."

In the WHL, Honka was coached by former Stars assistant coach Mark Lamb and the young d-man clearly flourished in his first year stateside after coming over from Finland.

"Mark really kind of helped us get to know him better," Nill said. "He played for Finland in the World Juniors, won the Gold Medal, so he had a great season."

One possible concern with Honka, who is listed as 5-foot-11, is his size but Stars brass are confident that he hasn’t stopped growing and feel he will end up at around six feet.

He is clearly an offensive-minded blue liner, skills which often come at the expense of the other side of his game, but most if not all young d-men need to work on their defensive game, so that’s hardly a major cause for concern among Nill and the rest of the organization.

But one thing is for sure about this newest member of the Stars’ system, he is definitely ready to get rolling.

"It’s everybody’s dream come true. It’s awesome to be part of the Dallas Stars now," Honka said. "I’m ready to be part of the D zone and offensive game there."

Honka will be among the prospects who will participate in the Stars’ annual development camp, a gathering of young talent that will start on July 7 at the organization’s headquarters in Frisco.

The young Finn is fresh off helping guide Finland to a Gold Medal-winning performance in the 2014 World Junior Championships.

And even though he’s only 18, he is already getting some pretty favorable comparisons to one young defenseman in the NHL who has been getting it done for the Ottawa Senators in Erik Karlsson, who went one pick later than Honka did in the 2008 draft.
Those are of course comparisons Nill loves to hear, but he also infuses his patented brand of realism into such a conversation.

"He is that style of player. He is an Erik Karlsson. Now if he turns into that or even half of that, we’d be happy but he does have that skill set and that’s what excites us," Nill said. "We’re getting that right shot, power play quarterback that the franchise doesn’t have."

And even though Honka is listed as a defenseman, there’s little doubt which side of the ice he is most comfortable playing in.

"(I bring an) offensive game, offensive d-man game, I like to be a part of that game, power play, right-handed shot, I like to use my shot. Offense is definitely what I bring," Honka said.