Player to Watch, 2016-17: Julius HonkaAug 5, 2016
Players to Watch, 2016-17: Julius Honka
Things Julius Honka currently cannot legally do: drink alcohol, gamble in a casino and rent a car.
But that hasn’t stopped the 20-year-old native of Finland from turning into one of the AHL’s more gifted offensive defensemen. Last season, Honka tallied 33 assists and 44 points overall to lead the Texas Stars blueliners in both categories. He was tied for sixth among all AHL defensemen in points. As he enters his third full season in the AHL, the 14th overall pick in 2014 is expected to start knocking on the door of the NHL’s Dallas Stars.
“I like having the puck on my stick when it’s important,” said Honka to the Austin American-Statesman prior to the start of the season. “I think you have to be ready to make a play and want to make that play at a big time.”
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound defenseman appeared in five more games last season than his rookie year of 2014-15. But, his point production jumped 13 points. He became a full-time fixture on the power play and led the team with 18 power play assists last year.
Honka embodied what Texas Head Coach, Derek Laxdal, said he was hoping to get out of his defensemen before the 2015-16 campaign began.
“All of them can skate. It’s going to be a strength not only in our own end, but offensively as they push the play.”
After a slow start to last season, with just three points in his first nine games, Honka found a consistent touch from the blueline offensively. He tallied six points over a nine-game stretch in November, 10 points in 13 games during December, nine points during a 12-game stretch in January and a six points over a five-game point streak in February.
“Second-year pro, you learn a lot of things every day,” said Honka at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season. “Listen every day and learn what you can take to move on to the next level. I think it was a really good year. I think I improved from last year a lot.”
John Klingberg, Stephen Johns and Radek Faksa were the most recent wave that made the full-time transition to the NHL level the past two years. Honka is a part of that next group of young talent with Esa Lindell, Devin Shore and Jason Dickinson, but Honka is the one who is entering his third full season. Dallas Stars General Manager Jim Nill likes to use the term “over-ripe” when discussing his pool of prospects for the NHL level. Two years ago, Honka was given the jump start on his pro hockey education as an 18-year-old after showing the Dallas brass in training camp he was capable of playing with seasoned veteran players.
With 75 points in 141 career games, Honka can score consistently at the AHL level. The next step in his development will be tightening up the other aspects of his game and continuing to shoulder an increased level of responsibility on the ice.
He can’t drink alcohol. He can’t gamble in a casino. He can’t rent a car, but Julius Honka’s ability to put up points at the AHL level makes him a player to watch in 2016-17.