Listen to the Dallas Stars’ first-round draft pick, defenseman Julius Honka, and it is easy to tell the 18-year-old is a quick learner.
When he traveled to North America a year ago to play in the WHL, the native of Finland spoke almost no English.
Speaking to reporters several times during this week’s seven-day development camp, his English was nearly flawless as he answered questions without the help of a translator.
“It was really bad when I came here the first time,” Honka said. “A year ago, last summer was the first time. You have to communicate every day and not speak too fast to learn new things.”
Honka experienced a similar kind of growth last week as he began to learn the ins and outs of the Stars’ system on the ice.
Honka has made a name for himself as a force in the offensive zone, which the Stars hope will make him the puck-carrying defenseman of the future.
Last season for the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL, Honka registered 56 points, including 16 goals.
“I like to play on the power play and a lot of offensive game,” Honka said. “That’s my style of hockey. That’s what I have to bring here.”
Honka hoped to improve in the defensive zone during last week’s camp and in that area going forward the next few seasons.
“Being stronger in one-on-one battles,” Honka said. “That’s the biggest thing I have to improve. It depends on how much you work every day. But that’s something I have to learn more.”
Mentally — as well as physically — Honka said he wants to be prepared for the NHL when his time comes.
As a first step, Honka is projected to return to Finland’s Elite League to continue his growth.
He has no timetable on when he believes he’ll be NHL-ready, but he understands the work he has to put in to reach that goal.
“Well, of course I want to play as soon as possible in the NHL, but you need to take little steps forward and teach yourself to be a better player every year,” Honka said. “Then, one day you’re ready for it and hopefully it’s as soon as possible.”
As the Stars’ first-round draft pick, Honka also earned himself an invite to the team’s training camp in Fort Worth from Sept 19-21 and could see ice time in exhibition games leading up to the season.
It doesn’t take any of the pressure off his shoulders to continue to push his way into the NHL, though.
“Well, you have to keep it in your mind that you’re a first-rounder, first pick and you have to act like that and do everything right and be a role model to the other guys here,” Honka said.