Skip to main content

Stars executives experienced in building a winner

by Mike G. Morreale

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill and director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell each know a little something about building the perfect beast.

It starts with the draft and continues with the development stage until that player is deemed capable of withstanding the rigors of an NHL regular season.

This is something Nill was accustomed to doing prior to joining the Stars after spending 19 seasons as a member of the Detroit Red Wings management team, where his responsibilities included directing the amateur scouting department, overseeing all selections at the NHL Draft and managing the development of the organization's prospects.

McDonnell spent the past 10 seasons with the Red Wings as their director of scouting, aiding general manager Ken Holland at the draft table, prior to joining the Stars last season. The success the Red Wings had is well-documented not only by the fact a number of late-round picks turned golden, but that the team has qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for 23 straight seasons.

Now they're together, using those lessons learned and carving their own niche. Nill and McDonnell watched their American Hockey League affiliate in Texas win the Calder Cup last season and are excited that the organization's top prospects reached the final of the eight-team Traverse City Prospect Tournament here this week.

"That's how you become better up top, drafting and developing your players properly," McDonnell said. "If you can do that you'll have a good minor league system and develop from there so that in 2-4 years those players will be able to move up to the national level. It's a pipeline all the way."

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock used 38 different players throughout his lineup last season as a result of various injuries, and nine of them made their NHL debut. Fourteen came from the 2013 Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins. The Red Wings' top prospects also won the championship of the 2013 Traverse City Tournament.

There are seven players in Traverse City who played at least one game with the Calder Cup champion Texas Stars in 2013-14, and Nill and McDonnell have high hopes that a few of those skaters will challenge for roster spots with Dallas this season.

"We're counting on them," Nill said. "We have seven or eight guys who were down in Texas for the Calder Cup team all knocking on the door. I know [Stars coach] Lindy Ruff got a chance to see them play, and he's comfortable and I'm comfortable with brining these guys up at any time because of injuries or guys pushing at training camp that will make our decisions tougher."

Among those in Traverse City who starred for the Texas Stars last season are forwards Brett Ritchie, Radek Faksa, Taylor Peters, Brendan Ranford, Branden Troock and Matej Stransky, and defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka. Ritchie broke the tip of his pinkie on his right hand in the team's victory against Carolina on Saturday and will miss at least two weeks. Faksa and Jokipakka would appear to have the inside track to earning spots from this group out of training camp that begins Friday at Fort Worth Convention Center.

"I'll do my best [at training camp] and we'll see what happen," Faksa said. "If they send me to the AHL I will still work very hard and they can call me up; I'll wait for that call."

Faksa and his teammates will look to prove on Tuesday that the organization has the best prospect pool at this year's Traverse City Tournament when they play the Columbus Blue Jackets in the championship game at Centre Ice Arena.

Newly appointed Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal, who coached the Edmonton Oil Kings to the Memorial Cup in 2013-14, wants to carry on the winning tradition. Laxdal is looking to win the Traverse City title as coach of the Stars prospects this year just as he won it in 2008 when he served as coach of Dallas' ECHL affiliate in Idaho.

"If you look at most NHL teams, they are really trying to build through their draft and through the farm system now, and obviously you're going to have a few free agents but you're going to have to have that depth," Laxdal said. "You look at Detroit with [Gustav] Nyquist last year. We've got depth too with Ritchie, Jokipakka, [John] Klingberg and [Patrik] Nemeth.

"You really have to have that, and it starts with your AHL team because with that culture in place, it's easier to fill in for players when you have injuries."

Red Wings GM Ken Holland said Nill has done a wonderful job in a short period of time in Dallas.

"Jim made a tremendous trade [in acquiring Tyler Seguin in July 2013] that was great for both him and Boston and he has lots of prospects in this tournament," Holland said. "[Valeri] Nichushkin is a tremendous prospect and was a great pick at No. 10 overall [in 2013]. He looks like he's building Dallas for the long haul and it doesn't surprise me."

McDonnell is looking forward to seeing the Stars reap the benefits of its deep prospect pool.

"I know how Jim [Nill] thinks about the development process," McDonnell said. "In Detroit we used to over-ripen the guys a little bit in Grand Rapids, and I'm sure Jim's not opposed to doing that here. It wouldn't hurt these kids to spend another year in the minors where they ride the buses. Instead of being a third- or fourth-line player [in the NHL], they'll be a top player and playing big minutes in big situations.

"Development and building a winner is all about timing and patience."


View More

The NHL uses cookies, web beacons, and other similar technologies. By using NHL websites or other online services, you consent to the practices described in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, including our Cookie Policy.