[PROSPECT TOURNAMENT: Complete coverage, including schedule and live stream info]
Nill was assistant general manager with the Detroit Red Wings when the team came up with the idea to pit young players from NHL teams against one another in a tournament-style competition before training camp. This season will mark the 21st year of the eight-team competition in Traverse City, and Nill said he loves the way the tournament has developed and intensified.
"These tournament games are as good as it gets," Nill said. "It's playoffs in September. These kids want to show, `I belong.' They want to win."
The Stars won in 2008 with Jamie Benn and James Neal leading the way, and would love to take the championship again.
The eight teams are divided into two divisions and play each team in their division once (Friday, Saturday and Monday). The records are tallied after the three games and then you play the matching team from the other division on Tuesday. The winner from the top seeds is named tournament champion.
"It's great competition," said Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal, who will be coaching the Dallas entry for the sixth season. "Players obviously want to get off to a good start individually, but they also have a lot of pride in team results. It's a good way to get things started."
Video: Behind the scenes of Development Camp with Robertson
Dallas will play Minnesota Friday, the Rangers Saturday and Columbus Monday. Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit and Toronto will be in the other division.
This year's roster has a great mix of talent. The Stars have two solid goalies in Jake Oettinger and Colton Point, as well as a group of forwards who could challenge for a spot in the NHL on opening night.
But whether they are playing in the NHL soon or not, the quality of the forwards is exciting for those watching he organizational depth chart.
"I don't think I've seen this kind of depth in a long time, so it's refreshing to see the next phase of the Dallas Stars coming through," Laxdal said.
The coach said he talked to players on Wednesday night about making an impact. Mattias Janmark came to the tournament in 2015 with the full expectation that he would return to Sweden and play there, but he was so good in the tournament and then in training camp, he made the NHL roster and played 73 games.
"We talked about spring-boarding yourself into the Dallas camp. We talked about Mattias Janmark a couple of years ago," Laxdal said. "He was the best player in this tournament and he spring-boarded himself right into the Stars camp. We have a lot of players like that, a lot of players who can really help themselves with a good performance."
Among the players to watch are:
The 20-year-old forward led the OHL in scoring last season with 117 points (48 goals, 69 assists) in 62 games. Drafted in the second round (39th overall) by the Stars in 2017, Robertson brings a high end skill set that puts him in a special place for Stars prospects.
With Dallas having just 11 forward spots locked up and possibly three positions open at the NHL level, Robertson will be one of the most watched players throughout preseason.
The 19-year-old forward is in an interesting place.
Because of an agreement the NHL has with the OHL, Dellandrea cannot play in the AHL this season. He can stay with the Stars for nine games, but if he passes his 10th game in the NHL, he will use up the first year of his three-year rookie contract and the Stars would then keep him in the NHL. If he does not seem ready for the NHL, the Stars will send him back to the OHL before the 10th game. That means that a lot of eyes will be on the first-round draft pick (13th overall in 2018) to see if is ready to at least get a look in the NHL.
Dellandrea had 63 points (22 goals, 41 assists) in 60 games with Flint last season.
Joel Kiviranta and Emil Djuse
The duo are paired because they both are veteran free agents from overseas who are hoping to get a chance at playing in the NHL.
Djuse, 25, is a defenseman from Sweden. He's listed at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds and is seen as a smart puck-mover who could definitely jump into the mix of the Stars defensemen. Kiviranta, 23, is a reliable, two-way forward who can skate. He's listed at 5-11, 180 and helped Finland win gold at the World Championships in the spring.
Each is on a two-way contract, so if they do not play for the Stars, they will be key players in the AHL.
An undrafted late bloomer, the Stars signed Felhaber, 21, as an unrestricted free agent after he scored 109 points (59 goals, 50 assists) in 68 games with the Ottawa 67s last season. It was Felhaber's fifth season in the OHL, so he was a veteran in racking up the points, but it's hard to dismiss those numbers.
The guess is he will start in the AHL, but he has as much chance to impress during this tournament as anyone. Plus, he's a bit of a mystery for Stars fans, so they will be watching closely.
The Stars have been struggling to find the "goalie of the future," and Oettinger certainly has the pedigree. The first round pick (26th overall) from 2017, Oettinger went 58-40-11 in three seasons at Boston University. He posted a 2.45 GAA and .926 save percentage last season.
This will be the first prospect tournament for the 20-year-old from Minnesota, so it will be interesting to see how he responds to the pressure.
The tournament as a whole has some great storylines, but among them is the fact that players from overseas, from Major Junior and from colleges will all be testing themselves against one another. It evens the grading scale for management and for the players themselves.
"You've got guys at different stages," Nill said. "You've got some guys that were just drafted, how do they fit in? They are going to get their feet wet. They're going to be maybe overwhelmed or like, 'Hey, I'm ready to go.' Kiviranta and Djuse have never played in North America, now they get used to the smaller ice. Tufte played in college. So it's just a great chance to see where they are.
"It's a camp where everybody is equal. It's gathering information."
Dallas Stars vs. Minnesota Wild
When: Friday, 2 p.m. CT
Where: Centre ICE Arena, Traverse City, Mich.
Live stream: FOX Sports GO and DallasStars.com
Stars' projected lineup
Here is the Stars' expected lineup for Friday's opener against Minnesota:
Jason Robertson - Ty Dellandrea - Nick Caamano
Tye Felhaber - Adam Mascherin - Riley Damiani
Riley Tufte - Rhett Gardner - Joel Kiviranta
Curtis Douglas - Josh Melnick - Nicholas Porco
Ben Gleason - Thomas Harley
John Nyberg - Dawson Barteaux
Emil Djuse - Nicolas Mattinen
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.