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Impact player likely to be available for Stars in first round of draft

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

When Dallas Stars management heads up to the podium at the Staples Center in Los Angeles Friday night to make their first pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, there will likely be plenty of tantalizing options available for them to choose from.

Jarome Iginla was slected 11th overall in 1995
Selecting 11th overall, the Stars should get a player who will eventually make an impact at the NHL level, although he will probably still need at least a couple more years of development before he’s ready for the rigors of the planet’s top hockey league. 

A look back at some recent 11th overall selections demonstrates that a key piece can be secured at that point in the draft. Here’s a sampling of some past number 11s:

2006 - Los Angeles chose goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who led AHL Manchester to the Conference Finals in 2010 and is expected to step into the Kings’ crease next season.

2005 - The Kings selected dynamic center Anze Kopitar, who has averaged 28 goals and 71 points in LA over the past four years, scorching the Stars multiple times in the process. A verifiable star who scored 34 goals and 81 points this past season.

2003 - The Flyers snagged center Jeff Carter, who was a key component of the 2010 Eastern Conference champions, scoring 46 goals and 84 points in 2009 and another 33 goals and 61 points in 74 games this year. 
2002 - Buffalo picked defenseman Keith Ballard, who has gone on to enjoy a solid career in Phoenix and Florida as a slick, puck-moving blueliner who added 28 points this past year for the Panthers. 

1995 - Dallas chose future star Jarome Iginla, who they subsequently traded to Calgary for Joe Nieuwendyk, the Stars’ current General Manager.  Of course, Nieuwendyk went on to win the 1999 Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP as the Stars won their only Stanley Cup. Oh, and Iginla has been a top-tier talent for the Flames.

Because the Stars own a league-low four picks for the seven-round draft, they need to make them count. Dallas retains their selections in the first round (11th overall), the second (41st), third (71st), and fifth (131st), but have already traded away their fourth rounder (part of the trade with Atlanta for goaltender Kari Lehtonen in February), their sixth-round choice (part of the trade that brought center Brian Sutherby from Anaheim in Dec. 2008) and seventh-rounder (which was dealt to Chicago in Oct. ‘08 for defenseman Doug Janik). 

As for the prospects available in the draft, it is generally agreed upon that the first two overall selections will be left winger Taylor Hall, who led the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires to their second consecutive Memorial Cup championship (defeating Dallas ‘09 first-rounder Scott Glennie’s Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL in the final), and OHL Plymouth center Tyler Seguin. 

Scott Glennie, center, smiles as he is drafted 8th overall by the Dallas Stars at the 2009 NHL hockey entry draft. (AP Photo)
While Boston and Edmonton haven’t indicated which one prefers which player, the consensus is that both will be off the board by the time Florida picks third. At that point, opinions already start to diverge regarding who will likely go next, but it appears that pretty much everyone agrees that by the time Dallas arrives at the podium, the following high-end talents will have already been chosen: OHL Windsor defenseman Cam Fowler, OHL Kingston defenseman Erik Gudbranson, defenseman Brandon Gormley of QMJHL Moncton, and left winger Nino Niederreiter of WHL Portland. 

A couple of mock drafts have the Stars picking offensive wizard Brett Connolly from Prince George of the WHL or skilled Russian center Alex Burmistrov from the OHL’s Barrie Colts, but both of those players are consensus top-10 selections and probably won’t still be available at 11. 

Going with the rest of the varying opinions out there, several show Dallas selecting 6-foot-5 defenseman Derek Forbort from the U.S. National Team Development Program, while others predict the Stars will choose one of the following: gritty, 6-foot-4 blueliner Dylan McIlrath of the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, shifty Finnish center Mikael Granlund, playmaking center Ryan Johansen of the WHL’s Portland WinterHawks, all-around right winger Austin Watson from OHL Peterborough or Forbort’s teammate on the U.S. NTDP, Jonathan Merrill. 

That such a wide range of players are slotted to go 11th in the various mock drafts just goes to show how unpredictable the draft is. And that’s where the value the Stars place in the hands of their own scouts who have worked hard all season to evaluate upwards of a thousand players in preparation for this event comes into play. After all, this is exactly why they employ their own staff, to apply their own team-specific judging criteria to determine which players possess the characteristics the Stars prize most, instead of just going with what everyone else says. 

“The lists, everybody has lists out there,” noted Les Jackson, Stars Director of Scouting and Player Development. “One lesson I’ve learned is that you’ve got to by the work that your people do out in the field.”

The Stars also hope to snag a future impact player in the second and third rounds, at number 41 and 71 overall, respectively, and maybe another fifth-round gem at 131. Being able to hit on those selections is what usually separates the perennial playoff contenders from the rest of the NHL. It bodes well that the Stars have had a pretty good recent track record in that respect, with fifth-round choices Jamie Benn (129th overall, in 2007) and Tom Wandell (146th in 2005) turning into important Dallas contributors this past season, while highly-touted defenseman Philip Larsen (fifth round, 149th overall, in 2008), made his NHL debut in April and looks to claim a permanent roster spot next season.  

Conventional wisdom would suggest that the Stars will select at least a few defensemen, after picking just three out of 23 choices over the previous three drafts (and one of those, Ivan Vishnevskiy, was also part of that Atlanta trade for Lehtonen). Most of their organizational depth is at forward, so injecting a couple of blue-chip blueliners into the prospect talent pool would probably be a good idea, but you never know who will be available when your turn comes up. 

A closer look at  the most likely Dallas selections at number 11:

Forbort - A big, puck-moving defenseman that some scouts believe can become the next Tyler Myers (the star defenseman who is a nominee for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year at Wednesday night’s NHL Awards).  He might be a bit of a raw talent, but has impressive upside, as they say in scout-speak. 

Granlund - The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Granlund reminds some scouts of Saku Koivu, thanks to his smaller stature and high skill level.  Granlund played the entire season in the Finnish Elite League for HIFK Helsinki, registering impressive totals of 13 goals and 40 points in 43 games.

Johansen - Tall and lanky, the 6-foot-3, 194-pound Johansen will have to get stronger to compete at the NHL level.  A very skilled passer, Johansen recorded 25 goals and 69 points in 71 WHL games for Portland. 

McIlrath - A tough, bruising defenseman, McIlrath is a punishing hitter in the WHL for Moose Jaw, posting 24 points in 65 games, while also piling up 169 penalty minutes.  He’s tough and has some skills as well as a hard shot from the point.

Watson - A solid two-way right winger, Watson flourished after a mid-season trade from defending Memorial Cup champion Windsor to Peterborough, where he amassed nine goals and 20 points in just 10 games to help his team make the OHL playoffs. 

Merrill - A solid, physical defenseman who has speed and moves the puck well, the 6-foot-3, 198-pound Merrill will be attending the University of Michigan next Fall and is considered fairly similar to his teammate with the U.S. NTDP, Forbort. 

Of course, it very well could end up being none of these guys who joins the organization on Friday. Really, it’s anybody’s guess who will be left on the board when Dallas goes up to the podium, judging by the differing viewpoints on the available players, but no matter whose name they call, the Stars will very likely wind up with an important part of the club’s future.

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