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Nill believes deep draft will yield Stars 'really good' player

'We're looking for guys that can come in and make an impact -- we're trying to hit the home run,' the GM says

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Stars GM Jim Nill laid out his draft plans on Thursday, saying his team's draft board hasn't changed since it was put together in May and adding that the Stars, like most teams, will go after high end skill players Friday and Saturday.

Dallas has pick No. 13 Friday when the first round of the NHL Draft presented by adidas is held at American Airlines Center, and Nill said he believes the team is well prepared. While mock drafts and media predictions have changed a great deal in recent days on a deep group of players, Nill said he thinks teams will stick to their boards.

 

[RELATED: Nill expects to sign Nichushkin to two-year deal on July 1 | Draft Central]

 

"We had our meetings in early May, and I can't say it's changed a lot," Nill said after exiting the GM meetings Thursday evening at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas. "A lot of the scouting and work that takes place has gone on for two years, so these players are well known. Once the lists are done in May, they're pretty set."

The Stars are sitting in a place where they could get a choice of several smart forwards, and that's a need for the organization. Dallas took defenseman Miro Heiskanen and goalie Jake Oettinger in the first round last season, so getting a player like Barrett Hayton, Joseph Veleno or Rasmus Kupari would add future depth.

"There's some good players there, guys that play fast and play hard," Nill said. "We're excited where we're picking."

Nill said he has is also open to moving up or down in the draft to maximize their situation.

Video: How much activity should fans expect at this draft?

"I've been talking to other general managers and you're always seeing is there somebody who wants to move up, is there somebody who wants to move down," Nill said. "The thing I like about this draft is there is a group of 10 or 15 guys who have a chance to be really good, and we have the chance to get one of those guys."

Nill said the draft -- and the first round in particular -- is a time to go after players who can excel in star roles. He said that teams can pick up depth players in free agency or trades, but that the draft is the time to build the high end skill that ends up costing so much to acquire in the NHL.

"I'm big into the skill, you're hoping to get someone who's going to be a star," he said. "You can always trade for or sign a depth player. We're looking for guys that can come in and make an impact -- we're trying to hit the home run."

Dallas has had hits and misses with some of its first round picks, and that's why Nill said rounds 2-7 on Saturday are just as important. Among the key players on the current roster, Jamie Benn and John Klingberg were both fifth round selections.

"It's amazing how many later round guys have become stars," he said.

Nill said the team self-assesses and is honest in its past drafts. While he didn't mention 2015 specifically, the Stars took Denis Gurianov, who was a healthy scratch during the recent Calder Cup playoffs, at 12th. Meanwhile, Mathew Barzal (16th) and Kyle Conner (17th) were among the top rookies in the NHL last season. Nill said projecting out the progress of athletes who are 17 or 18 is difficult.

Video: Who could the Stars be targeting at 13th overall?

"We go back and look at our lists and it's humbling," Nill said. "You go back and say, 'Oh, we had that guy 15th overall' and he may not be playing anymore and then you go down the list and see a guy who is picked 189th and he's the next star in the league. You're dealing with people, everybody develops differently. That's the great thing about sports, it's the unknown."

Nill said he's proud to be representing the host city for the draft, saying it adds a level of excitement.

"Every NHL team is here, the city is surrounded by hockey people and I think it's going to be a great event," he said. "It's a chance to see the future stars coming into the game. It's an exciting time for the city."

Unlike other pro drafts where teams are huddled in war rooms, the NHL draft has every team's draft squad stationed at tables on the floor of the arena. That means GMs can get up and walk around and talk to each other and every move team officials make is open to public interpretation.

"That's the exciting part, and the fans that come out to watch this Friday and Saturday, they're going to see that," Nill said.

"You're going to see GMs and you're going to see phones ringing, and it's not mom calling to get the milk."

The center of the hockey universe will be in Texas on Friday and Saturday as the Stars host the 2018 NHL Draft™ presented by adidas for the first time ever at American Airlines Center. For complete Draft coverage, including the latest stories, videos and event information, click here.

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.

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