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Heika: Stars' draft has to be evaluated on sliding scale

Dallas' scouts aren't concerned with perceptions of pick positions, knowing time will grade effectiveness of process

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

The new job has offered some great opportunities, and changed a lot of perceptions.

I was able to go to Buffalo and sit in on interviews with prospects for the 2018 NHL Draft, and it really was eye-opening. One, you realize how much work the scouts put in, and how close they are as a group. And two, you see just how similar all of these athletes are.

They are 17 or 18. They are well-trained in the interview process. They are hungry to become great players.

So you study mock drafts and look at who might fall to the Stars, and say to yourself, Yeah, that would be a great pick. Then, another guy comes in, and he seems even better. And the next guy is just as good. And you start to get confused a bit.

Video: Nill talks forward-heavy 2018 draft

It's one of those deals where having all of the information isn't the greatest thing. It's paralysis by analysis. There really is a very small difference between these players, so ranking them 1-31 becomes a lesson in futility. But you do your best and you look at your mock draft, and then you look at other people's mock drafts, and if there isn't that much difference, then it all seems to make sense to you.


Then, when the draft unfolds and players don't go where they're projected, fans get upset. They want order, they want logic, they want to believe their team is doing the right thing. But if you look at past drafts, you see that logic is tough to come by.

Check out the redraft of 2007 when Jamie Benn was taken 129th. The shuffle is significant.

Video: Eriksson is ready to bring size, strength to Stars

Or John Klingberg moving up from 131st to 14th in the 2010 redraft.

You can go back to any year, and you can see just how difficult it is to run an NHL draft. It's hard to be a scout. You put in the work, you use your experience, you trust your gut, and you put your fate in the hands of kids.

So much of the past week has been dedicated to figuring out the first round, and the actual draft had some real surprises. You can say the Stars reached for Ty Dellandrea at No. 13. Most mocks had him in the 20s, but Dallas scouts really like the makeup of the rangy center and believe his upside will be led by an inner drive that is off the charts. They also believe several other teams would have taken Dellandrea in the same position.

On Saturday, both GM Jim Nill and director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell said they had second round pick Albin Eriksson as a potential first-rounder on their list, so they were ecstatic to get him at No. 44, despite the fact mock drafts had him in the third round.

Video: 106th pick couldn't be happier with new team, city

"You can look at the funny lists you see out there, but for the most part, the teams have the same lists, and it shows," McDonnell said of how the picks of other NHL teams followed the Stars' list.

"You look at our sheet that we take into the draft, and it's going, 'bing, bing, bing," just getting picked off."

Truth is, we all have to wait to find out how these players play, and that could change our perception on how the Stars did this weekend.

But we don't have to wait to find out what happened nine years ago. Dallas, under a different scouting regime, took Scott Glennie eighth overall. He played one NHL game. They took goalie Jack Campbell 11th overall the next year. He played one game for the Stars. They took Jamie Oleksiak 14th overall the next year and traded him to Pittsburgh last season for a fourth-round pick.

Video: Damiani's Dad misses draft selection

That shapes perception, as well.

Stars fans have had a tough run, and the current administration also has had some hits and misses. Val Nichushkin, the 10th pick in 2013, played three seasons in the NHL and played the next two in the KHL. Julius Honka, taken 14th in 2014, has developed slowly. Denis Gurianov, the 12th pick in 2015, was an occasional healthy scratch in the recent AHL playoffs -- a time when he probably should have been leading the Texas Stars.

So maybe that makes the fans a little quicker to jerk the knee when the draft doesn't go according to Hoyle. You can't really blame them.

And you can't blame the scouting staff for not worrying about perception. They have a job to do, and they believe in their research. They know it's a results-oriented business, and they know they need success.

Video: The 13th overall pick's first interview

"It's a thing where you can always second guess yourself, but if you did it would drive you crazy," McDonnell said. "We definitely look back and try to learn, but you just have to trust the work and put in the work every day."

It'll be a big year for the scouting staff, with Nichushkin expected to come back from Russia, Honka and Miro Heiskanen (third overall in 2017) likely to get regular roles on defense, and Jason Dickinson as a potential winger for Radek Faksa. If all four players look good, the past drafts start to appear pretty effective.

"If you can get two to three players every year, you're doing a good job," Nill said. "I know that doesn't sound like good odds, but those are facts. If you can get two or three players and keep doing it every year, you're setting yourself up pretty good."

The Stars have a history of uncovering hidden gems, so getting to that two or three players has been fairly consistent. But if they can hit on first-rounders, too, then the perception can change from pretty good to great.

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 and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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