The 2014 NHL Draft begins Friday night in Philadelphia, and all 30 teams are looking to reload their system with a new class of prospects. In his second draft as General Manager of the Dallas Stars – but first with a year at the helm under his belt – Jim Nill will attempt to fill current and future gaps in the Stars roster that could benefit the team for years to come. Nill, who spent most of his 19 years in Detroit directing the amateur scouting department and overseeing all of the Red Wings selections in the NHL Draft, still thinks with a scout-first mentality. His first four picks last year were Valeri Nichushkin, Jason Dickinson, Remi Elie, and Philippe Desrosiers, who all had terrific seasons last year, and whose future NHL prospects remain extremely high. Nill and company have spent the last year scouting the players they will eventually take this weekend. Of all the duties he has as a General Manager, one could argue that Nill is more prepared for Draft Day than any other. Given what he was able to build in Detroit and his commitment to building a successful present and future in Dallas, Stars fans can feel very excited and confident about the man behind the wheel in Philadelphia this weekend. As more than 200 amateur hockey players fulfil a life-long dream, and the Stars search for the diamonds in this year’s class, here are a few things to keep ‘On the Radar’ as you follow the excitement.
Nill will be a busy man on Friday and Saturday, as the Stars are tied for the most picks of any team this year. Dallas has nine total picks in the seven-round draft. The Stars have two picks in rounds four and six, and one selection in each of the other five rounds. Other teams with nine picks are Los Angeles, St. Louis, New York Islanders, and Washington. Last year, in his first draft with Dallas, Nill also had nine selections, including two each in the first and second rounds. If he winds up keeping all nine of his picks this weekend, Nill will have drafted 18 players in his first 14 months on the job. Not a bad start for a man with such an accomplished scouting and drafting resume.
A Look Back at 14
The Stars first round pick will be the 14th overall selection in this draft. Three years ago, the Stars also picked at 14 and took defenseman Jamie Oleksiak in the 2011 Draft. Oleksiak has had short stints in Dallas in each of the last two seasons, but has spent the majority of that time in the AHL. He was strong in Texas’ Calder Cup Championship run this postseason, and will come into training camp next year battling for a NHL spot.
To get an idea of what the 14th overall pick has produced in the past, here is a look at who was taken in that spot in each of the last ten years, along with the number of NHL games they have played thus far in their career.
2013: Alexander Wennberg, C (Columbus) - 0
2012: Zemgus Girgensons, C (Buffalo) - 70
2011: Jamie Oleksiak, D – (Dallas) 23
2010: Jaden Schwartz, LW (St. Louis) - 132
2009: Dmitri Kulikov, D (Florida) - 313… Played 68 games his draft season
2008: Zach Boychuk, C (Carolina) - 96
2007: Kevin Shattenkirk, D (Colorado) - 282
2006: Michael Grabner, (Vancouver) RW - 283
2005: Sasha Pokulok, D (Washington) - 0
2004: Devan Dubnyk, G (Edmonton) – 173
When addressing the Stars needs, the most commonly discussed positions are defensemen and centers. The fact is that none of the Stars picks this year – even their first pick at #14 – is likely to see NHL ice in the immediate future. So the Dallas front office will be tasked with picking who they believe will benefit the team most once they are NHL ready, or simply taking who they believe is the best player available at that time. However, if you choose to look at defensemen and centers as a priority, there are a few names that might be viable options when the Stars first control the podium. According to NHL Central Scouting, there are four defensemen ranked among the Top 14 North American skaters. The highest is Aaron Ekblad, who is ranked 2nd. Ekblad is viewed by most as a possible first overall pick, and a guaranteed top-3 selection. In other words, there is no chance he falls to Dallas at 14. However, the other three could potentially be in play for the Stars. They are Haydn Fleury (9), Julius Honka (11), and Tony DeAngelo (14). It’s worth noting that while the Stars have a large number of defensemen in the pipeline, the only one who is on the NHL radar with a right-handed shot is John Klingberg. Nill and Head Coach, Lindy Ruff have expressed their desire to even out those numbers moving forward. With that in mind, both Honka and DeAngelo are right-handed shots. While it won’t take effect this season, both of those defensemen are good skaters with offensive upside with the right-handed shot the Stars are on record as wanting.
When looking at available centers, three of the projected top-five picks play that position. They are Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart, and Leon Draisaitl. Make no mistake, they are also not going to be there when Dallas picks. However, there are several additional centers in the NHL CS high rankings from North America and Europe that will be. A few that are projected to land somewhere in the mid-1st round range are Robby Fabbri, Jared McCann, and Dylan Larkin. All three possess terrific speed, which is a priority for anyone at any position in the Stars current system. Along those lines, winger Brendan Perlini brings both good speed and size as a prototypical power forward, and winger Nikita Scherbak also is heralded for his skating ability. All of the aforementioned are just a few names to keep in mind when Dallas takes their first pick. No matter what position they go with, look for the Stars to place a priority on speed with all of their picks.
One player who is likely to be a first-round pick is forward, Nick Ritchie. If the last name sounds familiar, it should. Nick is the 18-year old, younger brother of 2011 Stars draft pick, Brett Ritchie, who earlier this month helped the Texas Stars to the AHL Championship. Brett had a very good rookie season this year, after a great, final season in the OHL in 2012-2013. Nick is coming off a 39-goal, 74-point campaign. Like his brother, Nick brings a lot of size at 6’3”, 235 lbs. It could be a feel-good story if he were still available when the Stars pick in the first round. However, most people widely believe that he will be taken prior to the 14th pick. While it is unlikely that he falls to Dallas, he is an interesting player to follow regardless, given his relationship to Brett, who is expected to be a NHL player in the coming years. If he did somehow drop to 14, the Stars – who already employ both Jamie and Jordie Benn – could add to their sibling count. By the way, did we mention this draft is in the “City of Brotherly Love?” That has to mean something, right?
One possibility that always exists for every team is the trading of picks. Last year the NHL was stunned by the trade between Vancouver and New Jersey that sent goaltender Cory Schneider east for the #9 overall pick. This year, with the number of high-profile names on the trading block, most fans aren’t likely to be caught by surprise. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be any activity. No asking price has ever been publicly stated, but going back to the trading deadline, it is believed that the cost of high-end player (see: Kessler, Spezza, Thornton, etc.) is a package consisting of one NHL player, a top-tier prospect, and a first round draft pick. As the draft nears, and free-agency is just days away, that price may have changed. However, if there is going to be trade activity before July 1, there is a very good chance it comes this weekend and involves picks in this draft. With rumors of Dallas linked to a few of the names up for grabs, that is always a possibility that could take place.
Those are just a few of the many storylines to follow this weekend in Philadelphia. Whatever winds up happening, there is certainly a lot to keep you engrossed and entertained. We hope you enjoy it.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for the Stars radio broadcasts. He can be heard 30 minutes before face-off and immediately after games all season long on SportsRadio 1310AM and 96.7FM The Ticket. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.