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Stars acquire rights to Niemi, select four players on day two of draft

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

The NHL Draft wasn’t the only item on Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill’s agenda this weekend at the NHL Draft in Florida. So was the team’s goaltending situation. And he addressed that issue Saturday, acquiring the negotiating rights to goaltender Antti Niemi from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick.

The Stars are now working on finalizing a contract with Niemi, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. The Stars and Niemi are close to finalizing a deal, according to Nill.

“Antti was at the top of our list,” Nill said. “This is an opportunity to add an elite goalie. He’s won a Stanley Cup. He’s played in pressure situations. We are looking forward to having a good one-two punch with him and Kari [Lehtonen].”

Nill said that one-two punch in goal is key these days in the NHL. It’s something the Stars have not had in recent years as backups to Lehtonen have struggled, posting a 14-25-1 record over the past two seasons. The Stars are willing to spend some money to address the issue. Lehtonen has a $5.9 million cap hit. Niemi is coming off a deal that paid him $4 million last season and could be looking for something similar in a new deal.

“The game has almost become a two-goalie game now with the travel, the back-to-backs and the pressure of winning,” Nill said. “We’ve got lots of cap room and it was a situation we had to get better at. We knew there were some games our backups weren’t good enough, and we’ve got to be better.”

Nill said he was in on talks with every team that had a goaltender available. He could have gone after one of the younger goalies on the market, giving up prospects and/or draft picks. Or he could have dipped into the free agent market, spending money rather than assets.

He decided to get a jump on free agency by acquiring the rights to the more experienced Niemi, who won a Stanley Cup with Chicago and helped San Jose get to the Western Conference Final in 2011. The 31-year-old Finn has played 338 NHL regular season games, posting a 190-100-40 record, 2.39 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and 32 shutouts. Last season, Niemi was 31-23-7 with a 2.59 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.

“I talked to every team that had goalies available. We knew we had to give up assets to get a legitimate 1A/1B guy or we were going to have to spend money,” Nill said. “We are fortunate that we’ve got lots of cap room. We are still going to be almost $10 million under the cap, so we still have lots of flexibility, and it didn’t cost any assets.

“And we know what [Niemi] is. Some of these guys, they are good young names and they are projected to be good, but until you do it, you don’t know.”

Lehtonen is coming off a rough season, one of the worst of his NHL career. Among the 45 goaltenders who played enough to qualify to be among the league leaders in 2014-15, Lehtonen ranked 36th in goals-against average and 41st in save percentage. Nill said he expects Lehtonen to rebound, giving the Stars two goaltenders that should push each other and hopefully push the team forward in the process.

“Kari is still an elite goalie,” Nill said. “He’s going to bounce back. He has been changing his conditioning over the summer. Competition is healthy. Our goal is to win the Cup, and this is going to help us get there.”

Stars pick four in round two of draft

The Dallas Stars used their four picks on day two of the NHL Draft to select one forward, two defensemen and one goaltender. Those four join forward Dennis Gurianov, who was selected in the first round (12th overall) Friday night, as the Stars’ draft class of 2015.

Here is a look at the players the Stars picked on Saturday.

Roope Hintz (Second round/49th overall)

Position: Left Wing

Height/Weight: 6-3/191

Shoots: Left

Born: November 17, 1996 in Tampere, Finland

2014-15 Team: Ilves (Finnish Elite League)

The Stars had Hintz ranked in the top 15 on their draft list. He played last season with Ilves in Finland’s top league, registering 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 42 games. Played for Finland at the 2015 World Junior Championship, picking up two assists in five games. He’ll play with HIFK in Finland’s top league next season.

Quotable:

“We had him in the top 15 on our list. He’s a big power forward, has decent hands but is more of a straight line power guy. Real good skater and very effective player for Finland at the U-20s (World Junior Championship).” – Joe McDonnell, Stars Director of Amateur Scouting

“He’s a great skater, good size but light frame still. He has good hands. I think he fits the style of how we play. I just like his overall game.” – Kari Takko, Stars Director of European Scouting.

Chris Martenet (Fourth round/103rd overall)

Position: Defenseman

Height/Weight: 6-7/198

Shoots: Left

Born: September 25, 1996 in Waukesha, Wisconsin

2014-15 Team: London (OHL)

Played for London of the Ontario Hockey League, registering 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 64 games. Played for Indiana of the USHL in 2013-14. Martenet said he grew six inches while in eighth grade, shooting up from 6-1 to 6-7. Martenet is listed at 6-7, 198 pounds but said he has bulked up to 210 pounds.

Quotable:

“His whole year was on an upward swing. He’s an athlete. I think his entire family played basketball at different colleges in the United States. He didn’t have ice in his hometown during the summer, so he moved in with the London GM and worked out all summer. He’s a great kid. … He’s going to be a simple, first-pass guy with that long range, long mobility. For his size, he’s a very good skater.” – Joe McDonnell, Dallas Stars Director of Amateur Scouting

Joseph Cecconi (Fifth round/133rd overall)

Position: Defenseman

Height/Weight: 6-2/209

Shoots: Right

Born: May 23, 1997 in Youngstown, NY

2014-15 Team: Muskegon (USHL)

Played for Muskegon in the USHL in 2014-15, registering 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) in 60 games. Tallied two assists in 12 playoff games as Muskegon advanced to Clark Cup Finals. Will play for the University of Michigan next season.

Quotable:

“He’s a big shutdown defenseman, makes a good first pass and thinks defense first. He moves the puck up, supports the play. He supports his defense partner really well in moving the puck up. He has a good stick, does a good job getting in the way. He’s a rangy player. He has really good size right now, and he’s going to get wider; he’s going to get bigger.” – Buddy Powers, Dallas Stars scout

Markus Ruusu (Sixth round/163rd overall)

Position: Goaltender

Height/Weight: 6-2/174

Catches: Left

Born: April 23, 1997 in Finland

2014-15 Team: JYP (Finland, Jr)

The 17-year-old goaltender played in Finnish juniors last season, posting a 2.96 goals-against average and .918 save percentage for JYP.

Quotable:

“He’s a young goalie and is very raw. He played in an under-18 league. He has all the tools. He was selected in early June to a camp in Finland for future stars, so that’s a good sign that someone else has noticed him, too. When I met him, I liked his character. There’s something different there than most of the kids. … He’s just a skinny kid, like most of the Europeans are. He’s a very technical goalie, and he is playing in a great organization right now. I am happy where he is right now, and it gives him a good chance to develop.” – Kari Takko, Stars Director of European Scouting.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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