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Stars hoping to enhance growing prospect pool with 14th pick in draft

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

It may not sound like a very high pick, but the Dallas Stars are confident that they will select a player that will eventually have a big impact on their fortunes when they step up to the podium for the 14th overall choice in Friday’s NHL Entry Draft.

Jack Campbell was selected 11th overall in 2010.
As the club has transitioned to a younger core group over the last few seasons, it has also begun to build a better base of prospects to feed into the pipeline. That became evident this past season when the squad ran into injuries late in the year and was forced to call up numerous players from AHL Texas as replacements.

With their first round pick on Friday and five more selections on Saturday in rounds 2-7 in the event taking place at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., the Stars hope to add more talented young men to the queue.

As the non-playoff team with the best regular season record in 2010-11, Dallas currently holds the 14th overall pick in the first round on Friday (VERSUS, 6 pm), although that could always change.

“I think the focus has been to try to stockpile the prospects that we have,” noted Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk. “We know that we’re going to get a good player at 14. Opportunities could present themselves where we could move back or we could move up, those are things we’ll discuss as we move up to the draft here. I think we’re starting to see the players come into our system now. I think we’ve been a little draft pick-deficient over the years, but I think we’re starting to see some of the kids, the Alex Chiassons, the Reilly Smiths, the Scott Glennies, names you’ll get to know over the next few years, and we’ll continue to do that. We’ll look for pieces that help us build a championship team.”

“It’s hard to say (who will be available at 14) because we’re so far back, but we have a group of guys we’re looking at and obviously, we’ll just have to wait and see how it falls,” added Les Jackson, the Stars’ Director of Scouting and Player Development and the man directly in charge of the scouting staff. “We’re drafting for three or four years down the road, so we’ll try to take who we think the best players will be at that point.”

Jackson also indicated that unlike the NFL or NBA, where the high draft picks are expected to step right into the lineup and immediately contribute, the inexact science of projecting the career path of 18-year-olds makes it pointless to consider drafting by team need.

“You can’t do that, because things change so much,” he said. “But we’ll still look at who we think is the best player at that point. We’ve got some good young guys in the bank now, we’re starting to build a nucleus of good players, so hopefully we’ll take advantage of this pick and the picks beyond it.”

“I think the philosophy has always been to take the best player,” Nieuwendyk added. “Your needs certainly change as you go along, and if you draft on need, I think you’re looking for trouble. Things always change in our game, the game is always evolving. There are Stanley Cup winners who have done it with brawn and physicality (Anaheim in 2007, Boston last week), there’s speed and size when Chicago won (in 2010). The game is always evolving, so I think if you take the best players that are available with your selection, it leaves you with the best opportunity to move forward.”

As Jackson noted, the Stars are not just focused on their first round pick, but all six of them, missing just their third-rounder that was sent to New Jersey as part of the Jamie Langenbrunner trade. And in a rare year where there is no consensus number one overall pick, the pervading sense around the league is that this is a pretty deep draft, with many potential hidden gems waiting in the later rounds.

“It’s hard to tell, but I think it’s got good depth,” Jackson said. “I find that the teams that do their work and do a thorough job during the season, they find players. I think this draft has some real high-end guys, but it’s got good depth all the way through. And that’s one of the reasons you can talk about moving back, because you can move back and you can still protect yourself, so overall, I think it’s a good draft year.”

With the clock ticking down to the biggest day of the year for Jackson and his staff, including Director of Amateur Scouting Tim Bernhardt and a group of 12-14 scouts, the Dallas master draft board receives its final adjustments.

And while there may be multiple lists ranking eligible prospects available for fans to peruse, the Stars’ staff compiles its own list that can sometimes contain significant differences from the other lists circulating. That’s why some were surprised when they chose goaltender Jack Campbell last year 11th overall when a number of lists had him ranked in the 20s, but the Stars pointed out he was third on their board.

“We’re basically there, we’ve been there for the last month and a half,” Jackson said of the process of formulating their 2011 list. “There’s a million lists you can go off, but there’s a lot to do to get ready for whoever you’re going to select at 14, because we have our team psychologist who does a lot of work for us, and he’s busy in his own job, so we usually take right up to a couple of days before the draft before we get all the information and then we finalize it. But there’s always changes. You get information as you go along and it tweaks the list - and then different things happen at the draft table. There’s trades, some options potentially to move up, to move back, so we have to weigh all those factors, but at the end of the day, it’s being ready to pick at 14, because we know we have that.”

As for the type of player Stars management is looking to land at that point in the draft, Jackson states that the most important trait they zero in on is one of the hardest to quantify.

“Character is always the most important thing,” Jackson claimed. “The game has evolved since the new CBA, and there’s new rules (promoting speed and offense) and everything comes in, but one thing that never changes is the quality of the people and the guys who care and work hard, so that’s always the number one criteria. And if they have the understanding of the game and some skill attributes and the potential to grow and mature and improve, those are good qualities, too.”

That is also why the club does employ a psychologist to talk to potential draftees, utilizing some non-traditional techniques to dig a bit deeper into players’ psyches.

“He’s able to do things, get information that the normal eye can’t connect to,” Jackson explained. “He’s been with us for 14 years and he’s really a great resource for us. We know how he works, we have a history with him and he’s able to give us information that’s beneficial to our selections.”

One player who has been subjected to the psychologist interview is Stars captain Brenden Morrow, who was the club’s first round choice (25th overall) in 1997, and he found it to be an odd experience.

“They actually have a psychologist that shows you a bunch of ink pictures and wants you make a story out of them,” recalled Morrow. “It was one of the strangest interviews I had, but I must have told him some good stories, because they ended up drafting me.”

That proves that the process has worked. And if the Stars can emerge from this weekend’s festivities with just one player who comes even remotely close to being able to provide what Morrow has over the past 11 seasons, then it will be a job well done.

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