“It’s the most important thing in the NHL now,” said Stars GM Jim Nill. “With the CBA and the level playing field, you have to draft and develop. Teams are signing players to long-term deals, so you really can’t fill your holes too much through free agency. You have to do it through drafting and developing. It’s the most important part of any NHL franchise right now.”
The Stars and the league’s 29 other teams will gather at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia this weekend looking to stock up on prospects at the 2014 NHL Draft.
The Stars hired Nill less than two months before last year’s draft, so this will be the first with him having a firm grasp on the organization. And he’s made some changes in the scouting department, including the hiring of Joe McDonnell as director of amateur scouting last July. McDonnell had been with Detroit, where he worked closely with Nill.
“He brings great experience. Joe and I worked together for the last 20 years in Detroit,” Nill said. “He has a great history in the draft, he’s been through it all. Never had any high picks and has found a lot of gems in the later rounds. The experience he brings and his résumé are huge for our organization.”
It’s been a smooth transition into the Dallas organization for McDonnell, who joined Detroit as an amateur scout in 1995 and then became director of amateur scouting for the Red Wings in 2003.
“It’s been pretty easy,” McDonnell said. “I am still working for the same boss pretty well in Jim Nill, and I know all the Dallas scouts from our travels over the years. It’s been excellent.”
Trades are always a possibility at the draft – and there’s some buzz about what could happen this weekend in Philadelphia, but for now Nill, McDonnell and the Stars’ scouting staff will have nine picks over seven rounds in this year’s draft, including the 14th overall selection in the first round.
“I think every year is the same. It’s good. There are players that come out of it, you just have to find them,” said Nill. “Some drafts have more high-end players and I’d say this year the high-end players aren’t quite there. I don’t think you have as many guys who are ready to step into the NHL. Last season you had six or seven guys. It’s thinner in that way, but that doesn’t mean that in four or five years these players might be better players down the road.”
“It’s average-plus,” said McDonnell. “It’s one of the weirdest drafts I’ve seen, where I think anyone that you have slotted at 35 could go as high as 15 and vice versa. That’s not knocking any of those kids, they’ve all got some good qualities that you like about them. It’s going to be interesting to see where everybody slots in.”
The Stars have put together a list of about 175 players for this year’s draft, which McDonnell considers a deep one.
“It varies from year to year. I can remember some years going in with 120 names,” McDonnell said. “But this year is a deep draft and there are guys that we like that are going to be later round picks and that’s why there are so many players on our list this year.”
The players taken in the draft aren’t likely to hit the Dallas lineup for three, four or five years and who knows what the needs of the NHL roster will be then. The Stars don’t see any glaring holes in the prospect pipeline, so it likely will be the best player available when it is their turn to pick.
“We’ve got some good young goalies coming up, we’ve got some good young defensemen and we’ve got some good forwards,” said Nill. “It’s not like we have to go in and say we have to have this type of player or this position to be filled. We’re pretty level that way. “
McDonnell said he believes in taking the best player available, but if it is a close call he could lean towards a certain position.
“I think overall our philosophy will be to take the best player available, but If you have two or three guys that are close and one of them is a defenseman, I would probably lean towards a defenseman,” McDonnell said.
The Stars’ amateur scouting staff fanned the globe to look at players from juniors, college, high school and the European leagues to target potential selections. The Stars also attended the NHL Draft Combine, an event the organization has downplayed in years past. That has changed under Nill and McDonnell.
“The whole NHL is there. You’re maybe hearing rumors, talking to other general managers about potential trades or what they are going to do. So, you are gathering information there,” said Nill. “And you are getting to meet the players. You are going to end up picking five or six of these players at the draft, and it’s a chance to put a face to the player. You’ve been watching them play all year and you get to talk to them about their lives and get their life story. It’s one more piece of information that you are grabbing before you have to make that selection at the draft.”
For McDonnell, the interview process at the combine is critical. As for the physical testing conducted at the event, McDonnell said the Stars won’t put a lot of stock into it but that it’s another piece of information the team can put in its file on a player.
“Most teams look at the physical testing, but I wouldn’t take too much out of that,” McDonnell said. “I am sure you read about Sam Bennett, who could go first overall, he couldn’t do one chin up. If you read a lot into that, he’s a late round pick. We don’t look at that, the physical testing. We’ll take that and gauge it, then test the kid after we draft them this summer, and we’ll see how they progress moving forward.”
But the key is still what scouts see on the ice, and McDonnell said there are a few key attributes he looks for in a young player.
“I look at a package of assets that the kid might have, whether it might be his hockey sense, his skating ability and his size,” McDonnell said. “Those are the biggest three things I would look at.”
We’ll find out which players McDonnell and the Stars’ scouting staff believe fit that criteria beginning Friday evening in Philadelphia.
2014 NHL Draft
When: June 27-28
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
TV: NBCSN (Friday, 6 p.m.); NHL Network (Saturday, 9 a.m.)
Dallas Stars picks in 2014 NHL Draft
1st round: 14th overall
2nd round: 45th overall
3rd round: 75th overall
4th round: 105th overall; 115th overall (from Anaheim via Washington)
5th round: 135th overall
6th round: 154th (from Calgary); 165th overall)
7th round: 195th overall
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.