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Stars Want Repeat of Draft Magic

by Bob Matuszak / Dallas Stars

Modano was drafted 1st overall in 1988

One has to look no further than the recent Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to see the important and integral role that a draft plays on a team's makeup and ability to become a contender.

In the early 2000s the Blackhawks were a mess. But over a six-year period they were able to build a solid foundation of players that were key components in helping them win the championship for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Chicago began it's rebuild with the selection of defenseman Duncan Keith in the second round of the 2002 draft, and a year later added defenseman Brent Seabrook with the 14th overall pick.

In 2006 they snagged captain Jonathan Toews with the third overall selection in the entry draft, and electric forward Patrick Kane came to the Windy City after Chicago picked him No. 1 overall in 2007.

The Stars have also enjoyed draft-day bonanzas since entering the league as the Minnesota North Stars in 1967, especially in 1988 when general manager Lou Nanne claimed Mike Modano with the No. 1 overall selection. Soon afterwards, Modano was able to help spearhead the franchise to the second of their three Stanley Cup Finals appearances in dramatic fashion.

Minnesota finished the '90-91 season in fourth place in the Norris Division, and was a prohibitive underdog when it faced the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs. The Blackhawks finished with a league-high 106 points that season, while the North Stars had mustered just 68.

But behind the dazzling skating and stickhandling of Modano, coupled with 35-goal scorer and 1982 No. 1 pick (second overall) Brian Bellows, and 1979 second rounder Neal Broten, Minnesota overcome all odds to dispose of Chicago in six games.

The North Stars followed that upset with inspiring performances to get past St. Louis and Edmonton before falling in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Finals.

What follows are three other drafts that helped shape and forge Dallas/Minnesota into elite status.

It's Good to Be Bad
In the summer of 1978, the North Stars were coming off a disastrous five-season stretch in which they qualified for the postseason just once, losing in a two-game sweep to the Buffalo Sabres in 1977. Following dismal 1977-78 campaign in which they went a miserable 18-53-9, the Stars were awarded the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, a pick that would quickly turn the team's fortunes around.

Bobby Smith was a long and lanky playmaking center playing junior hockey in Ottawa when the Stars made him the top pick in the league in 1978. Minnesota then reunited Smith with his Ottawa teammate by taking linemate Steve Payne in the second round (19th overall). Minnesota added more offense by picking Steve Christoff with the second of two second round picks, and shored up the blue line with collegian Curt Giles in the fourth.

A year later, the North Stars had three selections in the first two rounds once again, and hit on all three. Defenseman Craig Hartsburg was chosen sixth overall, and forwards Tom McCarthy and Broten were each picked in the second round.

Minnesota then got their goalie in the 1980 draft, taking Sudbury's Don Beaupre in the second round.

The North Stars missed the playoffs again in 1979 despite the dynamic play of Smith, who led the team with 74 points en route to winning the Calder Trophy as the league's rookie of the year. But things started coming together a year later, as Minnesota not only reached the playoffs, but advanced all the way to the semi-finals before losing to Philadelphia in five games.

In 1980-81, Smith led the North Stars once again with 93 points, Payne had a team-high 30 goals, the rugged Hartsburg led the blue line with 43 points and 124 penalty minutes, McCarthy was fifth in scoring with 48 points, Giles played in 67 games, and Beaupre began his nine-year North Stars career by teaming with veteran Gilles Meloche to give Minnesota a solid 1-2 punch in the crease.

Not surprisingly, the North Stars cruised to their first-ever Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1981 by going 11-3 in the first three rounds of the playoffs. But the New York Islanders eventually proved to be too much for the upstart North Stars, winning the second of four straight Stanley Cups with a 4-1 series victory.

Building the Blue Line
In 1990, the North Stars selected American-born behemoth defenseman Derian Hatcher with the eighth overall pick in the draft. Hatcher was a dominant force with a mean streak while playing junior hockey in North Bay, and quickly began learning from the likes of veteran Minnesota defensemen like Giles, Mark Tinordi, and Craig Ludwig.

Following the 1990-91 season in which the North Stars finished 27-39-14 they took another gritty defenseman, Richard Matvichuk, eighth overall.

Then, in February 1996, with the Stars having migrated south to Dallas 2 1/2 years earlier, 1989 first-round pick Doug Zmolek was shipped to Los Angeles for defenseman Darryl Sydor in a deal that also included Dallas fan-favorite Shane Churla. Despite Sydor bringing a much-needed offensive style to the Stars back end, the deal was originally frowned upon by the Stars faithful, who had quickly turned Churla into cult-hero status because of the punishing hits he delivered and entertaining fights he routinely started to stir old Reunion Arena into a frenzy.

But those bone-and-board-rattling Churla checks were quickly forgotten when Hatcher, Matvichuk and Sydor became prominent parts on a Stars team that took the Metroplex on a magnificent three-year run. Starting in 1998, Dallas, which was captained by Hatcher, went to three consecutive Western Conference finals, two straight Stanley Cup Finals, and garnered the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup championship in 1999.

Dealing For New(y)
Bob Gainey took over the general manager reigns in 1992, and with the 11th overall pick in the 1995 draft he chose Kamloops scoring star Jarome Iginla. With agility, quickness and soft hands in a rock-solid body, Iginla showed that he had the potential to be a star in the NHL after he accumulated 71 points and 111 penalty minutes in 72 games in his second year with the Blazers in 1994-95.

Gainey gladly snagged the Alberta native, knowing that Iginla would soon help alleviate some of the offensive pressure that was on Modano's shoulders.

After being drafted, Iginla started his third season with Kamloops and quickly began tearing up the Western Hockey League, eventually finishing with 136 points and 120 penalty minutes in 63 games.

But in December 1995 Gainey suddenly sensed the need to change course. With a budding team that was gaining experience but still a piece or two away from being truly special, the former Montreal Canadiens captain wanted a body that could help right away. That's when he pulled the trigger on the biggest trade in Dallas Stars history, sending Iginla and Corey Millen to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Joe Nieuwendyk.

The 6-foot-1 Nieuwendyk was a consistent offensive threat for the Flames, topping the 30-goal mark in six of seven seasons starting in 1987-88. That stretch included a pair of 50-goal campaigns, and two-straight 45-goal seasons from 1989-91.

Nieuwendyk immediately did what Iginla was supposed to three or four years down the line -- take the load off Modano. The classy and poised center became a big part on shaping a team that instantaneously got on track towards accomplishing something big.

The fruits of Gainey's trade eventually came to fruition when Nieuwendyk won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP during the Stars' Stanley Cup championship run of 1999.

As for Iginla, he hasn't disappointed in Calgary, and has scored 441 goals and accumulated 920 points in 1,024 games and 13 seasons with the Flames. He helped lead Calgary to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2004, but the Flames lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games.

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