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Top Three

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB /

BUFFALO, NEW YORK - If we accept that moving into the third overall pick in the 2017 draft via the draft lottery is found money for the Dallas Stars, what the next three weeks are going to tell us is just how much money and just what that money buys.

These are not insignificant questions for a team coming off a disappointing 2016-17 season and whose mantra for the coming season is 'immediate bounce back' and not 'rebuild.'

"When the Stars won the draft lottery, to me what they won was a lot more leverage to get better now," said former Stars Assistant GM Frank Provenzano, a long-time NHL executive-turned-entrepreneur and analyst who is based in Dallas.

"The next three weeks are the start of the next year in such a big way," Provenzano said. "More than most."

Between the draft combine currently underway in Buffalo and the first night of the two-day draft on June 23, there is the expansion draft which will see the new Vegas Golden Knights select one player from each of the other 30 NHL teams.

Many teams are in the awkward position of having too many assets and may be looking to move younger players for draft picks.

That has created an avenue for Dallas GM Jim Nill to use the third overall pick as an asset or part of a package of assets to acquire a young, everyday player, presumably a defenseman, who could help the team right now and moving forward.

Between interview sessions with the draft eligible players gathered in Buffalo, Nill said on Thursday he's received more calls about the third overall pick than he imagined he might when the Stars moved from 8th to 3rd at the draft lottery.

Video: GM Jim Nill's take on this week's combine

Given the Stars' need for a top four defenseman, there are a couple of teams including Minnesota and Anaheim that could be looking to add a top draft asset to alleviate expansion draft and salary cap issues.

Could there be a fit for the Stars who also have a second first-round pick, #29, courtesy of a trade deadline deal with Anaheim for Patrick Eaves?

Among the names that have surfaced in Minnesota are those of defensemen Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Matt Dumba. Meanwhile Anaheim has a plethora of young, emerging defensemen including Shea Theodore, Brandon Montour and Josh Manson and they're expected to sign Cam Fowler to an extension. Shoulder injuries to Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm complicate the picture for the Ducks but logic suggests there's not room for all those players long-term and GM Bob Murray is expected to be active between now and the draft.

Not that Nill must move the third pick.

There is a narrative that's been created that the 2017 draft is not a strong one. It's not so.

While there are not the generational players like Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews, and Patrik Laine that dominated discussion at the last two drafts, this is a draft class with lots of excellent players.

Either way Nill chooses to go with the third pick, keep it or trade it, the result should be an asset (or assets) that will impact the team for the next five to seven years.

"I'm not going to give the pick away," Nill said. "That's where I have to be smart."

Craig Button is another former Dallas executive and former NHL GM-turned-analyst who believes the Stars are going to factor very prominently in the proceedings over the next three weeks.

"To me, Dallas won the lottery by going from 8 to 3," Button said. "Dallas is a player at three. At eight they're not a player."

It's all about leverage, Button said.

"How you execute that leverage is key," he said.

Further muddying the waters confronting Nill and his scouting staff is that if an acceptable deal for the third pick doesn't present itself, there are still agonizing choices on which player to draft with the pick, the highest pick the franchise has had since Mike Modano was taken number one overall in 1988 before the team moved to Dallas from Minnesota.

If accepted wisdom holds and centers Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier go first and second (or second and first) to New Jersey and Philadelphia, the Stars will still have a handful of high-end centers to consider including Gabriel Vilardi, the 6-foot-2 Windsor Spitfires center fresh off a Memorial Cup victory.

 "Is he Leon Draisaitl?" Button asked referencing the Edmonton star who was the third pick in 2014.

Michael Rasmussen, 6-foot-5, who fashions himself after Aleksander Barkov and Mats Sundin, Casey Mittelstadt, a highly regarded high schooler out of Minnesota, and Martin Necas who has drawn comparisons to Claude Giroux are also in the mix.

On defense there's smooth-skating Miro Heiskanen or Cale Makar, a dynamic player who puts Button in mind of Ottawa captain and likely Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson.

"It's razor thin," Button said of the separation at the top end of the 2017 draft.

At the beginning of the off-season, the team needed to check three boxes, Provenzano said.

Coaching. The hiring of Ken Hitchcock checked that box.

Goaltending. The addition of Ben Bishop has checked that box.

Add at least a top four defenseman.

"They've got found money to check that third box," Provenzano said. "It's kind of exciting and it's kind of white knuckles all at the same time."

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott on Twitter @OvertimeScottB

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