One might argue that this group is a year ahead of schedule. A not-yet-fully-formed Dallas Stars team, with a defense that is in transition, ended up making the postseason and taking a strong Ducks team to the bitter end of game six.
The Texas Stars, still a young group themselves – though aided by some AHL vets, captured an AHL championship with a backup goaltender that has no NHL future. The new GM, Jim Nill, has given no reason to doubt that he is overripe for the position like so many Detroit Red Wings prospects that he oversaw in the past. Veteran head coach Lindy Ruff got a lot out of a group that has some notable weaknesses. The most sour note for the personnel will probably be the departure of Willie Desjardins, who just hours after a Calder Cup win has parlayed himself into an NHL head coaching gig.
The Stars are certainly encroaching on that enviable position in which they can supplement, or replace, their NHL players with bright, young prospects. As has been the case for years, the Stars boast perhaps the league’s best group of youngsters and they are on the cusp of really taking over the lineup.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Jack Campbell, G
2. Brett Ritchie, RW
3. Jason Dickinson, LW/C
4. Jamie Oleksiak, D
5. Devin Shore, C
6. Philippe Desrosiers, G
7. Patrik Nemeth, D
8. Radek Faksa, C
9. Alex Guptill, LW
10. John Klingberg, D
The Dallas Stars need to revamp their defense. They have nothing that could be remotely construed as a number-one defenseman. Frankly, they have been unable to put anything into the system that has number-one upside either. Jamie Oleksiak and, maybe more so, Patrik Nemeth are on the cusp of making this roster. As a result, Aaron Rome was truncated. It is tough to relegate the elderly Sergei Gonchar to anything or anywhere else, so the Stars will have to deal with him for one more season. It will be tough to find a spot in the lineup for the trio of Gonchar, Kevin Connauton, and John Klingberg – should the latter warrant one. Gonchar cannot keep up defensively any longer, Connauton goes through the motions but did not improve over the course of the last 18 months or so and Klingberg is a wildcard as of yet. While Alex Goligoski did not have a terrible year, he has a history of being leaky at times himself. If only in-house options are in play, the Stars will have to once again rely on Brenden Dillon and Trevor Daley to keep Kari Lehtonen from spontaneously combusting in his own crease.
Though Cody Eakin was very good, and downright impressive in the postseason, the Stars could use a true number-two center. The lack of scoring upside coupled with Eakin’s near-perfect fit for third line duties. The organization may have something brewing with Jason Dickinson or even Devin Shore, but that is not coming to fruition by October.
Dallas is brimming with quality wingers. Though Alex Chiasson fell short of the mark this year, 2013 lead-off home run Valeri Nichushkin was superb in his 18-year-old season and looks like an elite player in this league. The next big thing to hit either side of center for the Stars is Brett Ritchie. A load to handle, Ritchie has skill and skating to be a multi-dimensional threat. He could appear in the NHL as soon as next season. Branden Troock and Matej Stransky are also heavy players with NHL scoring potential. Curtis McKenzie, the AHL Rookie of the Year in 2013-14, has been a surprise and a feather in a cap that is full of them. Less powerful but silky-skilled wingers Alex Guptill and Cole Ully are capable of jump starting any attack.
In net, the Stars have really put together an underrated group. Jack Campbell dealt with injury in 2013-14, but he has major upside. Perhaps a little less audacious, but with a boatload of upside himself, Philippe Desrosiers is waiting for permission to come aboard. The Stars also signed Henri Kiviaho who was prepared to be a full-time backup in Finland’s Liiga this year will instead likely move to North America.
The center depth has improved drastically, especially if Jason Dickinson continues to trend upward. Devin Shore does not pop off the page perhaps to many, but his hockey sense may be the highest in the group and he has an NHL future.
From the top on down, the Stars are still fielding a patchwork defense. The NHL players and the prospects are both still finding their way and figuring out where they belong on the depth chart. Behemoth defenseman Jamie Oleksiak has some clear competition on the depth chart from Patrik Nemeth. The latter, a Swedish rearguard who scored the golden goal of the Calder Cup Finals, has a strong chance of starting in the NHL next season. Beyond that, there are a lot more question marks and wildcards. John Klingberg is maybe the principal joker of the group, the smooth skating, offensive dynamo has a very high ceiling.
Either way, the Stars are in a 30-team hunt to cultivate more top-pairing blueliners into their group.
The center position may only have one top-end center in it – Jason Dickinson. The group is coming along thanks to Dickinson and Shore. However, the rest of the group does not inspire a lot of confidence, even two-way center Radek Faksa is looking more and more like a third line center. The pivot position is improving, but this 2014 NHL Draft could be an opportunity for Jim Nill to push it up to a strength.
With Jim Nill at the helm, the Stars strong scouting staff will probably not deviate far from the recent blueprints that have built a fine foundation for future success. They went with the big Russian in the first round, but that was a package that simply could not be passed up on the fringes of the top 10. The Stars love to draft and sign out of the WHL and are not shy about the OHL either. Scandinavia – from Swedish pros to Finnish juniors – is wide-open for business as well. The QMJHL should remain on the sidelines for the most part.
Dallas owns nine picks, once again, coming into the 2014 NHL Draft. The Stars are slated to select at: 14, 45, 75, 105, 115, 135, 154, 165 and 195.
The Stars acquired pick #115 from Anaheim (via Washington) in exchange for veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas. The Stars acquired pick #154 from Calgary in exchange for now-retired Lane MacDermid.
Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Result:
14. Sonny Milano, LW, USNTDP
Like Valeri Nichushkin last year, Sonny Milano has just too much skill to pass on. Milano has some of the best hands and one-on-one ability in the draft class. His skating is first rate. Milano can pull off plays at high speed, he can wheel with the puck, and carry it through the neutral zone with relative ease. He has a great selection of shots, including an imposing backhand. Milano controls the puck comfortably in an inordinate space around his body. He is a raw prospect and the Stars have plenty of wings as it is, but as a long-term prospect with huge upside, Nill gets a lot of value here.
Follow Mike Farkas on Twitter: @MichaelFarkasHF