Stars 2005 draft evaluation

By Mike Farkas

After a 2004 draft that saw many more misses than hits, the Stars came to the 2005 NHL Entry Draft with fewer picks. The Stars selected 28th overall in the first round, but due to the nature of this particular draft, the Stars would select with the third pick of every even-numbered round – most notably 33rd overall. This serpentine format was exclusive to the 2005 draft because of the lockout from the previous year.

By the numbers, the Stars had a successful go of it in 2005. They scooped up a regular top-six offensive defenseman, a top-six power forward left winger and a speedy two-way center along the way. Of their seven picks, five of them have seen NHL ice, three are already regulars and together they have a voluptuous 66.6 NHL games per pick.  

Matt Niskanen, D, Virginia H.S. (MN H.S.) – 1st round, 28th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 232

Niskanen was a pretty highly-touted Minnesota high school product who was said to have big offensive upside from the blueline but was a little lax defensively. Sometimes he would be caught up the ice a little too often. So far, that hasn’t been too terribly inaccurate. After a couple seasons at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Niskanen had a productive playoff run in the AHL before jumping to the NHL full-time. It looked like Niskanen’s coming out party in 2008-09, his 35 points in 80 games led the club’s defensemen but his -11 rating was the worst among all rearguards. However, in 2009-10, the sugarcoated version reads: the promising progression took a step back. Niskanen accumulated just 15 points on the year while being a team-worst -15. Niskanen hasn’t given the Stars coaching staff any reason to move him off the third pairing and after a pretty dreadful performance down the stretch, there’s no telling what kind of contract he’ll end up with now that his entry-level deal has expired.

Niskanen can be a valuable player to have on the power play but has been a major reason why Stars fans have been pulling their collective hair out over this current defense corps. Hopefully, Niskanen and the rest of the Stars have a bounce season next year. Shortcomings aside, Niskanen has proven to be an NHL-caliber offensive defenseman.

James Neal, LW, Plymouth (OHL) – 2nd round, 33rd overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 155

An impressive junior career with the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers was capped off with a dominant season (65 points in 45 games) and an OHL championship. Neal also led the Memorial Cup in goal scoring with five (of Plymouth’s 12 in the whole tournament). The Whitby, Ontario native put together a very good year in the AHL on a fairly poor team in Iowa in 2007-08. He didn’t spend much time in the AHL though, moving on to become a full-time NHLer the very next season. His rookie season saw him place second among all rookies in goals with 24 (second on his own team overall). Neal was trusted with some of the most ice time among all rookie forwards.

He continued his goal-scoring excellence in 2009-10, finishing just shy of Loui Eriksson for the Stars’ goal-scoring lead (27 in 78 games). Neal already finds himself playing in all situations in just his second season. He brings a strong power forward game and a monstrous physical presence to go along with his first-rate goal-scoring touch.

Richard Clune, LW, Sarnia (OHL) – 3rd round, 71st overall
Status: Fringe NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 14

The Stars picked in the mid-third round thanks to a trade with Vancouver and selected hard-working forward Richard Clune from the Sarnia Sting (OHL). Never afraid of the rough stuff in the junior, but the pugilistic parts of his game have been magnified since turning pro. His 59 fights since becoming a professional in 2007 are a testament to him being a scrappy pest. Not a very big one at that, listed at just 5’10, 198 pounds, Clune does his best work along the wall and in the corners. It seems pretty clear at this point that the current Los Angeles King won’t be putting up any 20 or 30-goal seasons at the NHL level, but he could be a valuable forechecker in the 12th or 13th forward role.

Clune found his way over to the Kings organization in 2008 when the Stars dealt him for Lauri Tukonen – who is still abroad in his native Finland. Clune has paid his dues, but will need to continue to work hard to hold his head above water in the NHL.

Perttu Lindgren, C, Ilves U20 Jrs. (Jr. A SM-Liiga) – 3rd round, 75th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 1

Another acquired pick, this one from Washington, set the Stars up with the 2005-06 SM-Liiga rookie of the year, Perttu Lindgren. Unfortunately, Lindgren has not been able to match the performance he put up in his rookie season in Finland and has tried his craft in the AHL on two occasions, most recently last season with the fledgling Texas Stars. His AHL stints have not been too disappointing (34 points in 69 games [2007-08] and 47 points in 74 games this past year).

Lindgren is a playmaking center who has bounced back and forth between Finland and North America. He has been quite helpful in Texas’ quest for the Calder Cup (11 points in 14 games) but in the meantime signed a deal with Lukko Rauma (SM-Liiga A) for next season. This could be the last straw for Lindgren in North America and his NHL career that has lasted just eight minutes and 33 seconds to date.

Tom Wandell, C, Sodertalje J20 (J20 SuperElit [SWE]) – 5th round, 146th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 64

Swedish center Wandell has worked his way up from the AHL, Sweden and Finland to become a regular NHLer in the 2009-10 season. After being drafted, Wandell spent another year at the junior level in Sweden and then had a pretty miserable year at the pro level in Finland for Assat Pori. He was brought over in a minimal role in the AHL during the 2007-08 campaign before finally breaking out offensively in the Elitserien with Timra the following season. Wandell led his team in helpers back in Sweden and saw some games in the NHL on an unorthodox other-side-of-the-world emergency call-up.

Before succumbing to injury in 2009-10, Wandell played 50 games while registering five goals and ten assists. The speedy center saw bottom-six duty mostly and a fair share of penalty kill minutes. He has buckled down and contributed defensively while he bides his time, waiting for a more prominent offensive role.

He was signed to a brand new two-year deal late in the year as part of GM Joe Nieuwendyk’s approval of his performance.

Matt Watkins, RW, Vernon Vipers (BCHL) – 5th round, 160th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Watkins was a role player throughout his four years at the prestigious University of North Dakota. Fairly static offensive numbers throughout his career with the Fighting Sioux, no more than eight goals in a season, no less than five, no more than 18 points in a season, no less than nine. He was mostly used as a quick, smart, hard-hat wearing depth forward who saw a lot of penalty kill time. His offense is largely drawn from great board work down low and net crashing.

Watkins went the distance at UND, but was not offered a contract by the Dallas Stars. Late in September, the Phoenix Coyotes came along and offered him a two-year entry-level contract. He spent most of his inaugural professional season in the AHL with San Antonio but spent 14 games in Sin City with the Wranglers of the ECHL. It’s something of a longshot, but Watkins might be able to work his way to the NHL as a fourth liner some day.

Pat McGann, G, Illinois Midgets (USMHL) – 7th round, 223rd overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

McGann graduated from midget hockey to play a couple seasons as a backup in the USHL. The most notable thing about McGann’s USHL career is that he was dealt for fellow Stars prospect Richard Bachman in 2006. McGann then moved to Quinnipiac where he was the third string goalie in his freshman season – playing eight games and posting a 4.72 GAA and .808 save percentage. The Illinois native wouldn’t play again until February of 2010; he saw three minutes of ice time stopping the only shot he faced.

With just 244 minutes of regular season hockey under his belt since 2007, McGann’s pro prospects are less than bleak.