After making nine picks per draft for the previous three drafts, the Dallas Stars may have felt as if they had some room to play with their 2015 picks. They came into the weekend a touch shorthanded due to previous trades and then exchanged their seventh round choice for the rights to goaltender Antti Niemi. All told, the Stars made five selections. With the 12th pick, they provided probably the first real surprise of the draft when they selected Russian winger Denis Guryanov.
General Manager Jim Nill added a scoring winger, a two-way Finn, two defense-oriented blueliners and a goalie to an already-robust prospect pool. Anecdotally, 2015 broke a nine year stretch of choosing a player from the WHL for Dallas.
Denis Guryanov, RW/LW, Lada Togliatti (MHL)
1st round, 12th overall
Height: 6-3 Weight: 192 lbs
Unafraid of the supposed ‘Russian Factor,’ GM Jim Nill dipped back into Russia for yet another pivotal Stars draft pick. In 2013, he created a lot of gasps and whispers by selecting Valeri Nichushkin with the tenth selection. In 2015, the organization elected Denis Guryanov from Russian juniors as their first choice.
Guryanov is also a hulking and speedy forward with a rocket shot. He has one of the best, if not the best, shots in the draft class both in terms of power and release. The U18 standout can certainly score from distance on the rush or sitting in the high slot. Guryanov is a load to handle between his skating and his size and his bull-rush mentality, he puts a lot of pressure on defenders very quickly. He is not afraid to use his body either. He seeks out and initiates contact regularly. His defensive game is not particularly strong overall, but he has a little less experience and polish than some others that were drafted this high. One area where he might differ from Nichushkin is his overall dynamism. At the same age, it feels as if Nichushkin has a little more to offer when carrying the puck than Guryanov and is maybe a touch more ‘organic’ in his creation of offense.
Guryanov has plenty of upside certainly and will likely play in the KHL for the next two seasons. The key to his development is his ability to adapt his offensive creativity and vision to a tougher league and much better competition.
Prior to the NHL Draft, Guryanov took part in the 2015 NHL Scouting Combine. Through an interpreter, he spoke with the media at that event, with his comments being captured in this Hockey’s Future video.
Roope Hintz, LW, Ilves Tampere (Liiga)
2nd round, 49th overall
Height: 6-3 Weight: 191 lbs.
The Stars nabbed a very savvy player in Roope Hintz with their second selection. Hintz played a full season in Finland’s top league in 2014-15, registering 17 points in 42 games on a playoff team. He has been transferred to HIFK for 2015-16 and will play at least one season in Finland before the Stars decide what his future looks like.
Hintz is a smart and savvy player who lets it be known that he has high-level pro experience. On every shift, the Finnish forward has a purpose at both ends of the rink. He possesses a sizable frame, but is still rather thin, but not awkward in his coordination. Hintz owns a pretty strong shot with a surprisingly good release. Like many players with good hockey sense, Hintz makes good reads on seam passes and area passes as well. He is willing to grind it out and possess the puck on the boards or take the body to dislodge a player from the puck.
The question for Hintz going forward is whether or not he can craft his offensive skills enough to be a top-six forward in the NHL. On the plus side, he has a very high floor because of his smarts, size, positioning and energy.
Though the numbers are modest at seven goals, nine assists and a plus-4 rating, Chris Martenet really started to take his game to the next level late in London’s season. Martenet, a 6-foot-7 blueliner, had been used sparingly – particularly early on – but grew into a reliable defensive player. Already one of the prime penalty killers on a team that does not have a lot of shutdown defenders, Martenet figures to be an important piece for the Knights blueline that might need some balance and a better defensive conscience.
A long, thin defenseman with good reach, Martenet has a very nimble skating base for being so tall. He still has some occasional hiccups with his skating and – more noticeably – with the puck, but is growing into his body well. The reliable rearguard makes good reads and shows a good head for the game. He even shows flashes of being able to skate the puck out of danger in a poised manner, but too often he can be found icing the puck in a no- or low-pressure situation. He will need to improve his first pass efficiency if he wants to be an NHLer.
Dallas dipped into the USHL for the first time in a number of years by selecting Joseph Cecconi from the Muskegon Lumberjacks. After playing in his youth for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres, Cecconi jumped into the USHL and later represented the United States at the U18 Ivan Hlinka tournament. Like Martenet, Cecconi’s numbers are not mind-blowing: three goals, 14 helpers and a plus-10 rating in 60 games. However, he is effective in his own end of the ice.
Cecconi is a good skater who makes smart decisions on the ice. Generally cautious about jumping into the attack, Cecconi does make good decisions when he has the puck. Overall, however, the offensive upside does seem somewhat limited at this point. The right-shooting American d-man will play for the University of Michigan in the fall.
Markus Ruusu, G, JYP U18 (Finnish Junior B)
6th round, 163rd overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 174 lbs.
The Stars organization had to dig deep to unearth this goalie prospect who only saw modest time at the highest junior level of Finland last season, much less any pro time. In fact, some draft gurus were surprised that Veini Vehvilainen was passed over in this draft for his backup. In any case, Ruusu did well for himself statistically versus his teammates and will get a shot in the Mestis League (second-tier Finnish pros) in 2015-16.
Ruusu is a patient, but athletic goaltender who is capable of keeping his team in games with marvelous stops. How he makes the jump to the Finnish pro game at such a young age will be the first big test in Ruusu’s young career. Former North Stars draft pick and goaltender Kari Takko has his fingerprints all over this one, as the franchise adds to its lead for most Finns drafted all-time.