The Dallas Stars were forced to prepare a little early for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft as they were unable to clinch a playoff berth after the 82nd game-ending horn sounded. When the dust settled, the Stars picked once in every round except the third. In the process, they stuck to some familiar territory: the collegiate route – nabbing huge defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, drafting import Matej Stransky out of the WHL and using a fourth round pick on Swedish junior league center Emil Molin. Contrarily, it’s the first time since 2002 that the Stars have taken a player directly out of Finland’s top league and the second time since 2003 that they’ve selected out of the QMJHL.
Selecting three defensemen in the draft out of six picks gives the prospect pool a shot in the arm as it continues to add quality blueliners, but it’s also something of a rarity, as the Stars have used just seven of their last 35 draft picks on rearguards coming in.
As the 2010-11 season went on, it became increasingly more difficult to not notice Jamie Oleksiak from Northeastern University. Not just because of his tremendous stature, but because of his excellent on-ice play. The 6’7 behemoth anchored Northeastern’s defense after two USHL seasons. His emergence as a smooth skating, defensive-minded defenseman drew rave reviews as the season progressed. Not since Ivan Vishnevskiy in 2006 have the Stars used their first selection on a defenseman but they went with the homerun pick in Oleksiak. He’s a physically mature player that has already adjusted well to his body versus some other players of his height at a similar age who sometimes can appear clumsy or awkward in certain circumstances.
Oleksiak makes it look fairly effortless but he’s an excellent north-south skater and the fluidity in his stride is promising. He recognizes that having quick, agile footwork in tight areas will make a huge difference for him at the next level. His ability to play shutdown D with his tremendous reach and ability to use his body when necessary makes him a safe pick. The offensive upside that he shows with some better-than-average stickwork and well-timed rushes show that he has elite potential. Modeling your game after one of the league’s best in Zdeno Chara lays some pretty big skates to be filled in front of Oleksiak, but he’s ready for the challenge.
When asked what his best quality is as a player, Oleksiak told Hockey’s Future, “Probably my ability to drive myself…to reach my goals and develop as a player.”
Where Oleksiak develops is another story. With Northeastern coach Greg Cronin moving to Toronto for an assistant’s post, Oleksiak may consider heading west as well. Both Stars management and Oleksiak himself admit that the situation is up in the air for the time being. The OHL’s Saginaw Spirit own the rights to Oleksiak and would be thrilled to bring in what appears to be a number-one defenseman.
As he continues to add muscle to an already well-established frame and work on his footwork, Oleksiak might be helped by the typically faster-paced OHL to speed up his decision making on the ice. Playing in the USHL, Hockey East and then the OHL in a three-year span would expose the 18-year-old to diverse group of talents, speeds and styles which most players do not get to encounter.
Brett Ritchie, RW – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
2nd round, 44th overall
Height: 6’3 Weight: 210 lbs
Getting nearly 13 feet worth of hockey players with your first two picks is a great foundation to a draft class. The Stars added yet another big winger with similarly-sized potential to their ranks when they took Sarnia’s Brett Ritchie at 44th overall. Although the junior stats may not jump out at you (41 points in 49 games), he dealt with injuries and a bout with mononucleosis over the course of Sarnia’s forgettable season. Stars brass and the Pollen Nation alike are looking forward to a full, healthy season from the Orangeville native in 2011-12. He shows a lot of promise in terms of his goal-scoring ability and exhibits great work down low. He projects to be a player that might be best used on a cycling offense as he protects the puck well and does fine work along the boards.
It’s open to interpretation whether it was injuries and sickness that limited Ritchie’s ability or eagerness to use his body in the middle of the rink more, however. No thanks to 2012-eligible superstar Nail Yakupov, Ritchie sometimes got lost in the wash during games and has been plagued by inconsistency in terms of both scoring and overall compete level. He’s a July birthday (making him 17 when he was drafted) and, again, his long stay in the infirmary may have disguised his fullest potential. Although he has not been able to represent the Sting in a playoff match, Ritchie’s best work came at the U18 Ivan Hlinka Tournament for Canada where he recorded seven points in seven games as Canada clinched the gold medal.
His acceleration is average but once the inertia builds up he’s difficult to contain. He has a very good wrist shot which is accurate and powerful. Insert a bit of a mean streak and a can-do attitude to Ritchie’s game and he could be looked back on as a second-round steal.
Emil Molin, C – Brynas J18 (J18 Elit)
4th round, 105th overall
Height: 6’0 Weight: 170 lbs
Under the radar doesn’t begin to describe Dallas’ 4th round pick. He was flying though, deep in the folds of the Swedish junior system. Emil Molin, who split the season between the J18 Allsvenskan league and the J18 Elit league with Brynas J18, was not ranked among the 140 European skaters that the NHL Central Scouting Bureau listed pre-draft. In an effort to get noticed, he led the J18 Allsvenskan league in scoring with 33 points in 16 games and then had the best points-per-game average (among players that played at least 20 games) in J18 Elit (sixth in scoring overall) with 48 points in 20 games. He has helped his team to first and third place finishes, respectively, over the past two seasons at the J18 Allsvenskan level.
Molin is a slick player with the ability to make his linemates better. His short, quick strides have him motoring around the ice quickly. He has super hands and vision to boot. He has the ability and drive to fight for his portion of the ice and that part of his game will only grow with added strength. At 6′, 170-pounds, he’s the smallest player the Stars selected in 2011.
A rare QMJHL pick for Dallas could be a special one, besides the fact that he’s a fifth round pick (which Dallas has had an uncanny success rate with it seems), he’s a late-bloomer that joined the QMJHL midway through the season out of the EJHL and is a very good skater considering his size and role as a shutdown defenseman. Quietly left unnoticed to the mainstream, Vance suited up for the EJHL’s Philadelphia Revolution before, fittingly, a Dallas Stars scout recommended him moving to the QMJHL to take on some better competition. While there’s still some kinks to be worked out, he played well and had an excellent playoffs for Victoriaville.
He has a huge frame to pack some pounds on to, but he’s already a big, physical presence in a shutdown role. He’s a good skater for his size but still needs some work. He has good hockey sense and understands the game quite well – Vance sees the play so well for a player that was playing in a rather modest league up until late in the 2011 season. He neutralizes opponents with his long reach and then can finish them off with a punishing hit. Vance has below average puck skills but with a chance to sharpen his outlet passes against higher competition in the QMJHL next season, he should bump them up to “adequate”. It’s strange to think, but the Stars might have drafted a poor man’s version of their first round pick.
After a couple of successful seasons with HC Vitkovice U18 (Czech U18) – including leading the league in goals one season – Stransky decided to make the jump to the WHL after being selected by Saskatoon in the second round of the CHL Import Draft. His first season in North America was a bit of a bumpy one as there were stylistic issues and language barriers, as expected. Due to his rookie status and the acquisitions made by Saskatoon, Stransky spent much of the year on the third line. Of the 26 points that he registered in 71 games, 24 of them came at even strength. Additionally, he stepped up his game in the playoffs – where he was an effective player and notched nine points in ten games. Enough Blades are graduating to the pro level to allow Stransky to slide up the depth chart quickly if he wants it.
The big Czech winger plays a power forward type game. He protects the puck very well with his lower body (ala Jagr) and does great work along the boards. He would fit well in a cycling offense at the next level if he makes it. He has the size and willingness to battle in tough areas but he also have great technical skill to go along with it. He has smooth hands and nice vision making him a threat in open ice. He moves the puck adeptly to his teammates and then moves to a quality scoring area. The positives in his scouting report would suggest that he’s better than a sixth round pick, but the negatives ended up keeping him down. His compete level is questionable at times and he could end up on a milk carton pretty regularly as he tends to go missing for prolonged stretches. He’s not a quick skater, he’s sluggish and has a pretty large turning radius. His decision making in general, including defensive play, leaves something to be desired. Sometimes he can make the wrong read and other times he can go over-the-top offensively instead of making the safer play. He’s a project certainly, but he has a very intriguing upside.
Jyrki Jokipakka, D – Ilves Tampere (SM-Liiga)
7th round, 195th overall
Height: 6’3 Weight: 191 lbs
Dallas wrapped up their draft by taking soon-to-be 20-year-old Jyrki Jokipakka out of the Ilves Tampere program in Finland’s top league. Jokipakka is another late bloomer, which is a definitive trend among the Stars drafted d-men this go-around, who just cracked the SM-Liiga A for the first time this season. He amassed a modest nine points in 48 games but his main draw was his performance for the Finns at the World Junior Championships over the winter. He showed great poise and defensive prowess while unexpectedly chipping in some offense – mostly by way of initiating the transition game.
Jokipakka is a smooth skating, defensive-minded blueliner with a high hockey IQ. He makes crisp passes but besides that he probably won’t be much of an offensive-threat or major point-getter. He still needs to add weight and gain experience as he was only a rookie last season at the pro level. He’s a poised player that is calm, cool, and collected but the label of “jack of all trades, master of none” is fairly apt. If he had a “wow” factor, he wouldn’t have been passed over in the last draft but he has the makings of a solid NHLer. He generally plays a smart, clean, error-free game which is great to have listed next to a seventh round pick.