Stars 2004 draft review

By Sukhwinder Pandher

With the Dallas Stars entering their second straight offseason in a payroll cutting mode, GM Doug Armstrong was looking to improve his system’s talent pool in order to have players ready to replace the aging veterans. One position they were looking to improve, after the loss Derian Hatcher last season and the expectant loss of Richard Matvichuk, was the physical side of the defensive corps.

Tim Bernhardt, Director of Amateur Scouting for Dallas, talked about the restock just after all the picks were over on Sunday. “We had those four big defensemen for so long…that we kind of neglected it for a little while. Then when we tried to start making a push, the players that were there weren’t defensemen so we had to go with forwards. This year defensemen seemed to be the position that we liked so we were able to restock.”

Armstrong had already finalized one trade to help that situation prior to the draft by dealing goaltender Jason Bacashihua to St. Louis for a first rounder from last year, Shawn Belle.

For the second straight year Armstrong made some deals to help the team acquire additional draft picks. After starting the day with four picks in the first three rounds, he at one point had seven picks before settling with five selections on the first day. He traded down twice in the first round before settling at the No. 28 position where he picked Marc Fistric.

Marc Fistric, D
1st Round, 28th Overall, Vancouver (WHL)
6’2” 232, (06/01/1986)

Once Armstrong traded down from 20 to 28, he was able to select the player that the team was targeting all along in defenseman Marc Fistric. The son of former Red Wing Boris Fistric, Marc has played for the Vancouver Giants for two full seasons, appearing in the Under 18 World Cup and CHL prospects game as well.

Fistric has plenty of size and uses his massive frame to his advantage with his ability to administer open ice hits, clearing the front of the net and his work along the boards. He has a solid handle for the defensive part of the game and is rarely caught out of position. The assertiveness and aggressiveness in Fistric’s game is not only seen in his physical play but in his willingness to put his body on the line blocking shots. Fistric plays with a great edge to his game and is always willing to drop the gloves to protect a teammate or boost his team which is a testament to his strong leadership and character. He has good straight ahead speed and can make the outlet pass out of the defensive zone to his teammates.

Fistric has very little offensive upside in his game and will never be anything more than a stay-at-home defenseman. Mobility and agility are two aspects of his skating that Fistric will have to improve in order to be effective in the NHL. While Fistric plays very physical, he needs to become more consistent and bring his toughness to every game. Sometimes he over extends and tries to carry the puck too much which leads to him turning the puck over.

While there is very little chance Fistric will ever be an all-star, there is a very high probability that he will play in the NHL. Besides Ovechkin, he is arguably the most ready draftee to play in the NHL and has an NHL ready body. He will most likely return to a strong Vancouver team which will contend for the Memorial Cup which will allow Fistric to experience a championship run.

Johan Fransson, D
2nd Round, 34th Overall, Lulea (SEL)
6’1” 183, (02/18/1985)

Despite being eligible for the 2003 draft, Fransson opted out as his 2002-03 season was filled with injury. The gamble seemed to pay off for him as he enjoyed a successful 2003-04 season, rising through the depth charts of Lulea from the eighth defenseman to becoming the best rearguard on the team by season’s end. He was runner-up to fellow Stars prospect Loui Eriksson for the rookie of the year honors in the Swedish Elite League. Fransson was also one of the better players on an average junior team for Sweden that finished in fifth place at world junior championships.

While Fistric filled the Stars’ physical need on defense, the team hopes Fransson will be their power play quarterback of the future as offense is his main strength. First and foremost he is known for his skating ability as he has the speed, mobility and agility that meet NHL standards. His skating along with his puck handling will make Fransson dangerous as he carries the puck up the ice on the attack. What will also make Fransson a danger on the power play will be his above average passing, his accurate shot and his ability to read the play on the rush and in set plays in the offensive zone.

Despite his offensive skills, Fransson will have to work on his defensive game and be more of a dependable player on the back end. The Stars expect him add some bulk to his frame in order for him to get stronger so he could be more effective in the defensive zone. Fransson also will need to learn not to get out of position as he tends to over extend himself and leave his partner alone.

Fransson will stay in Sweden and develop his game for at least a couple of years before he makes his way to North America. With him being drafted at the age of 19, the Stars feel Fransson is one year ahead in development of most of this year’s draft picks. The scouting staff sees him as having unlimited potential, filling one of their top three defenseman spots in the future.

Raymond Sawada, RW
2nd Round, 52nd Overall, Nanaimo (BCHL)
6’2” 195, (02/19/1985)

Armstrong and the scouting staff took a break from rebuilding their defense by selecting forward Raymond Sawada of the BCHL. Sawada was the third rated player out of the BC junior league and was the 33rd ranked skater from North America by Central Scouting. The two-way forward is another 19-year-old.

Though he said at the draft that he suspected they might be interested, Sawada said the only time he had talked to Dallas was the day before. “All I did was a psychological test, which I guess went really well because here I am!”

Sawada has good size and brings a solid physical game to the rink. He has a good combination of skill and grit that helps him play an aggressive game that makes him tough to play against especially on the forecheck.

He described his game this way, “I’m pretty much a power forward. I like to crash and bang, get people off the puck, get the puck to goal scorers. Basically crash and get rebounds. Backcheck and play on the penalty kill.”

While he possesses enough skill, Sawada will most likely never have that high end talent that will allow him to be a true offensive threat. He will have to improve his skating skills as he doesn’t have a top gear as well as the agility to sneak past opponents. In order for Sawada to become a true power forward, he will have to improve his finishing skills.

Sawada will have to improve his overall package and do it at a higher level in order to gain an opportunity to join the Stars in the near future. He’ll have his chance next year as he joins Cornell University. Sawada should be a solid player on the third or fourth line at the NHL level.

Niklas Grossman, D
2nd Round, 56th Overall, Sodertalje (SEL)
6’4” 187, (01/22/1985)

With their third and final second round pick, the Stars went back to their No. 1 goal in this draft, stocking up on physical defensemen by selecting Niklas Grossman out of Sweden. Part of the Sodertalje organization, Grossman split this past season between the junior team and farm team. He was the 58th rated international skater on the Central Scouting final list and was considered by some as the fourth best Swede in this draft.

Grossman at 6’3” has good height and will continue to fill out. He is very tough to play against in the defensive zone as he clears the front of the net, as well as along the boards. He has a very solid defensive game as he reads the attack well and uses his enormous reach to his advantage. While Grossman isn’t very vocal, he leads by example through his hard work ethic and solid overall game.

As much as Grossman is dependable in the defensive zone that is how little he has to offer when in the attacking zone. He will never be confused with Fransson as his game is not flashy and he has very limited upside on the offensive side. He will have to bulk up his lanky frame as well become more coordinated in his skating abilities.

Grossman should become a very dependable stay-at-home defenseman. He will return to Sweden and will continue to develop there for several years before coming overseas to North America. The Stars hope he will be as dependable as Richard Matvichuk was for them since he was drafted.

John Lammers, LW
3rd Round, 86th Overall, Lethbridge (WHL)
5’11” 184, (01/29/86)

With their final selection on the first day, the Stars selected their first player less than six feet tall when they picked winger John Lammers out of Western Canada. Lammers finished third in team scoring on a Lethbridge team that has struggled to make the playoffs. He also played with Team Canada at the Under 18 Championships in Minsk scoring 3 goals in 7 games.

Lammers is a skilled forward whose speed has that extra gear that helps cause separation against defenders. He uses his speed effectively on the forecheck as he often attacks the offensive zone to gain possession of the puck. As well as his playmaking ability on the fly, Lammers has great finishing skills as he has the natural scorer’s touch. He doesn’t shy away from traffic as he gets into the thick of battle in order to capitalize his chances.

While not a very small player, Lammers will have to add more size to his frame in order to take the daily grind of the NHL. The additional bulk will help him strengthen his game in the difficult tight areas that smaller players find difficult in the NHL. The Stars want him to become more than a one dimensional player as he looks to improve his defensive play and grit.

Lammers could potentially be a diamond in the rough as his success could have a very wide range. He will return to Lethbridge for his third full season and will play with fellow 2004 draftee Kris Versteeg. Lammers could be a top six forward if he reaches his potential and on the other hand could very well be a career minor leaguer.

Fredrik Naslund, RW
4th Round, 104th Overall, Vasteras (SEL)
6’4” 207, (02/11/1986)

The Stars went overseas again to Sweden, where they selected their third player in this year’s draft from the Scandinavian country, winger Fredrik Naslund. Last season Naslund split the season between the Vasteras junior team and senior team in tier II. He was also a disappointing player on the 2004 junior team that finished poorly at the world championships.

Tim Bernhardt said of Naslund at the draft, “He’s not overly rugged, but he uses his size very well to protect the puck and he’s got good skill. He can really control the puck with his size and strength.”

Naslund is great on the rush as he has good speed and can skate on the rush with relative ease. When in the attacking zone, Naslund shows an above ability to read the play and find the open spaces where he can use his scoring touch to light the lamp.

Naslund’s main weakness is his lack of consistency as he doesn’t bring his ‘A’ game every night and seems to lack the drive to become a top player. He can use his size more effectively in order to become a true power forward. While Naslund has good speed, he needs to work on his acceleration so he could reach that speed faster. Like many young offensive players Naslund needs to work on his defensive play and back checking.

The scouting staff is hoping Naslund can find the drive to become better and if that occurs they could have another find. He will return to Sweden and should make the jump the senior team for the full season where he will play either in the Tier II or Elite League. With development Naslund has the opportunity to not only make the Stars team but also play on the top two lines.

Trevor Ludwig, D
6th Round, 183rd Overall, Texas (NAHL)
6’1” 200, (05/24/1985)

The Stars selected Trevor Ludwig, the son of former Star defenseman Craig Ludwig, with their sixth rounder. The two-way defenseman plays a solid game at both ends and has inherited his father’s smarts and passion for the game. Ludwig has very limited upside but will still have to improve his skating and decision making to earn an opportunity at the big time. After playing for the Texas Tornado of the NAHL, Ludwig will move on to Providence College where he will develop for the next four years

Sergei Kukushin, W
7th Round, 218th Overall, Minsk (BLR)
6’2” 187, (07/24/1985)

The Stars selected another winger with size when they chose Sergei Kukushin from the Minsk hockey club in Belarus. Kukushin possesses good hands around the net and has the ability to play the physical game in all three zones. There have been injury concerns over the past couple seasons and many scouts feel that Kukushin has limited upside. He will return to the Minsk organization playing for the senior team and play for the junior national team at the elite championship level.

Lukas Vomela, D
8th Round 248th Overall, Budejovice (CZE)
6’3” 189, (09/25/1985)

The system received another stay-at-home defenseman with great potential size in Czech Lukas Vomela. He displays good intensity and determination and uses his size to administer solid hits as well as clearing the front of the net. Vomela will need to improve his mobility, balance and will need to bulk up while improving his defensive reads. He’ll most likely make the jump to the senior team next season and could be a solid No. 5 or 6 defenseman in the NHL down the road.

Matt McKnight, C
9th Round 280th Overall, Camrose (AJHL)
6’2” 190, (06/14/1984)

With their last pick in the draft, the Stars selected 20-year-old Matt McKnight out of the AJHL, where he helped the Camrose team to the league championship. McKnight has shown flashes of playmaking ability and has good size while making smart plays. He will need to improve his overall package by using his size more and being responsible in his own zone. He will move on to Minnesota-Duluth next season where he will help make up for the loss of Hobey Baker winner and new Star signee Junior Lessard.

FINAL ANALYSIS

After the departure of Derian Hatcher last year, the Stars were seen as having a very soft defense and with no replacements to be found in the system they struggled in the physical part of the game. Seeing this significant weakness Doug Armstrong and the scouting staff came into this draft hoping to rectify the situation. While many might feel they reached when they selected Fistric and Grossman in the first two rounds, they got the players they wanted and were able to acquire additional picks. Of the five defensemen selected in this year’s draft four of them had toughness as their main strength.

After prior success selecting players from Scandinavia, especially from Finland, the scouting staff continued this trend by selecting three players from Sweden. These selections occurred despite many in the hockey world feeling that this Swedish class is the weakest in recent years. Because of this, the Stars may have been able to take advantage of a couple of steals in Fransson and Naslund.

The Stars seemed to take a safe route by making six of their ten selections on players that were eligible in the 2003 draft, including all three players selected in the second round. Besides the three Swedes taken, four players were taken from Canada, all from the West, as well as one player from the U.S., Belarus, and the Czech Republic. It also marked the second year in a row that Dallas selected a player from its own backyard by picking Ludwig from the NAHL Texas Tornado. Matt Nickerson was taken in 2003.

Holly Gunning, Johan Nilsson, Jay Thompson, Aaron Vickers, and Robert Neuhauser contributed to this article. Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.