As the Dallas Stars continue to shift the focal point of their team and its leadership to its younger players, they took to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh as an opportunity to make some moves and continue to supplement their consistently-growing prospect pool.
On the draft floor, they dealt crafty centerman Mike Ribeiro to the Washington Capitals for Cody Eakin and a second round pick in the draft. Later in the selection process they were able to slide up a few spots in the seventh round to grab a kid who they were very familiar with to say the least.
The Stars came away with nine picks in all including five in the top 75 of the draft. Their scouts have a rather diverse network as it is and made picks from all over the map but all were previously charted territory – until their final pick, a player who, in his draft year, played just seven scoreless games deep in the folds of Russia's tiered system.
After a strong run of defensemen went in the draft, the Stars went after the organization's biggest weakness and selected Czech center Radek Faksa from the Kitchener Rangers with their first selection in 2012. Faksa already has major size and strength at just a hair under 6'3 and every bit of 200 pounds. He's just about the best-rounded player in the draft and can do everything quite well. With 29 goals, 37 assists and 66 points, he led all OHL rookies in all three categories in 62 games. His offensive game is more cerebral than flashy. He can make plays very well and find open seams to show off his adept passing skills or he can unleash his terrific selection of shots. Faksa can play on the point of the power play as well and isn't afraid to let it rip from there. He doesn't have the most amazing hands in the draft, but his stick-handling is not a weakness by any stretch.
The trait that puts Faksa above of most of his peers is his sublime hockey sense and anticipation skills. He plays defense like a much older player. His big body, good stick, and high level of smarts make him a great two-way presence that can be used on the penalty kill effectively. Even as a rookie import, OHL coaches took notice and voted him as the third-smartest player in the Western Conference behind Scott Harrington (PIT) and Nick Cousins (PHI). Additionally, Faksa's commitment to the game cannot be questioned. He's a good worker on the rink and left home at the tender age of 11 to pursue a career in hockey in his native Czech Republic.
The forward can play all forward positions and isn't shy about physical contact, "I have [a] big body so I have to use my body. I like [the] physical game…in Canada [the] style is physical so that's not a problem for me here."
There isn't a whole lot in the way of weaknesses to Faksa's game certainly. His skating is only above average or thereabouts, but his technique is not poor so with strength and experience he'll be quicker. His top-end speed is fine, but his first step or two could use some re-tooling. Despite already being one of the best at protecting the puck in his draft class, Faksa could probably be even further improve that aspect of his game.
He's not necessarily a puck magician, despite citing his endearment to Pavel Datsyuk's mastery of the rink, but Faksa has a nice offensive upside without all the flash. While player comparisons are always difficult, Faksa seems to get it right himself when he says, "I try to play like Eric Staal."
Faksa has a long way to go before he can be compared to the eldest Staal, but he definitely has the tools to one day get there.
Ludvig Bystrom, D – MODO J20 (J20 SuperElit – Swe Jr.)
2nd round, 43rd overall
Height: 6'1 Weight: 169 lbs
With the Stars second pick, they targeted one of the seemingly few defensemen that slipped through the first round. Ludvig Bystrom spent the season in the MODO organization in Sweden, alternating between the top junior level team and the top pro team. He only saw very limited minutes in the Elitserien, where he produced just one point and a plus-two rating in 20 games. At the junior level, he was free to take over games and had the confidence to do so. His 22 assists in 34 games led all club defensemen and his 101 penalty minutes displayed an uncharacteristic amount of fouling. By most accounts, he played two different games between the junior level and the pro level. At the junior level, he was a headstrong do-it-yourselfer and manufactured great offense – for both sides, at times. At the pro level, he was composed, cool, and positionally-sound in his sheltered minutes.
Bystrom is a terrifically smooth skater with good agility and good recovery ability. He's learning quickly on the defensive side how to simplify his game and maintain positional integrity without getting lost in the wash. He distributes the puck quite well and has very good offensive instincts. He can lead the charge with a strong breakout pass and quarterback the power play. He has the good hockey IQ that scouts like to see and he's not afraid to give or take physical punishment. With that said, he's on the physically weak side. His weight varied greatly between sources (as much as 40 pounds different), at the combine he checked in at just under 6'1 and 170 pounds. The Stars however, per their draft record, believe that strength can be added to a quality foundation later on, such as in the case of Philip Larsen and currently of John Klingberg.
Bystrom was drafted highly in the CHL Import Draft by Plymouth (OHL), however there is no clear indication that he will come over to play major junior hockey. The Whalers seem to have some confidence that they can lure their defenseman over because of his purported friendship with Plymouth's other import, soon-to-be third-year forward Rikard Rakell (ANH).
With the pick acquired from Washington in the Mike Ribeiro trade, the Stars aimed to add another talented forward to the organization in Mike Winther from the Prince Albert Raiders (WHL). A first round pick in the WHL Bantam Draft, Winther only squeezed out nine goals and one assist as a rookie with the Raiders, but took the WHL by storm in his 2011-12 sophomore season. He ended up leading his club in goals with 32 while adding 24 helpers in 71 games. The progression of the Alberta native was evident during the year and he seemed to grow as a player almost every night.
Winther's acceleration is his most noticeable quality. Off the blocks, he's as quick as anyone in his draft class and his top speed is in the upper-echelon as well. The second thing is his terrific release; it is lightning quick and finds twine before the opponent knows what hit them. In addition to a great wrist shot, Winther can also power home one-timers despite his slender frame. He's a heady player with above average hockey sense and can see plays developing very well, often finding the soft spots in opposing defenses and capitalizing on his chances. He's an active participant defensively and uses his stick well to break up chances. He'll be far more effective all over the rink with a little more size. His bloodlines suggest that he might be due for a growth spurt, but it is getting rather late for that.
Winther spent much of the season at left wing and given his prowess for shooting, he might be a better fit there at the next level. He both special teams for Prince Albert and had four shorthanded goals and six shorthanded points in all. His power play production was also rather exquisite – placing him top-10 in the WHL. His slender frame is something of a concern as he can be easily knocked off the puck. Additionally, he's a player that can blend into the backdrop at times. Winther, and his team, would benefit more from him having pass-first linemates as opposed to linemates with limited vision and a higher propensity to shoot.
Dallas used their third pick in round two to delve into the Junior 'A' circuit, as they frequently do, to select Devin Shore from Whitby (OJHL). In 41 games, Shore registered 29 goals and 29 assists during the regular season and led his team in scoring in the playoffs with seven goals and 25 assists in 23 games before his team was denied in the finals by Stouffville. Shore is a talented playmaker with some of the best vision in his current league. Also a fine goal-getter that is difficult to knock off the puck despite having only average size.
"(Devin) plays well on both ends of the rink and is a player that plays the game hard," said Whitby Fury GM Frank Robinson to Hockey's Future. "As good as he is on the ice, he's a better person off the ice – a wonderful young man with unbelievable leadership, a future captain."
Robinson regarded him as one of the best players in the OJHL (he won a slew of awards and was readily recognized this past season) and a player that won't need too much time to adjust to the NCAA game before being an impact player. Robinson further mentioned that his first three steps could use some work and that he could stand to get stronger – both fixable flaws. Shore was drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 OHL Draft, but is expected to attend the University of Maine this fall.
Esa Lindell, D – Jokerit U20 (SM-Liiga Jr. A)
3rd round, 74th overall
Height: 6'3 Weight: 187 lbs
The Stars exchanged their third round pick for a big Finnish defenseman that played at the junior level in Finland in 2011-12. Esa Lindell had an impressive season, netting 21 goals and 51 points in 48 games to lead all d-men by a significant margin. More of an offensive-minded blueliner that likes to join the rush, it's unclear whether Lindell's game will translate to the highest level in Finland. He will likely need to evolve into more of a two-way player to have success. His size makes him an intriguing prospect, but he's not particularly strong or physically engaging yet. He's not a very agile skater and doesn't have tremendous balance. His puck skills are not particularly advanced for his age but he jumps into the offense enough to get points. His defensive game and positioning have come into question as well. It may be a product of playing at a lower level, but he has a very laissez-faire attitude in his own zone which is concerning. He's a major project that needs to make lots of improvement before he'll be trusted at the pro level in Finland. One day it may all click for him and he'll be the bell of the ball, until then, he's a long-term project.
Gemel Smith, C – Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
4th round, 104th overall
Height: 5'10 Weight: 164 lbs
A firecracker and a sparkplug rolled into one is what the Stars got at pick 104. Gemel Smith is pint-sized compared to the vast majority of his peers, but he'll beat them with speed. As one of the fastest players in the OHL, Smith flies around the ice at one-hundred miles per hour (about 160 km/h) wreaking havoc on the opposition. He's very gnat-like on the rink, bothersome, annoying, always in your face or breathing down your neck. He gets his nose dirty at both ends of the rink. Despite his lackluster size, he wins a fair amount of battles because he never quits on anything and his feet are always moving.
He seems to glide effortlessly across the ice and does terrific work on the forecheck. Smith won the fastest skater competition at the CHL Top Prospects game. He can force a ton of turnovers all over the rink. He has some skill and some nifty passing ability to make an impact offensively. Should he make it in the pro game, most of his goals will come from crease-crashing or forecheck-related pickpockets. He plays center currently, but will probably end up being moved to the wing at the next level due to size concerns.
Smith's childhood wasn't terribly easy and according to a feature piece in the Toronto Sun, when times were tough, Smith would get equipment from Dallas Stars defenseman Trevor Daley. He's an all-situation player at the junior level but looks to be more of a depth player at the pro level. He will need to find the proper balance of strength and speed so that he doesn't lose too much of his best asset, an asset that is likely his best ticket to the NHL.
Branden Troock, RW – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
5th round, 134th overall
Height: 6'3 Weight: 194 lbs
The Stars took a chance on Branden Troock, a big Western Hockey Leaguer from Seattle. Troock missed all of the 2010-11 season due to injury. Reminiscent, somewhat, to that of Sidney Crosby's complications, the frequent headaches and pain that Troock experienced ended up being attributed to a neck issue, not a head issue. Troock received a rather unconventional means of healing – acupuncture. So far, so good on that front. He played in 58 games for Seattle where he notched 14 goals and 12 assists with a minus-16 rating. He's a big body and a physical presence on the rink. He skates well for a bigger guy and uses his edges very well. He's sharp on his skates and surprisingly agile.
He has a decent shot that he can get upstairs on a regular basis. His release looks delayed and will need to be quicker if he wants to get shots off at the pro level. He's still a very immature player that tries to challenge players one-on-one even when an easy pass is the right play. He doesn't have very good vision and it seems unlikely that he'll ever have a ton more assists than goals. Defensively he still needs work and he lost an important year of development which is tough to recover from. As he matures as a player, his decision making should improve and he'll gain a little more in the hockey sense department as well. He is a good banger and a bit of a peace-disturber on the ice. Despite modest offensive totals and a year lost, about half of the NHL brought him in for an interview at one point or another. He's a project that still needs to do a lot of maturing, but he has size and talent on a good skating base.
Henri Kiviaho, G – KalPa U20 (SM-Liiga Jr. A)
5th round, 144th overall
Height: 6'3 Weight: 183 lbs
Henri Kiviaho was left unranked by the Central Scouting Bureau, below three other Finnish goalkeepers. Kiviaho played for KalPa U20 in the top Finnish junior league and took over the starting job as the season went on. He finished the season with a 2.78 goals against average, .910 save percentage and two shutouts (placing top-eight in the league in each category) in 28 games as he helped get KalPa to the post-season.
Kiviaho is a big goaltender with terrific reflexes and athleticism. He can be rather electrifying in the crease and make a good variety of saves. On the other side, he's still very raw and is prone to giving up soft goals on a fairly regular basis. He slots into the projected starter spot on the junior team next season as well as he tries to work his way up to the senior team.
Dmitry Sinitsyn, D – MHC Zelenograd (MHL-B)/UMass-Lowell (Hockey East)
7th round, 183rd overall
Height: 6'2 Weight: 200 lbs
It's been an interesting ride so far in the young career of Dmitry Sinitsyn. He grew up in Russia and came over to the Dallas Stars U16 team at the age of 15. He put up terrific numbers from the back line and was largely unchallenged by the league. Unfortunately, after two seasons with the U16 Stars, his student visa expired and he was forced to go back to Russia. Though it's quite uncommon, many NCAA Division 1 schools did not want to miss out on Sinitsyn's talents and they recruited him heavily at a young age. UMass-Lowell won out and Sinitsyn was nearly set to be the youngest D-1 player in the country. To preserve a year of eligibility however, team officials decided to redshirt him for the year. This left his only real playing experience in his draft year as seven scoreless games in a second-tier Russian junior league.
Impressed enough, the Stars traded back into the draft to grab the Russian defenseman. They may not have had the chance to get him so late if he had been able to play in the USHL after being drafted by Green Bay in the fourth round.
Eric Silverman, who was Sinitsyn's head coach with the U16 Stars program had plenty of praise to heap on the young Russian, "His tools are unbelievable – we're talking first-round tools. He has as good of offensive tools as the top U.S. players in the draft."
Sinitsyn can skate very well, he has good size, he's tough enough to give and take physical contact regularly and has a pro-caliber shot with awesome one-timing ability to boot. The young offensive defenseman still remains a project and hasn't been challenged to a great degree yet. He still makes some questionable decisions, especially in his own zone. He likes to always try to create on the fly and is somewhat reluctant to make the simple play, such as chipping it off the boards and out. More of a puck-mover than a puck-rusher, Sinitsyn is expected to take some time to adjust to the huge jump in competition but it's a process that he should handle very well.
One area that won't require much transition is the language barrier, Sinitsyn speaks fluent Russian, English, and Spanish; back in his native country, his mother is an English teacher. A long-term project with great tools at his disposal, the Stars might have uncovered a gem buried so deep that some teams may have not known he existed.