Upheaval was required after the Dallas Stars failed to clinch a playoff berth for the fifth consecutive season. General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk fell on the sword despite a plethora of in-season moves that unloaded roster players. Long-time Red Wings Assistant GM Jim Nill came in and dispatched Head Coach Glen Gulutzan as well.
The Stars are in a state of flux, but the future looks bright. They have a terrific pool of prospects and previous management added some ready or near-ready defensive prospects – a primary need for the organization going forward. Next up, the organization will address their dearth down the middle. Despite the potentially younger roster, the Stars will be in contention for a playoff spot but will rely heavily, again, on stellar goaltender Kari Lehtonen.
Top 10 Prospects:
The Stars lacked depth on defense and that caused everyone to play “up” a spot or even a pairing. They relied heavily on rookie standout Brenden Dillon to mind the fort which is not usually a quality of a playoff team. Depth fixtures Stephane Robidas and Trevor Daley can only do so much to stave off defeat before the law of averages gets to them. Alex Goligoski has not been the puck-moving savior that the Stars were hoping when they dealt James Neal and Matt Niskanen for him in 2011. As a result, the Stars brought in veteran Sergei Gonchar to help matriculate the puck up the ice and help ease some of the tension. He will also be a good role model, stylistically, for recent additions Joe Morrow and Kevin Connauton.
A lack of high-end centermen has also held the Stars in check recently. They drafted a number of them in 2012 and they might go in that direction again in 2013. Jamie Benn has been tried at center and Alex Chiasson was forced into that role in the American Hockey League playoffs due to injuries; neither of them looked particularly inspiring as a pivot. Right now, they have a really good third line center in Cody Eakin and some spots to fill above him and a competition below him that starts with Vernon Fiddler.
Kari Lehtonen gives them a better chance to win than any other player in the organization, but he will need a backup goaltender of some quality as well. It is not completely clear if they have that already or not.
Dallas exhibits a myriad of quality depth on each wing. From high skill players like Alex Chiasson, Brett Ritchie, and Alex Guptill to grinder types like Cody Payne and Curtis McKenzie to utility players like Austin Smith and Antoine Roussel, the Stars should be set on either side of center for quite some time. They have drafted a number of centers also that might become wingers down the line like speedster Gemel Smith or sharpshooter Mike Winther.
The Stars packed themselves to the gills with defensive prospects recently to the point where, depth-wise, it is now a relative strength. Brenden Dillon is already a quality NHL player who should have garnered more praise for his work. Former first round pick Jamie Oleksiak also got a taste of NHL action. They have a number of near-ready players now lined up at the door, included with Oleksiak are pace-pushers Joe Morrow and Kevin Connauton, plus sturdy defender Cameron Gaunce from Colorado.
As mentioned, the Stars need true centers throughout the organization. Thick, two-way center Radek Faksa and savvy Maine man Devin Shore lead the way as far as prospects are concerned. After that there is a mix of various odds and ends, none of which appear to be on their way to being impactful top-two centermen. It would not be at all surprising if the Stars moved around in the first round and captured the center that they desire.
The picture is a bit fuzzy, but it is not clear that there is a blue chip prospect in this group yet. Perhaps the Stars next draft selection will settle that and give the organization some star power outside of Jamie Benn and Kari Lehtonen.
The Stars have swapped out GMs once again, so draft tendencies may not necessarily hold true. Under Nieuwendyk in 2012, the Stars followed their previous draft strategies to a “T” just about. Two from the WHL, where they practically have an assembly line setup that leads right to the loading dock at American Airlines Center. Three from Scandinavian countries, a couple of college-bound kids (one from Junior A) and a CHL import pick, all par for the course.
With former Detroit guru Jim Nill at the helm, the Stars might shift a little bit to the east in Canada and go for some more OHL picks. They will probably dig even deeper in Sweden, the Canadian Junior A programs, and the American high school level. Additionally, the Stars will likely continue to steer away from the QMJHL.
The Stars own nine draft picks in 2013. They will select at: 10, 29, 40, 54, 68, 101, 131, 149 and 182.
The Stars’ pick at 29 was acquired conditionally from Boston for Jaromir Jagr. Once the Bruins made the Eastern Conference Finals, the pick was activated.
The Stars acquired 54th overall from Vancouver in the Derek Roy trade. They received pick #68 from Edmonton at the beginning of the year for Mark Fistric. The Stars original third was misplaced in the Erik Cole/Michael Ryder swap. The Minnesota third that they previously acquired from Philadelphia in the Niklas Grossman trade was moved to Pittsburgh in the Morrow exchange. Also in that deal, they scooped up #149.
The Stars lost their sixth round pick to Ottawa when they acquired the negotiating rights to Sergei Gonchar and subsequently signed him. The Stars gathered up pick #182 when they surrendered pick #194 to Florida on the draft floor in 2012. The Stars, similarly, lost their original pick to Los Angeles (#191) when they traded back into the draft at #183 to draft Dmitry Sinitsyn.
Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Results:
10. Alexander Wennberg, C, Djurgarden (Swe-2)
The adjectives to describe Alexander Wennberg could fill the rest of the page. He is a crafty Swedish forward that exudes a ton of versatility. He is a slick playmaker that loves to dish and he can create seams in the defense with his stellar puck poise. He is a very good skater that can change his pace quickly and combined with his shiftiness, he is very elusive. His closing speed, especially on the forecheck, is terrific. He can cut off many plays at the pass.
He is a smart and creative forward that has offensive skill and defensive awareness. Once he adds to his frame, the sky is the limit for Wennberg. He has the potential to be a quality number-one center at the NHL level and would fit the Stars perfectly even if he is not ready out of the box.
29. Nicolas Petan, C, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
When a team has a second first round pick, they can really swing for the fences. Portland Winterhawks playmaker Nic Petan is just that, a home run pick. Petan is small, but he is one smooth operator with the puck. Perhaps it is the jersey he wears, but one cannot help but to think they are watching a Patrick Kane clone when Petan gets going. He was a major offensive catalyst on the powerhouse Winterhawks. He led the WHL in assists (74) and tied for first in points (120).
It is an elite skillset to be sure and his quick feet make him all the more desirable. He may have one of the highest skill levels in the entire draft. The only major concern is his size. He is not a bruiser at a few inches short of six foot, but he is a tenacious player that works hard at his trade. The Stars, or any team, would have to consider themselves quite fortunate to pick up this kind of skillset on the eve of the second round.