Stars 2004 draft evaluation

By Mike Farkas

With a lockout looming, the 2004 NHL draft was muddled with uncertainty over the types of players who would be valuable.  In the final NHL event before the lockout, the Dallas Stars were slated to select 20th overall.  As usual though, former GM Doug Armstrong was wheeling and dealing.  He dealt the 20th pick (Travis Zajac) to New Jersey for 22nd overall and 88th overall.  The Stars would slide down once more in the first round when they dealt the 22nd overall (Lukas Kaspar) and 153rd overall to San Jose for 28th overall, 52nd overall and 91st overall.  Dallas would deal the 88th and 91st for third rounders in 2005 (in two separate deals). 

Of Dallas’ ten picks in 2004, only one of them has established himself as an NHL regular – Nicklas Grossman.  However, Mark Fistric is on the cusp of doing so and Raymond Sawada looks like he’s well on his way.  The picks have played a total of 229 NHL games, for a per-pick average of 22.9.

Mark Fistric, D

1st round (28th overall) – Vancouver Giants (WHL)
Status: NHL Player
NHL games: 73

After a widely speculated deal to pick at seventh overall fell through, the Stars would eventually select 28th.  They took Vancouver Giants defensive defenseman Mark Fistric.  Ranked as the 19th North American skater by Central Scouting, Fistric brought the big defensive presence that the Stars were looking for.  Combined with the fact that his skating was more than apt for a man of his size, the Stars scouts saw a lot of potential in the rugged Western League blueliner. 

Fistric has split each of the past two seasons between the AHL and the NHL.  It seems likely that he’ll be with the Stars for good in 2009-10.  The well-conditioned Fistric has been as advertised in terms of defensive ability and physicality.  While the offense will probably be limited at best, he projects to bring a calming, consistent presence to the second or third pairing in the NHL.

Johan Fransson, D

2nd round (34th overall) – Lulea HF (SEL)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL games: 0

The Dallas Stars would select a completely different defenseman just six picks later in 2004 – Swedish blueliner Johan Fransson.  Fransson was a smooth-skating, offensive defenseman who quickly rose up the charts after his draft year.  He represented Sweden well in his World Junior Championships appearances.  Despite being something of a project because of his riskiness with the puck and his less-than-polished defensive game, the Stars took a chance on the budding Elitserien pro. 

Injuries hampered some of Fransson’s efforts earlier in his career and then a stark drop-off in play prompted the trading of his rights to Los Angeles at the trade deadline in 2007.  The Kings have yet to, and likely will not, sign him. 

Raymond Sawada, RW
2nd round (52nd overall) – Nanaimo Clippers (BCHL)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games: 5

The Stars selected the third BCHL player in the draft (Zajac, Chucko) when they picked Raymond Sawada in the middle of the second round.  Sawada went the full four years at Cornell University where he enjoyed a very successful stay.  After signing his entry-level contract with Dallas, he was loaned to Manitoba (AHL) where he won the team’s rookie of the year honor.  He also earned a five-game call-up with Dallas towards the end of the year. 

Sawada is a player who can play a lot of different roles.  He can dish out the physical punishment, while displaying good play along the boards and open up space for his more offensively gifted linemates.  He can also play a responsible, grind-it-out two-way game from the wing.  Sawada could see his fair share of NHL duty in 2009-10.

Nicklas Grossman, D
2nd round (56th overall) – Sodertalje J20 (J20 SuperElit – Sweden)
Status: NHL player
NHL games: 151

For the second time in the second round the Dallas Stars selected a Swedish defenseman.  Grossman is a big defensive defenseman who turned pro in Sweden at 19 and followed up by turning pro in North America the next season.  Like first-rounder Fistric, the Stars were hoping that Grossman could be a steady, reliable force on the blueline – and so far, there are no complaints. 

Grossman has been a strong defensive and physical presence on the Dallas blueline for the past two seasons.  The offensive potential that was thought to be hiding somewhere in Grossman’s game may not make itself known prevalently anytime soon but expect his assist count to start to grow as he continues to find a comfort level on the NHL stage.  It seems very likely that Grossman will have been the best pick Dallas made in 2004.

John Lammers, LW

3rd round (86th overall) – Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games: 0

Lammers was taken out of the Lethbridge Hurricanes program in the third round.  Lammers was a solid all-around scorer in the WHL, maybe even a tad non-descript.  Since leaving Lethbridge, Lammers has bounced around quite a bit.  He finished his junior career in Everett, spent a couple years caught between Idaho (ECHL) and Iowa (AHL), found his way to Assat Pori (SM-Liga A) before returning to Houston (AHL) for his 2008-09 campaign.  Over the past three seasons, Lammers has only really excelled at the ECHL level. 

With his professional development coming along slowly, the 23-year-old’s prospects of being a regular NHLer are bleak.  He doesn’t have the goal-scoring talent to advertise on that trait alone; he’ll need to carve out a niche – and fast – if he wants to see NHL ice any time soon.

Fredrik Naslund, LW

4th round (104th overall) – Vasteras (Allsvenskan – Sweden)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games: 0

Fredrik Naslund was one of the homerun European picks that the Dallas Stars propagated early in the 21st century.  Naslund is a 6’4, 210-pound winger with a quality scoring touch.  The Stars were hoping that he would become a puck-protecting power forward after his skating issues were worked out.  Things were looking better when Naslund decided to come over and play for the Peterborough Petes (OHL), but that was a short-lived stint.  Naslund returned to Sweden and has stuck to Sweden’s second-tier league – Allsvenskan.  His offensive output has slumped every year since leaving North America. 

The Stars realized they struck out on this sluggish fourth-round pick and decided against signing him, thus forfeiting his rights. 

Trevor Ludwig, D
6th round (183rd overall) – Texas Tornado (NAHL)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games: 0

After two years in Dallas’ backyard with the Texas Tornado (NAHL), the Stars used a sixth round pick on the 188th ranked North American skater.  The son of former Star Craig Ludwig prides himself on a positionally-sound defensive game.  After leaving the NAHL, Ludwig undertook a four-year stay at Providence College before turning pro.  Ludwig spent the majority of the year in the ECHL with Idaho, but saw 16 games with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. 

Goals and assists are not the stats that Ludwig plays for (look no further than his two goals and 15 points in his 115 career collegiate games), instead he exhibits the ability to read the play coming towards him and a good stick to break it up.  He’ll likely benefit from the Stars getting their own AHL affiliate this season and spend the majority of his time there in 2009-10.

Sergei Kukushkin, RW

7th round (218th overall) – Yunost Minsk (BEL – Belarus)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games: 0

The Stars plucked another potential power forward out of Europe’s ranks – this time Belarus.  In Kukushkin’s draft year, he split time between Junior Minsk (Bel. Jrs.) and Yunost Minsk (Belarusian Extraliga).  He came over for a rather uneventful season in the USHL for the Indiana Ice and then was moved to the New England Huskies of the EJHL before leaving the next year for Russia’s Vysshaya Liga (second tier).  That move prompted a successful season with Kapitan Stupino.  Since then he’s bounced around between the defunct Russian SuperLeague, the Belarusian Extaliga and the KHL. 

The big goal-scoring winger struggled to become an impact player even in Russia’s top league and struggled to establish himself as a legitimate NHL prospect.  The Stars have relinquished his rights.

Lukas Vomela, D

8th round (248th overall) – HC Ceske Budejovice (Cze-E)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games: 0

The Stars grabbed the defensive defenseman Vomela very late in the draft after he turned pro in the Czech Republic’s Extraliga.  Despite his 15 pro games as an 18-year-old, he has played in just seven games at that level since.  He hasn’t seen much in the way of international team duty for the Czechs since his draft year either. 

Vomela was a decent skater, with a good shot but liked to keep the game simple and in front of him.  After being kicked around between the second and third tier league’s in the Czech Republic, Vomela disappeared from the radar screen in 2008-09.  The Stars had already released his rights. 

Matt McKnight, C
9th round (280th overall) – Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games: 0

Gritty forward Matt McKnight was the Stars final selection in 2004.  After two years in Alberta Juniors, McKnight moved to the University of Minnesota-Duluth.  His biggest offensive outputs came in his first two seasons.  After a decent, but not exceptional, four years at Minnesota-Duluth, McKnight became a professional at the ECHL level.  Despite putting his strong two-way play and leadership skills on display, the Stars decided not to sign the Red Deer native and subsequently lost his rights.

Coincidentally, McKnight found his way onto the Dallas Stars ECHL affiliate in Idaho in 2008-09.  Unfortunately, that appears to be the only thing he’ll have in common with the Stars from here on out.  McKnight should be able to carve out a respectable career at the minor pro level.

While the Stars missed out on impact players in 2004, they managed to add some adequate depth in the early rounds.  Although, their Euro projects failed to amount to anything no matter where they selected them.  After five years, the Stars produced two NHLers, one probable NHLer and still own the rights to half of the draft class in all.