It was no doubt a frustrating season for Dallas Stars staff and fans alike. A roster in some degree of transition already was further complicated by early, long-term injuries to future star Valeri Nichushkin and hulking Swedish defenseman Patrik Nemeth. Bouts of inconsistent play overall and the inability of goaltender Kari Lehtonen to come to their rescue as he did the previous season led to the Stars being denied a playoff berth in 2014-15.
On the plus side, the combination of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin proved lethal once more for the opposition. Benn led the NHL in points with 87; Seguin was not far behind as he netted 77 in just 71 games. Only Jason Spezza (62) had more than 40 points on the team besides the aforementioned dynamic duo. However, one of those 40-point getters in particular was a revelation himself. Rookie defenseman John Klingberg burst onto the scene and provided the Stars with some talent from the backline that they have been seeking for some time now.
Top 10 Prospects
1. Julius Honka, D
2. Brett Ritchie, RW
3. Jamie Oleksiak, D
4. Jack Campbell, G
5. Jason Dickinson, C
6. Cole Ully, LW/RW
7. Brett Pollock, LW/C
8. Patrik Nemeth, D
9. Philippe Desrosiers, G
10. Mattias Janmark, C
First and foremost, Dallas needs to figure out the defense. It is no secret that the Stars are in the market for a defenseman – perhaps one that can handle the defensive zone with a touch more mastery than the current group has shown. The reinforcements are on the way. With Oleksiak, Nemeth, and Jyrki Jokipakka all losing waiver exemption and Klingberg already set in place, youth will be served. However, the Stars could use a steadying, but impactful, veteran to help things along.
Kari Lehtonen has shown that he can be a game stealer at the NHL level, but last year was one of his worst. He gave up some leaky goals and poorly-timed giveaways that cost the Stars points that they desperately needed. With a new goalie coach expected to be in town, Lehtonen will likely be given the opportunity to rebound. A backup goalie that belongs as a regular NHLer has been something the Stars have been really unable to hit on in recent years. The late season acquisition of the very capable Jhonas Enroth (who will pursue the market) notwithstanding, the Stars have employed fringe NHLers like Anders Lindback, Jussi Rynnas, Dan Ellis, Tim Thomas (in the last year of his career), Richard Bachman, Cristopher Nihlstorp and Andrew Raycroft to serve as understudy to Lehtonen.
A former weakness, center, is now the driving force of the team. With two legitimate number-one centers on the club in Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza – plus a hard-working forechecker in Cody Eakin in the three-hole – the Stars are doing just fine there. Jason Dickinson gives even more hope to the position in the future, not to mention Devin Shore or Mattias Janmark.
The young wingers on the way look promising as well. Though Nichushkin lost a season last year, he still possesses top line upside. Bulky Brett Ritchie looks like he is just about ready to take the NHL by storm, especially if he saddles up with the glimmer twins on the top line as he did late last season for a spell. Slippery Cole Ully and industrious, hard-nosed forwards such as Curtis McKenzie and Remi Elie and modern power forward Brett Pollock are all also tracking in the right direction.
The Stars own the rights to a ton of blueliners as well. Coming into the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, 17 defenders still have prospect status. Only one appears to have top pairing upside and that is Julius Honka, but there is hope for many others to be NHL regulars at some point in time.
With Jack Campbell sputtering last season, his performance this year will be determine how poor Dallas is in the crease. Behind Campbell is Memorial Cup participant Philippe Desrosiers, but even that comes with a “but” as Desrosiers lost his job during the QMJHL Playoffs to draft re-entry candidate Louis-Philippe Guindon before recapturing it. Though it is not projected to be a strong year for goaltenders, GM Jim Nill will still be on the lookout for one no doubt.
Though the quantity is there on the blueline, how much real, pure quality exists? Players with big upsides are still very much long shots for the NHL (Esa Lindell, Michael Prapavessis) and the big players that are close to making it might not have huge impact game to game (Oleksiak, Nemeth). Despite the numbers, Nill should not be shy if he gets a chance at a falling d-man from this draft class.
Even with GM Nill at the helm, the Stars did not venture too far off their normally beaten path in 2014, so reasonably one could expect a similar result next week as well. The Stars are heavy players in the WHL, taking at least one player from that league every year since 2007 (including their first two picks in 2014). The OHL also remains a mainstay for the Dallas organization, as it is for most: four players from the Ontario circuit were chosen last season by Dallas and another from AAA in Ontario. Nine players over the previous three drafts came out of the “O.”
As always, European pros and juniors – particularly in Sweden and Finland – are a primary focus for this club’s scouting contingent, while the QMJHL and the Czech/Slovak pro/junior circuits are left for others.
Dallas will have the opportunity to make just six selections in 2015 with picks: 12, 49, 103, 133, 163 and 193. The Stars gave up their original second round pick (#42) to Ottawa in the Jason Spezza trade. They recouped Detroit’s second (#49) in a deal for Erik Cole at the deadline, though it cost them their original third round pick (#73) in the process.
Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Results
Being right in Jim Nill’s former backyard certainly helps, but this type of upside falling into the 12 spot is too much to pass up for any team quite frankly. An offensive-minded defenseman, Zach Werenski thinks the game very well, anticipating what do with the puck as it is coming to him, not after he is already handling it. He is still working on his stride and improving his lower body strength a little bit, but he already shows high level escapability and gear change. He can make smart, short passes without relying on Hail-Mary heaves all the time. His shot is very good with a good release. Even without one-timing it, he can beat a goalie from distance. He is still a little bit raw defensively but he understands the principles of defending, so it is a matter of practice and experience. The American defenseman appears to be on the lower end of his development arc with lots of room to grow as a player. Werenski falling to Dallas would offer up some kind of revenge for losing out on a falling Cam Fowler back in 2010.