Stars 2004 draft preview

By George Bachul

Dallas Stars Top Ten Prospects

1. Trevor Daley, D
2. Antti Miettinen, LW
3. Dan Ellis, G
4. Jussi Jokinen, LW
5. Jason Bacashihua, G
6. Loui Eriksson, RW
7. Mathias Tjärnqvist, LW
8. Yared Hagos, C
9. Joel Lundqvist, C
10. Vojtech Polak, LW

In December of 2003, Dallas Stars owner Tom Hicks threatened that if his high payroll club didn’t improve, changes were on the horizon. The underlying tone of teams that are reducing payroll is that of bringing in young inexpensive players to replace expensive veterans.

The first step to infusing youth into a veteran line-up is at the drafting table, where historically the Dallas Stars have been reasonably successful considering their average draft position. Since 1996, the Stars franchise has selected no better than 25th overall. It has been difficult to restock their prospect resources but the Stars under Assistant GM Les Jackson and Director of Amateur Scouting Tim Bernhardt have done a good job unearthing hidden talent.

Team Needs

Recently the Dallas Stars learned that their second best defensive prospect Martin Vagner would be re-entering the draft. This coupled with a deficient defensive prospect stable means that the Stars are lacking on the back end. The Stars only have four defensemen under contract (Including the recently signed Don Sweeney) for next season and have Richard Matvichuk, Jon Klemm and Teppo Numminen as unrestricted free agents. This is a need will have to be addressed.

There has been also the very vocal statement that the team will shed some of its payroll that stood near $67 million last season. That could include any number of veterans with names such as Bill Guerin, Jason Arnott and Valeri Bure as possible candidates to be moved or not qualified as restricted free agents.

If the reduction of payroll does hold true, there will be an influx of youth in several positions. The Stars have a decent depth in prospects on both wings, and in goal with some questions about the center position.

Organizational Strengths

The Dallas Stars have arguably the best goaltending prospect depth in the NHL. Dan Ellis and Jason Bacashihua are the Stars 1 and 1A goaltending prospects. Ellis had a strong year moving between the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL and the Utah Grizzlies of the AHL. Bacashihua also had a very good season for Utah as the primary starter. Unheralded 2001 fifth round pick Mike Smith is also in the mix and is going to come to camp with the other two North American goaltending prospects to earn the back up position behind Marty Turco. Considering Smith’s numbers in Utah were similar to Ellis’ he is well regarded by management, but doesn’t get the publicity of the other two better-known prospects.

Further strengthening the goaltending position is the 34th overall selection in the 2002 draft Tobias Stephan. Stephan was also having a strong season for HC Kloten in the Swiss League but his year ended early with hip surgery in December.

Antti Miettinen, Jussi Jokinen, Loui Eriksson and Junior Lessard headline a deep wing corps where the future looks bright. Miettinen was strong enough to earn a spot with the Stars out of training camp and played a decent two-way game before being sent down to Utah to adjust to the North American game. Jokinen is one of the top young forwards in the Finnish Elite League ranking in the top 25 in overall scoring playing for Karpat. Loui Eriksson is the second rated prospect in all of Sweden by at the tender age of 18 ahead of notable rookie NHL players Christian Backman and Fredrik Sjostrom. The Dallas Stars signed Junior Lessard this spring after a great season with Minnesota-Duluth that culminated with the Hobey Baker Award for top NCAA player. With Mattias Tjanqvist, Marius Holtet and Vojtech Polak also patrolling the wing as Stars prospects, the organization is well served on the flanks.

Organizational Weaknesses

The Dallas Stars have Trevor Daley ready to step in and take a position on the blueline. With the impending loss of Martin Vagner, the Stars are not only thin at the NHL level; they are very inadequate at the prospect level as well. Contributing to the problem in the future is the fact that Sergei Zubov, Don Sweeney and Lubomir Sekeras are all in their mid to late thirties, meaning there is no defensive workhorse in his prime on the Stars roster. Even if unrestricted free agents Jon Klemm (Age 34), Teppo Numminen (Age 35) and Richard Matvichuk (Age 31) were re-signed, the problem would still exist.

At center, Mike Modano at age 34 had his worst season in the NHL. Stu Barnes and Pierre Turgeon are also coming off poor performances and are also past their prime. Jason Arnott had a decent season but will command a large salary and a decision will have to be made regarding his future. Niko Kapanen, the team’s only young center fell into a sophomore slump that he never recovered from.

The best prospect at the center position for the Stars is Yared Hagos that has size and some skill and is coming of his best season in the Swedish Elite League. Joel Lundqvist is another Dallas Star Swedish prospect that has shown some promise at the center position. Neither of the two prospects is highly touted or is expected to make an immediate impact on the Stars line up. This leaves the future of the Dallas Stars pivot position in doubt.

Draft Tendencies

The ability to draft well late is done by the perseverance of the scouting staff. The group that drafted Jere Lehtinen (88th overall), Marty Turco (124th overall), and Niko Kapanen (173rd overall) seem to have the Midas touch with later picks.

Since 1993 the Dallas Stars have used their first pick seven times on a forward, three times on a defenseman and once on a goaltender. It is interesting though that since that time the first selection made by the Stars in the draft was a North American for the first nine drafts. The next two drafts in 2002 and 2003 were both Europeans but Martin Vagner was playing in North America at the time.

Twenty-nine out of the Dallas Stars last 54 picks have hailed from Europe in an attempt to become more skilled. Expect the presence of strong European scouts within the Dallas Stars organization to be prevalent on draft day.

Player most likely to be taken in the first round (Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result): Ladislav Smid, D