Stars 2001 draft evaluation

By Kevin Wey

Five years after the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, it’s clear things could have turned out better for the Dallas Stars.

Six of the Stars 10 selections in the 2001 Draft never even signed with the team. Daniel Volrab and Michal Blazek are both marginal European players who have been unable to crack the Czech Extraleague. Marek Tomica has become an important cog for Slavia Praha of the Czech Extraleague, but he never signed with Dallas. Dale Sullivan played one season of Canadian collegiate hockey after three seasons of QMJHL hockey, only to leave college and play senior hockey in Nova Scotia. Anthony Aquino refused to sign with Dallas and forced a trade, but failed to make the AHL and has moved to Europe.

First round pick Jason Bacashihua signed with the team but was traded two years into his entry-level contract for a prospect defenseman who flopped in his debut AHL season and was subsequently packaged in a trade to another NHL organization. The Stars drafted the right man, they just don’t have him anymore.

Dallas’ second pick in the draft, third rounder Yared Hagos, played for the Iowa Stars in 2005-06, but he failed to play higher than the third line after four seasons of pro hockey in Sweden.

Fifth round pick Mike Smith does help compensate for trading Bacashihua. Smith led the Iowa Stars down the stretch, was named the AHL Goaltender of the Month for April, played every minute in the playoffs, and looks NHL ready for 2006-07. The 24-year-old netminder is one of the positives of the 2001 Draft for the Stars.

The Stars success story from the 2001 Draft was sixth round pick Jussi Jokinen. Jokinen played his first season of North American hockey in 2005-06 and finished fourth in NHL rookie scoring and wowed the league with his shootout prowess. The 22-year-old Finn looks set to be the Stars first line left winger for years to come.

Dallas can only wish the rest of the 2001 Draft had panned out like Jokinen.

The 10 picks totaled exactly 100 NHL games, for an average of 10 games per pick.

Jason Bacashihua, G
1st Rd, 26th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games: 19

Five years after the Dallas Stars drafted the Chicago Freeze goaltender in the first round of the 2001 Draft, Jason Bacashihua looks set to become a full-time NHLer, only it’s with the St. Louis Blues.

Bacashihua was standout goaltender in the North American Hockey League for two seasons and was recruited by the University of Michigan, but problems with grades forced him to take the major junior route after Dallas drafted him. The 19-year-old Bacashihua played the 2001-02 season with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL and even played one game with the Utah Grizzlies of the AHL. Bacashihua was Utah’s Three Stars Award winner for the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons, but Dallas couldn’t resist when St. Louis offered their 2003 first round draft pick, Shawn Belle, in exchange for the netminder.

Bacashihua played 2004-05 with the Worcester Ice Cats and made the move to Peoria when St. Louis moved its AHL affiliate for the 2005-06 season. When Patrick Lalime struggled and was subsequently injured, and Reinhard Divis hurt his NHL future with his inconsistency, Bacashihua was given his shot. Although he was inconsistent up until he suffered a shoulder injury Jan. 20 that kept him out until early April, Bacashihua was excellent after he returned. In contrast, Belle struggled with the Iowa Stars in 2005-06 and was subsequently traded to the Minnesota Wild March 9.

After his strong finish with St. Louis, Bacashihua looks like he has a chance to be in the Blues line-up in 2006-07. If he can improve his consistency, as he seemed to do in April, he should challenge Curtis Sanford for the starter spot. Dallas has Mike Smith and Tobias Stephan in his stead, but they’ll be hard pressed to equal Bacashihua.

Yared Hagos, C
3rd Rd, 70th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games: 0

Swedish center Yared Hagos made the move to North America in 2005-06, but a mixed season with the Iowa Stars raises doubt that he’ll play in the NHL someday.

Hagos was drafted out of the AIK Solna organization after scoring a goal and five assists for Team Sweden at the 2001 U18 World Championships. He made the jump from Swedish juniors to the Elitserien in 2001-02, but when AIK was relegated to the Allsvenskan League for 2002-03, Hagos followed. Team Sweden called upon Hagos for the 2002 and 2003 World Junior Championship, the latter of which he scored two goals and three assists in six games for Tre Kronor. After scoring 10 goals and 22 assists in 49 games for AIK in the Allsvenskan League, Hagos was signed by Timra of the Elitserien.

Hagos played two seasons for Timra before transferring to North America for the 2005-06 season. There were high expectations that the 22-year-old Swede would contribute straight away for the Iowa Stars in their inaugural season, but he struggled to adjust to the more physical AHL. After markedly improving his play in February and March, Hagos was lost for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs due to a leg injury, limiting him to 10 goals and 22 assists in 49 games.

Despite a frustrating 2005-06, Hagos could still develop into a fourth line center for Dallas. He has good two-way awareness, quick feet, is a good playmaker, and started to play more physical before suffering his season-ending injury, but he must develop a more leg strength to increase his power and balance to play in the NHL. He’ll get another chance to prove himself in Iowa in 2006-07.

Anthony Aquino, F
3rd Rd, 92nd overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games: 0

Anthony Aquino was a member of the Hockey East All-Rookie Team as a 17-year-old freshman, a Hockey East Second Team All-Star his sophomore season, led Merrimack in scoring for the second straight season his junior season, and made a big mistake, in hindsight.

Prior to his senior season, Aquino filed a lawsuit against the OHL in an attempt to follow in the footsteps of Mike Van Ryn, play a year of major juniors, and become an unrestricted free agent. Aquino joined the Oshawa Generals Sept. 25, 2002, and played 14 games before the OHL ruled him ineligible on Nov. 5. With Aquino unable to play major junior or college hockey, and unwilling to sign with Dallas, the Stars traded him March 11, 2003, to the Atlanta Thrashers for a sixth round pick in the 2003 Draft. Ironically, Dallas had traded the pick to Atlanta Oct. 4, 2002, for Stephane Robidas, whom Atlanta had claimed in the Waiver Draft earlier that day.

Atlanta assigned Aquino to the Chicago Wolves for five games to end the 2002-03 season, but he had trouble cracking the Chicago roster the next season and played almost all of the 2003-04 season for the Thrashers ECHL affiliate, the Gwinnett Gladiators. Bought out of his contract by the Thrashers the following summer, Aquino played for SV Renon in Italian Serie A in 2004-05, averaging a point per game, but he only scored two goals and five assists in seven games.

The sixth round pick the Stars acquired for the 2003 Draft turned out to be Drew Bagnall, whom Dallas packaged with the compensatory pick, for losing Derian Hatcher, to the Florida Panthers March 4 for Valeri Bure. In the end, all Dallas got from the whole ordeal was a headache.

Daniel Volrab, LW
4th Rd, 126th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games: 0

Daniel Volrab was considered one of the most talented ’83s when Dallas drafted him, but he was also considered a player who did not always make the most of his talent and lacked intensity.

The Dallas Stars selected Volrab in the fourth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft after he had averaged nearly two points per game in Czech U18’s in 1999-00, averaged just under a point per game in Czech J20’s in 2000-01, and played for the Czech Republic at the 2001 U18 Championships. The Saskatoon Blades took an even larger leap by selecting the 18-year-old Czech with the seventh overall pick in the 2001 CHL Import Draft, but he never became an impact player in the WHL over his two seasons and returned to the Czech Republic as a 20-year-old. Volrab scored 13 goals and 18 assists in 29 games in Czech U20’s in 2003-04, but it would be the last time he’d be a major scorer.

Volrab also played 11 games between Pisek and Usti Nad Labem in the Czech First League in 2003-04 as well as three games for Decin in the Czech Second League. He split the 2004-05 season between Decin and Nymburk in the Second League and Kralove in the I Division and played the entire 2005-06 season with Kralove. The 2005-06 season was a step forward, as Volrab scored five goals and eight assists and played for one team the entire season, but he’s a ways from making the Czech Extraleague.

Mike Smith, G
5th Rd, 161st overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games: 0

Fifth round pick Mike Smith began his pro career in the ECHL, but he’s ready to tackle the NHL after a strong 2005-06 AHL season.

Drafted out of the OHL, Smith was the Sudbury Wolves starting goaltender for two seasons before signing a three-year entry-level contract with Dallas. Smith earned a shutout and scored a goal with the ECHL’s Lexington Men O’War on Oct. 26, 2002, and moved on to the AHL’s Utah Grizzlies by the end of the season. Smith was Jason Bacashihua’s backup with Utah in 2003-04 and split time with Minnesota Wild prospect Josh Harding in 2004-05, earning five shutouts and a .915 save percentage.

After a difficult start to the 2005-06 season, Smith outdueled Dan Ellis for the top spot down the stretch and started 17 of Iowa’s final 24 games, going 14-2-1 in that stretch and leading Iowa to the Calder Cup Playoffs in their inaugural season. Smith was named the AHL Goalie of the Month for April and finished the season with an AHL seventh-best .917 save percentage and a fourth-best 2.50 goals-against average. The 24-year-old played every minute of the playoffs for the I-Stars and compiled a .907 save percentage and a 2.74 goals-against average, but lost in seven games to the eventual Western Conference champion Milwaukee Admirals.

After leading the I-Stars to the Calder Cup Playoffs, Smith looks ready for the NHL challenge. The 6’3, 210-pound netminder has good size, excellent mobility, a quick glove hand, and is one of the best puckhandling goalies in hockey. If Smith becomes more selective as to when he plays the puck, he could become an NHL starter.

Michal Blazek, D
6th Rd, 167th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games: 0

Sometimes you swing and miss in the late rounds.

When the Stars drafted Michal Blazek, he was a promising defensive defenseman for HC Vsetin’s U20 team. Blazek had a 6’2 frame, mobility, and played a North American physical style. In 163 regular season U20 games, Blazek racked up 429 penalty minutes. By the 2002-03 season, his final season of Czech junior hockey, Blazek had established himself as one of the top physical, defensive defensemen in the U20 ranks, but the 20-year-old had only played one game for Vsetin in the Extraleague.

Since Czech juniors, Blazek’s career has taken a downturn. Blazek did not play during the 2003-04 season. He returned in 2004-05 and played for Mezirici of the Czech Second League and again played for Mezirici in 2005-06, although he was limited to only 19 games. Unfortunately for Dallas, Blazek turned out to be a miss.

Jussi Jokinen, LW
6th Rd, 192nd overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 81

Sometimes you hit a homerun late the ballgame.

Jokinen was drafted after averaging over a point for game in Finnish juniors for Karpat in 2000-01 and became one of the top scorers in the Sm-Liiga after four seasons in Finland’s top league. The Karpat forward finished 2004-05 as the fourth leading scoring in the Sm-Liiga by scoring 23 goals and 24 assists in 56 games. The Kalajoki native had also become a regular on the Finnish national team by playing at the 2001 U18’s, the 2002 and 2003 World Junior Championships, and the 2005 World Championships.

The 22-year-old signed with Dallas in August, impressed in training camp, and played with Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen on the Stars top line most of the season. Jokinen finished the season fourth in NHL rookie scoring, tallying 17 goals and 38 assists in 81 games, but the nine straight goals he scored in shootouts brought him fame. The Stars new offensive weapon also scored two goals and one assist in five playoff games.

Dallas’ exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs did not end Jokinen’s season. He helped Team Finland earn a bronze medal at the World Championships by scoring two goals and six assists in nine games. Jokinen also scored one goal and three assists in eight games at the Winter Olympics in Turin, helping Finland to a silver medal.

The new NHL rules fit the 5’11, 190-pound Jokinen well. He’s has excellent speed and skating skills and strong playmaking abilities. On top of that, he has a strong shot and can lay down some moves, be it in games or shootouts. Not since Mike Modano have the Stars had a rookie forward make such an impact.

Marco Rosa, C
8th Rd, 255th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games: 0

Neither of Dallas’ picks from Merrimack College in the 2001 Draft turned out for the organization.

Marco Rosa was drafted after his freshman season at Merrimack, but after three more seasons of college hockey and failing to put up more than 26 points in any given season, Dallas opted not to sign the eighth round pick after the 2003-04 season.

An unrestricted free agent, Rosa signed with the Long Beach Ice Dogs of the ECHL and was the runner-up for the ECHL Rookie of the Year Award after scoring 34 goals and 31 assists in 71 games. Rosa’s impressive rookie season in the ECHL earned him an invitation to the Nashville’s training camp, where he impressed enough to sign a player tryout contract with the Predators AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, on Oct. 6. The 23-year-old played 27 games with Milwaukee before being released from his PTO Jan. 4. He returned to Long Beach but was injured and placed on the IR Jan. 13, returned Feb. 24, but battle injuries the rest of the year and only played six regular season games and one playoff game for the Ice Dogs.

So far, though, Rosa holds the edge of Aquino in North America, but it doesn’t do anything for Dallas.

Dale Sullivan, RW
9th Rd, 265th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games: 0

Like most ninth round picks, Dale Sullivan was unable to beat the odds and sign an NHL contract.

Sullivan was drafted out of the Hull Olympiques of after scoring eight goals and 14 assists in his rookie QMJHL season. It looked like Sullivan was ready to break out after scoring six goals and eight assists in 14 playoff games in the 2002 playoffs, second in Hull playoff scoring to Ales Hemsky, but injuries limited Sullivan to 31 games in 2002-03 and Dallas chose not to sign the right winger.

Instead of pursuing professional hockey, Sullivan went the Canadian collegiate route and played for St. Mary’s University in 2003-04. CIS hockey didn’t turn out for Sullivan, and he did not return to St. Mary’s for the 2004-05 season. Sullivan now plays senior hockey for the South Shore Shawmut Breakers of the East Avalon Senior Hockey League, the same league that former Montreal Canadiens first round pick Terry Ryan plays in.

Marek Tomica, F
9th Rd, 285th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games: 0

Of the three Czechs drafted by Dallas in the 2001 Draft, Marek Tomica has had the most success.

Tomica was drafted as a 20-year-old, but he had already established himself as a regular on Slavia Praha’s Extraleague team and had played on the Czech Republic’s 2001 World Junior Championship team. Over the course of the next four seasons, Tomica continued to play his two-way game on Slavia’s third line and was able to chip in offensively. In 2005-06, the 25-year-old had his best Extraleague season yet, scoring 13 goals and 15 assists in 49 games and far surpassing his previous high of 19 points in a season, achieved in 2004-05.

Had the NHL changed its rules a few seasons earlier, the 6’0, 180-pound Tomica might have been given a shot to prove himself in the AHL. Tomica is not big, and does not have high-end speed, but he is a good skater overall and has a solid two-way awareness. Never being signed by the Stars, Tomica may be a bust in terms of NHL games played, but he has established a respectable career for himself in the Extraleague and may continue to build on his offensive production from 2005-06.

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