Stars 2006 draft preview

By Kevin Wey

Stars Top 10 Prospects

1. Loui Eriksson, LW
2. Matt Niskanen, D
3. Perttu Lindgren, C
4. Nicklas Grossman, D
5. Vojtech Polak, RW
6. Mario Scalzo, D
7. James Neal, LW
8. Mike Smith, G
9. Mark Fistric, D
10. Junior Lessard, RW

Team Needs

The Dallas Stars’ greatest need is a goaltender who can win the big games. Since 2001-02, Ed Belfour’s last season with Dallas, the Stars have never made it past the second round of the playoffs. In 2003, Dallas ran up against a hot goaltender in Jean-Sebastian Giguere and lost to Anaheim despite Marty Turco putting up a .920 save percentage and 1.91 goals-against average against the Mighty Ducks. However, in the past two postseasons, Dallas has lost to Colorado in five games in the first round and Turco has not had a save percentage above .870 for either series loss to the Avalanche. What the answer is, is unknown. Turco was re-signed and Johan Hedberg is an unrestricted free agent. Mike Smith, Tobias Stephan, and Dan Ellis are all fine goaltending prospects, but none are probably the answer as rookies in 2006-07. Both Smith and Ellis are restricted free agents and must be tendered qualifying offers the Monday after the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

Dallas also needs help at forward. Second line center Jason Arnott is an unrestricted free agent and may not be back in 2006-07. In addition, Mike Modano starts 2006-07 at 36 years of age, and both Bill Guerin and Stu Barnes turn 36 during the season. Selke Trophy finalist Jere Lehtinen turns 33 the day of the draft. The only impact forward the Stars had under 25 in 2005-06 was rookie Jussi Jokinen, who turned 23 on April 1. The Stars desperately need to restock with some high-end offensive talent at forward so that there’s a smooth transition from the Modano and Lehtinen-lead Stars to the future. Except for second-liner Brendan Morrow, the rest of the forwards who played for Dallas in 2005-06 do not project to be more than third liners, at least on a good team. In the prospect ranks, Loui Eriksson is a strong start and could crack Dallas in 2006-07 after an extremely strong finish to the 2005-06 AHL season, but the Stars need even more than Eriksson, Perttu Lindgren, Vojtech Polak, and James Neal.

Dallas will also to need to restock on defense soon. Willie Mitchell, Jon Klemm, and Patrick Traverse are all unrestricted free agents this summer. The Stars only had two defensemen who played regularly in 2005-06 that were younger than 30, 29-year-old Stephane Robidas and 22-year-old Trevor Daley. Norris Trophy finalist Sergei Zubov is still incredibly effective at 35, but Dallas has no heir apparent for when Zubov eventually retires. Daley and prospect Mario Scalzo give Dallas two young, talented puckmoving defensemen, but it’s doubtful either are future No. 1 defensemen. Matt Niskanen should eventually be one of Dallas’ top defensemen, but it’s far from certain that he’s a future No. 1. The Stars do have a number of talented prospect defensive defensemen, but either Mitchell or Klemm will need to be re-signed to buy Nicklas Grossman and Mark Fistric time.

Organizational Strengths

In the prospect ranks, Dallas’ primary strength is its stock of physical defensive defensemen. Grossman became an extremely reliable defensive force for the Iowa Stars as 2005-06 progressed and may only be one more AHL season away from being NHL-ready. Fistric will play for the Iowa Stars or Assat Pori in 2006-07 after captaining the Vancouver Giants to the WHL championship, but he too figures to become a physical defensive defenseman for Dallas in the coming years. Matt Nickerson, who played for the Assat Pori in the Sm-Liiga last season, gives Dallas a third physical defenseman who has a legitimate shot of becoming a fifth or sixth defenseman for Dallas in the future.

The Stars should also have third and fourth line energy and checking forwards covered. Six-foot-two, 190-pound James Neal has a blend of size, skill, and physicality to at least become a third line left winger. Center Joel Lundqvist, the twin brother of New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, could be plying his scrappy, two-way game in Dallas as early as this season. Junior Lessard may not have the speed to be a second liner at the NHL level, but his tenacious pursuit of the puck and hands around the net could make him a third or fourth liner in Dallas. Fellow Swedish center Yared Hagos also has the two-way awareness and skill to potentially become a fourth liner. Rich Clune, Marius Holtet, Raymond Sawada and B.J. Crombeen should ensure that Dallas has plenty of physical energy line players to choose from. Janos Vas is also beginning to play a game similar to that of I-Stars teammate Holtet.

Dallas also a decent crop of prospect goaltenders. None of them may be big-name prospects, but they are a talented group. Mike Smith looks NHL ready after leading the Iowa Stars down the stretch and taking the Milwaukee Admirals to seven games in the first round of the AHL playoffs. Tobias Stephan will be playing in North America in 2006-07 after playing nearly every minute in net for the Kloten Flyers of the Swiss Nationalliga A the past four seasons. Dan Ellis also played very well for Iowa in 2005-06 and will continue to give Dallas exceptional goaltender depth in 2006-07 if he is re-signed. Even Pat McGann and Eero Kilpelainen, who currently fly under the radar, are talented netminders. McGann has the talent to succeed Alex Stalock and become the next in a line of great Cedar Rapids Roughrider goaltender. Kilpelainen stood on his head and was the best goaltender in the Mestis League despite playing for a weak Hermes team.

Organizational Needs

The primary need within the Dallas prospect ranks is high-end, offensively talented forwards. Acquiring such players is far easier said than done when the Stars are consistently one of the best teams in the NHL during the regular season, which makes the playoff collapses that much more frustrating. The Stars have no prospect forwards who project with certainty as first liners. Loui Eriksson should become a top six forward for Dallas, and Perttu Lindgren, Vojtech Polak, and James Neal all have the potential to become second or third-liners, but Dallas needs much more to one day replace players such as Modano and Lehtinen. Tom Wandell and John Lammers are both longshots to become second line NHL players. If either does, all the better, but neither should be relied upon to fill this need. I-Stars scorer Junior Lessard is also a longshot to duplicate his AHL role in the NHL. Lessard will more likely be a third or fourth liner for Dallas.

Like many NHL teams, Dallas could also use a bluechip prospect on the blue line. Dallas has some depth in its prospect defenseman corps with Niskanen, Grossman, Mario Scalzo, Fistric, Johan Fransson, and Nickerson, but none of them are a certainty to replace Sergei Zubov as Dallas’ No. 1 defenseman. Given that Dallas’ first pick will not come until late in the first round, the Stars will unlikely be able to address this need in the 2006 Draft. In fact, given that Dallas regularly is among the top teams in the regular season, the best Dallas can do is to continue to build prospect depth so as to trade prospects for veteran help or to make the team extremely attractive to unrestricted free agents.

Lastly, even though goaltending depth among its prospects is a strong suit, Dallas could also afford to invest in a high-end goaltender. None of the Stars goaltender prospects are bluechippers, and some interesting options in net could be available late in the first round.

Draft Tendencies

Under General Manager Doug Armstrong, who became the Stars general manager Jan. 25, 2006, Dallas has made trades to stockpile picks in the first three rounds of the draft. From the 2002 through the 2005 Draft, the first four drafts of the Armstrong era, Dallas selected 19 players in the first three rounds, orchestrated primarily through trades. Of note, Dallas has already traded its second round pick for the 2006 Draft in the trade for Janne Niinimaa, so it would be difficult for the Stars to make similar trades in the 2006 Draft. In the 2005 Draft, the only trade the Stars made was dealing a sixth round pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a fifth round in 2006.

The new collective bargaining agreement and the new player transfers agreement between the NHL and the IIHF will likely force Dallas to continue the trend of 2005 and draft few Europeans. The Stars took seven prospects out of Europe in the 2002 Draft, six in the 2003 Draft, and five in the 2004 Draft. At the 2005 Draft, Dallas only took two players out of Europe. Now that NHL teams only have two years to sign prospects drafted out of Europe, just like those taken out of major juniors, the Stars will not be able to take the number of project Europeans they have selected in recent drafts.

Hockey’s Future’s staff mock draft result: Leland Irving, G, Everett

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.