The SB Nation NHL Mock Draft is well underway, and this morning Defending Big D's selection for the Dallas Stars has gone live. It's been an interesting draft so far and based on what has been coming out of Denver this week, is certainly seeming to be closer to a realistic mock draft than I first realized.
The trick with this mock is that no trades are allowed. With the Stars hungry for elite talent from a forward, the worst-case scenario developed:
1. Colorado: Nathan MacKinnon.
2. Florida: Jonathan Drouin.
3. Tampa Bay: Seth Jones
4. Nashville: Aleksander Barkov
5. Carolina: Valeri Nichushkin
6. Calgary: Sean Monahan
7. Edmonton: Elias Lindholm
8. Buffalo: Darnell Nurse
9. New Jersey: Hunter Shinkaruk
With all of the top-tier-level forwards now gone, with perhaps the exception of Max Domi, the Dallas Stars had a tough choice to make. Should they perhaps reach a bit to address a serious organizational need or do they snag a player some believe to the second-best defenseman in the draft?
With no trades available, as I'd expect the Stars to at least discuss trading down in this situation, we went for the player that sat atop our draft board.
10. Dallas Stars select Rasmus Ristolainen
This is what we had to say about Ristolainen in our scouting report from earlier this month:
While his size and skills are notable, what continues to come up in regards to Ristolainen is his incredible intelligence when the puck is on his stick. He rarely makes a mistake and is capable of a fast, accurate and smart first pass out of the zone that will be the key to any transition game in the NHL.
Playing tough minutes in the top league in Finland, Ristolainen is a physically gifted player who already uses his size very well. While some scouts feel he could become a bit "nastier," he's proven he's more than willing to play tough and dirty around his net and is far from a one-dimensional puck-moving defenseman. This is a player who really can do it all, in any situation, and will receive time both on the power play and on the penalty kill.
And this is what Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus had to say about Ristolainen:
Ristolainen had a quality season in Finland, where he often logged tough, heavy minutes for TPS. That is an impressive role for an 18-year-old defenseman in that league. He is not a flashy player, but he does everything well. He best skill is his hockey sense. He thinks the game at a level well beyond his years, and he does not make many mistakes on the ice. He is an aware, effective defenseman who can close gaps with his body or with his stick. With the puck, he shows calmness, but he can process the game quickly when the situation calls for it. He can man the point on the power play. He is a solid to above-average skater (I have heard an NHL scout classify him as high end in that area). His puck handling is at a similar level; he can flash significant offensive ability, but the bulk of value will come from his work in his own zone. To that point, he will lay the body, and he can provide quality hits. He could fast track to the NHL quicker than a typical defense prospect.
Ristolainen would instantly become the best player in the Stars' development system and there is a general feeling he'd be ready to make the jump to North American hockey as early as 2014. While the Stars certainly have an abundance of defensemen in the system, Ristolainen's talent and potential as a top-pairing defenseman are just too much to pass up.
As for the real draft, there's a high likelihood that the Stars would be more than pleased with this selection. Rumor has it that the team paid close attention to Ristolainen at the combine, and in the past this has been an indication of their intentions in the first round -- but not always. There's a sentiment that Ristolainen would be too close to the same "safe" picks that Nieuwendyk was criticized for the past few years, and it's true that Ristolainen is certainly described as one of the safer picks in the first round.
"Safe," however, does not mean untalented. Ristolainen's offensive upside might be limited, but his two-way play and incredible hockey intelligence with the puck on his stick is what rates him as one of the top defensemen in this draft.
Now, there's going to be some upset that Ristolainen was selected over Ryan Pulock. This was debated among the DBD staff, but it became clear that in this situation you have to look to the top of the draft board and ours had Ristolainen above Pulock.
Would this selection be acceptable to Stars fans?