Though the once locked-out NHL season has only gone beyond its one third mark the Junior, NCAA and European leagues are approaching the ends of their respective regular seasons. With these leagues coming close to the end of their seasons it's time to start evaluating which players might have caught the eyes of Dallas Stars prospects across the world.
The Stars are currently enjoying probably the best farm system they have ever had, or at the very least the best in the past decade, but there are still some major weaknesses that need to be addressed. They have successfully targeted these weaknesses in the previous couple of drafts using a system of 'shotgun' draft. In essence drafting as many of a certain type of player in order to increase the statistical likelihood of at least some of them reaching the NHL. Last year saw the drafting of 4 centres in 9 picks (Radek Faksa, Mike Winther, Devin Shore and Gemel Smith) and the previous two years before that saw an emphasis on defensemen. They also aim to pick players who are generally big but offensively talented. In order to learn more about this I'd advise that you read an in-depth analysis of the Stars drafting habits which I wrote following the 2012 NHL Draft.
The weaknesses in the Dallas Stars system at the moment are predominantly on the left wing with only three prospects in the system who potentially can make an impact in the NHL that play there, Matt Fraser, Alex Guptill and Curtis McKenzie. Another area of weakness is the lack of high end offensive talented defensemen. Ludwig Bystrom is one potential top end offensive defenseman but the Stars would probably need more to feel comfortable with their depth there. In an ideal world they would also strengthen the centre position more with another top end centre prospect.
The Stars have plenty of right wing prospects, goaltenders and defensive minded defensemen in the system to potentially allow the Stars to focus on addressing the weaknesses in the other areas of the the system. Its important to remember that while the Stars do appear to have an emphasis on addressing organisational weaknesses in the first and second rounds it appears they do follow the 'Best Player Available' doctrine of drafting.
The Stars enter this draft with 9 picks with a single pick in every round apart from the third in which they have three. The Stars traded their seventh round pick on the 2012 NHL draft day but acquired the Florida Panthers 2013 seventh rounder as well. That is currently 5 picks within the top 100 of what is generally accepted to be a good draft year. I would argue it is, at the very least, as good as the 2012 draft crop. It might not have the number of good defensemen as the 2012 draft did but it has a lot centres. In particular there are very few wingers battling for spots in the first round and its possible that as few as 6 wingers will be taken in the first round.
As I write this the Stars are currently occupying the very familiar bubble around the playoff line and it wouldn't be outrageous to assume, considering previous seasons performances, that they end up finishing roughly where they have previously, within the top 15. There are several good options who could be available when the Stars pick if they do have a pick between 10th-15th, interestingly they tend to be predominantly centres or defensemen. For example: Rasmus Ristolainen (D FIN), Curtis Lazar (C WHL), Ryan Pulock (D WHL), Hunter Shinkaruk (C WHL) or Frederick Gauthier (C QMJHL). There is still a lot of flux and variation between various prospects in the mid first round so these particular prospects could be picked anyway from 8th to 25th depending upon individuals teams preferences (Look for example at prospects such as Teuvo Teravainen and Pontus Aberg to see how prospects can fall despite high rankings). Its likely, especially with the lack of wingers expected to be drafted in the first round this year, that the Stars will end up selecting either a Centre or a Defenseman. Unless they dramatically overreach the Stars are almost certain to get a serviceable prospect in the first round.
Though many people when looking ahead to the draft focus on the first round, it is after all the round that has the greatest chance of success, I want to look beyond that. In particular I want to have a look at the three third round picks that the Dallas Stars currently have. Those picks are the Stars own third round pick, the Oilers third round pick (From the Fistric trade) and the Wild's third round pick (From Philadelphia for Grossmann) these will all be between the range of 61-90. In a draft that has some depth to it these three picks could be used to pick several very interesting prospects that I think, guess at this stage, will be drafted within the third round.
One particular prospect, who if he continues as he is will be drafted higher than the third round, is Adam Tambellini (Son of Oilers GM Steven Tambellini and brother of New York Islanders Jeff Tambellini). Adam Tambellini is a good sized forward at 6"1 but needs to bulk up as he is only 173lbs. He currently plays for the Surrey Eagles of the BCHL, the same league which Jamie Benn and Jordie Benn were in during juniors, and he is committed to play for the University of North Dakota in 2013-2014. He's got some great tools and natural size, though he could do with a lot of bulking up, and will likely be taken in the late second round or the early third. That Oilers third round pick, if they do badly this season, could be used to draft him.
One avenue that I expect the Stars to exploit throughly is the number of good European prospects that are available for this years draft, some of which could fall to the third round. Anyone who watched the Swedish team at the World Junior Championships will have noticed how many draft eligible players they had playing for them. Expect the Stars to pick up at least two or maybe three European prospects this time round.
One European prospect that has caught my eye is Swedish defenseman Linus Arnesson. He currently plays for Djurgarden in the Allsvenskan (second division in Sweden) and is used predominately in a shutdown role, not surprisingly for a 6"2 190lbs defensemen. He does show flashes of offensive talent, joining the rushes and moving the puck well, but only flashes. More often than not he is invisible in the offensive zone but the flashes suggest a potential to become a good two way defenseman. He also effectively uses his 6"2 frame and is quite physical, especially for a swedish defenseman.
Another European prospect, though one playing in the WHL, whose name should be watched out for during the draft is Portland Winterhawks Right Wing Oliver Bjorkstrand. He's a smallish Danish forward, 5"11 164lbs, who in his rookie season in the WHL has got 55 points through 54 games. Not bad for a first year playing stepping into one of the better teams in the WHL. He's an excellent skater with good offensive vision and is seen as one of the best Danish forwards alongside Vancouver's Nicklas Jensen.
As we get closer to the draft and the rankings begin to solidify there will be more pieces on potential prospects and who the Stars might like to draft. This is just a very brief article and I hope to write one or several pieces looking at the draft following the trade deadline when its easy to see the situation that the Stars will be in as they approach the draft.
For those interested in learning how various scoutings agencies rate the top prospects I recommend you visit Future Considerations, Hockey Prospect , International Scouting Services or the North American CSS Rankings and European CSS Rankings. Corey Pronman at Hockey Prospectus also had a very interesting early season look at the draft.