The draft is always a crapshoot whose odds can be improved upon by good scouting and diligence to detail. It can also be easier to get NHL players from prospects if a team chooses a prospect which is a solid all around player who has things going for him. These players often don't have any particular element which makes them have a "wow" factor but enough all around skills and commitment to become solid and hard working NHLers.
Looking at the past two years in particular it feels as if the Dallas Stars have been guilty of playing safe with their first round picks. This is probably most likely due to their desire to build up their pool of prospects, which in all honesty they have done very well over the last couple of years. The Stars prospect pool is far healthy than it has been for a long time but is still lacking when compared to the top prospect systems in the league.
Radek Faksa is a solid all around player but doesn't have any offensive wow. He is likely to reach the NHL as at the least a good third line centre who could step up to take a second line role as well when needed. His offensive upside just doesn't appear very high currently, that could change and it hasn't been his best season either to be honest.
Jamie Oleksiak will also be a good defenseman, potentially a top pairing or top four but he doesn't bring the Stars an elite offensive talent which they need both on the blue line and forward corps at the prospect level. While players like Brett Ritchie and Matej Stransky are offensive there is a lack of any truly fantastic playmaking/scorer in the Stars prospect pool.
Why is this? When thinking about it the answer that appears is the cautious (maybe conservative) nature of the Dallas Stars first round picks, not that there is anything particularly wrong with that considering the situation the Stars were in. The Stars only a few short years ago had very few prospects to get excited about or would ever make a significant impact on the NHL level. The Stars drafted to refill that group of individuals to get plenty of young players who could make a potential impact with the Dallas Stars. It was better for them at this point in time to take less risks and go for the safe bet players who had everything needed to be a solid NHLer. Now that the prospect pool has been refilled the Stars need to consider whether they should take a risk.
In order to explain why there has been a cautious nature to their drafting when they could have taken a risk on a higher impact player its important to go and look at those players who were drafted following the Stars own pick.
In 2011 high end offensive players, with certain risks attached, were passed over by many teams, including the Stars. These include Ty Rattie, Rocco Grimaldi and Tomas Jurco. All three of these players went in the early second round and are all potential top six forwards with high offensive and creative potential.
In 2012 creative and offensive players such as Cody Ceci, Teuvo Teravainen, Pontus Aberg and Sebastian Collberg were passed over. In particular Sebastian Collberg was considered a potential top line forward and was a steal for the Montreal Candians to be drafted in the early second round when several predicted he would be drafted just outside of the top 10.
In order to pick up safe bets to be NHL players it feels as if the Stars have avoided taking high risk high reward players, especially in the first round. Its something they need to reconsider, especially if they want to get a player with a huge wow factor. If the Stars want to get the best prospects and build the foundations of a cup winning team they are going to have to step outside of their comfort zone and take a risk. This could backfire obviously but if you aren't in the game at all you still lose. If you're playing then at least you have a chance it will work out as you hoped it would.
By stepping out of their comfort zone I mean that the Stars should take a risk on someone they, especially in the past two years, wouldn't have drafted. For example its very hard not to notice when looking at the Stars drafting history in the past five years that they have had a significant aversion to drafting Russians, with Dmitry Sinitsyn being the only exception. Even Sinitsyn had spent extensive time in Dallas before the draft playing for their midget team and also having been redshirted by U-Mass Lowell. In essence Dmitry Sinitsyn wasn't a typical Russian player.
I bring up Russian players because the number of them drafted in recent years has decreased throughout the NHL mostly because of the so called 'Russian Factor' rather than a decrease in talent produced in Russia. This is mainly due to the KHL successfully encouraging most of their homegrown talent to stay in Russia. Though this hasn't been completely successful with their top talents like Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk having deciding to play in North America.
There is also the idea that Russian players are often discriminated against or overly criticised compared to their North American counterparts. Looking at the Nail Yakupov 'scandal' over his over excuberant celebration earlier this season or the jib against Alexander Radalov's play in the Stanley Cup playoffs that they must not have Plus/Minus in the KHL its easy to see why Russians might not want to play in North America. It has become far from certain that a Russian player would come to North America if drafted but they can also represent a unique way of playing hockey and be incredibly talented.
When I look at the upcoming draft and see Valeri Nichushkin potentially falling, and Mikhail Grigorenko falling in 2012, would the Stars take the risk on a top talent who might be unwilling to make the jump to North America? This is just one example of how the Stars could take a risk and gain significantly from it if it worked out. They can carry on taking those players who will become solid NHLers and there isn't anything wrong with that, but at some point they need to take a risk and take those players who have the potential to be game changers every night. Those players who make all those around them better and make the fans stand up when they hit the ice every shift. Those kind of players, when drafting outside of the top 10, are risks. But at some point in sports, just like life, you need to take risks to take the team and the organisation to the next level.
Though the Stars only currently have their own first round pick, they might get a second from the Boston Bruins if they reach the Eastern Conference Finals, it might be worth the Stars using a pick to choose a player with some significant upside but who has a higher risk attached to them. For example if the Bruins conditional pick becomes a first then the Stars will have a pick late in the first round. Someone like Artturi Lehkonen or Nicolas Petan might still be available. Both are small forwards but with impressive offensive upside. Petan had 120 points in 71 WHL games this season. Either would make an excellent addition to the Stars prospect pool.
If the Stars want to keep the rebuild going in a good direction it might be worth taking a risk or two with their picks, especially considering they have four picks in the first two rounds of what appears to be a deep draft.