There are years where you need to pay more attention to the signs that were there all along and if you do, you'd probably get a good feeling which way the Stars are leaning heading into the draft. We had that feeling Campbell in 2010 and with Oleksiak in 2011, but in 2014 it really was impossible to say just what the Stars would do with the No. 14 overall pick.
What made that determination different is that this really is Jim Nill's show now, with Les Jackson taking on a new role as the Assistant General Manager and Joe McDonnell taking over the draft as the Director of Amateur Scouting. The Stars have enjoyed immense success in the draft in recent years but have struggled in the first round, and it was interesting to finally found out the direction that McDonnell and his scouting team would go. And hat's who it was on Friday night making the call for the Stars at the podium, when Dallas selected the small-statured Julius Honka in the first round.
This wouldn't be a Dallas Stars first round pick without controversy, and the Stars certainly drummed some up by selected a very high-risk/high-reward defenseman in the first round, with Robby Fabbri, Dylan Larkin, Sonny Milano and Kasperi Kapanen still on the board -- all players that would help boost what a deep prospect system lacking elite offensive talent.
Yet the Stars are also lacking in puck-moving, skilled defensemen (John Klingberg is the only prospect that fills this description) and Honka is considered perhaps the smartest and most creative defenseman in the draft. He has exceptional skating ability, especially in tight spaces and laterally and can slip through defenders with ease when the puck is on his stick. While he doesn't have a booming shot he does possess a very hard and accurate wrist shot and loves to put the puck on net -- his biggest strength, however, is his ability to put accurate passes on the stick of any teammate from anywhere on the ice.
Which is why we shouldn't be surprised the Stars picked Honka at No. 14.
It's not a safe pick either, although there are many who would have preferred the Stars take a risk with a high-reward forward rather than with a small defenseman. Honka's size (5-10/11, 175) is going to cause all sorts of consternation and worry that he can play in a physical and tough league -- despite already putting up 56 points in the WHL as a rookie last season.
His ability to play defense will also be called into question and whether his ability to produce offensively will counter that shortcoming enough. There will be a lot of pressure on Honka to succeed, especially given the type of defenseman he is, an already I've seen comparisons to Sergei Zubov and whether Honka can finally fill that voided role for the Stars in the future.
Let's slow down a bit here.
Honka was projected to go anywhere from 12 to 29 in this draft and there's certainly going to be some very frustrated and angry fans tonight -- especially when trading down seemed like such a good option. The trick to that equation is no one seemed willing to actually trade up, a key ingredient when attempting to move back.
The Stars have plenty of picks on Saturday to work their magic where they've done most of their damage -- and that's where the frustration with Honka will come from. It's generally thought that taking a risk on a small-framed defenseman is worth it in the second round but not in the first -- where you'd like to pick a "safer' defenseman with your early selection, or use that risk on a forward.
At least the Stars didn't pick a goaltender, right?
Julius Honka has a ton of upside but has a ways to get there; this is just the beginning.