It is a busy time in the NHL, and Stars' General Manager Jim Nill has his work cut out for him. There are many ways to improve a hockey team and Nill will exhaust all of his options. Does he want to trade picks and prospects for roster players? Does he want to sign a few free agents? Does he want to move up in the draft? Does he want to stand pat?
If Nill decides to pursue a trade, he will likely need to move a few defensemen to make room. Today, we will look at the group of players most likely to be affected by the carousel this offseason: the young defensemen.
Jamie Oleksiak played in the USHL and OHL prior to being selected 14th overall by the Dallas Stars in 2011. He stands 6-foot-7 inches and weighs 257 pounds. The Big Rig has played in 59 games for the Dallas Stars, having spent most of his time with the Texas Stars (163 games).
It is not hard to understand why Dallas drafted Oleksiak in 2011. He is a mountain of a man with an incredible reach. Generously speaking, his skating has always required improvement. He played with the big club in the 2012-2013 regular season and looked completely overwhelmed by the speed of the game. His 14 PIMs in 16 games played that year is almost three times his PIM/game rate during his time in the AHL and NHL.
Expectations were high on draft day of the huge Canadian, and it is far too early to tell if he will be a success or failure as a prospect. Oleksiak struggled early in his AHL career but has steadily picked up his play to become a contributor on a blooming blue line in Cedar Park.
His physique creates expectations about how he should play, and those expectations have yet to be met. He is not an overly physical player naturally, and hitting has never been in his repertoire. After all, you can't hit what you can't catch. Last season in Dallas, he seemed to be making progress using his body and reach in board battles, and was able to disrupt passing lanes simply by positioning himself properly. NHL defensemen have a steep learning curve, and being 6-7 doesn't change that.
Zdeno Chara was traded from the New York Islanders to the Ottawa Senators during the 2001 NHL Draft in a package for Alexei Yashin. Coincidentally enough, he was traded four years after being drafted. Chara was six years removed from his draft class when he blossomed into a dominant force on the Ottawa blue line. The Big Rig will never have the offensive ability of the Slovak, but the physical and mental awareness show signs of annual improvement.
His potential is still there at only 22 years old. Giant people simply take longer to grow into their bodies, as proven by Zdeno Chara. In terms of trade value he should still be treated as a moderately high value prospect. The Chara comparisons might be lazy, but the measurables are undeniable. The question becomes, what can the Stars get for him? Given his inconsistent NHL minutes, his value might be better served after another year in the Stars' system. Would the Stars be willing to take a chance on becoming the latest team to trade a guy 2 years too soon?
Jyrki Jokipakka was taken by the Dallas Stars in the 7th round of the 2011 NHL Draft. He spent a year in the Finnish SM-Liiga playing for Ilves, and played on the Finland WJC team in 2011. He broke into the Stars' rotation this year, appearing in 51 games. Jokipakka was a positive possession player by the slimmest of margins, posting a Corsi For percentage of 50.1%.
Jokipakka is 23 years old, and has worked his way from 3rd pairing with the Texas Stars to 16:31 ATOI for the Dallas Stars. His struggles were evident early, but some of them were not his fault. He faced a revolving door of partners, and shouldered a relatively heavy burden of 51.4% dZS for his age. Jokipakka is a fundamentally sound player, and at 6-3, 200 pounds he is a nice piece for a rebuilding defensive group.
The Dallas Stars appear to have found another meaningful late round draft choice. Jokipakka, because of his fundamentally sound foundation, provides a high floor of potential. The flip side of that, is his relatively low ceiling could hurt his value in the trade market. He would make an excellent addition to a salary cap stressed team, or a team that is rebuilding. 2pak will not likely bring back a haul, but he does provide the Stars a natural counter offer for a suitor asking about...
Swedish World Junior Champion, Patrik Nemeth was selected in 2010 in the 2nd round by the Dallas Stars. Spending time in the Swedish Hockey League and then in Cedar Park with the Texas Stars, Nemeth played in his first NHL game during the 2013-2014 season. He has played in 35 total games with the Dallas Stars, including five playoff games against the Anaheim Ducks.
After 13 promising games in 2013-2014, Nemeth was expected to take on a large role last season. Unfortunately for him and the Stars, his wrist was badly slashed by a skate blade in a game against the Flyers. Nemeth was expected to miss the remainder of the season, but was able to return for the last 12 games of the season. During those 12 games, he played 17:41 minutes per game and had a Corsi For percentage of 53.6%.
Nemeth's improvement has been exponential, despite missing most of the year. He is a pedigreed defenseman that has shown himself able to comfortably exit the zone and deal with the forecheck. Nemeth is composed on the puck, and positions himself well in his own zone. He will likely never be an explosive offensive weapon, but the Stars don't need him to be.
With only 35 games of NHL experience and already sporting a 58.7% dZS (read that again) and positive possession numbers, Nemeth appears to be the Robin to John Klingberg's Batman. He is the kind of player that is the most valuable to the team he plays for, and would not likely bring back a return worthy of his departure from Dallas. Only time will tell, and there is always a big enough offer for any player, but Nemeth should be a feature of the Dallas blue line for the foreseeable future.
The young defensemen all come with a set of "pros" and "cons" to trading them. Gambling on futures is a risky endeavor, but the fact of the matter is someone has to go. With a pipeline of promising youngsters banging on the door and a makeover needed at the top, these young players make up the soft middle ground. Jokipakka seems the most likely trade candidate, but all of that depends on the type of trade the Stars are looking to execute. If they are going deep sea fishing, the bait will require Nemeth or Oleksiak. If you ask the Islanders, they might tell the Stars to hang on to both for a few more years.