Connor McDavid may not have dropped, but there was still a sense of shock in Dallas Stars Land after the draft this weekend. With speculation about trading the 12th overall pick gathering steam while the Boston Bruins were doing their best to compile a strong poker hand worth of picks, the Stars ended up standing pat with their selection, which let everyone exhale, if only momentarily. Because with names like Kyle Connor and Mathew Barzal having worked their way down the draft board, Jim Nill and his team chose to go with the guy that they pretty clearly saw as a top-five talent in the first round: Denis Guryanov.
Given the selection of Julius Honka last season, it's not altogether earth-shattering that the Stars chose once again to go with their internal valuations over that of most draft experts (but not all). In fact, if you watched the below video before the draft, your ears might have perked up at the mention of a new Russian scout by the name of Evgeny Tsybuk (a 1996 Stars draft pick):
True to form, the Stars shunned the draft board and went with their own guy, and all indications are that Guryanov has the potential--don't they all?--to make this pick look very good if things work out in the next couple of years.
I don't just mention that the Stars passed on Matt Barzal to talk about Guryanov, though. Barzal is Canadian, and so were a whole lot of players in the draft. In fact, NHL.com listed almost twice as many North American players as Europeans on their 2015 draft website. That makes sense, what with the NHL being a North American league and all, but still, one wonders just how many players in the Scandinavian, Czech, and Russian leagues fail to make it into the draft purely because of geography. After all, even with all the globalization going on in our Modern Times, the NHL is still about half Canadian.
And that makes it pretty remarkable that the Stars drafted zero players from Canada this year.
Per Elias, this is the first draft in @DallasStars/North Stars history that the franchise did not draft a Canadian-born player. #StarsDraft— Josh Bogorad (@JoshBogorad) June 27, 2015
The Stars' 2015 draft class comprised two Americans, two Finns, and one Russian. While I'm no Derek or Huw when it comes to which sixth-round draft picks should have gone when, it's pretty interesting that from Guryanov on out, the Stars opted to choose from the other 50 percent of the NHL's player base.
To be clear, I think a lot of this comes down to coincidence, as you can see that the Stars weren't shy about drafting Canadians in the earlier rounds last year. However, it wouldn't surprise me if there is a belief in the front office that Canadian players are sometimes overvalued by the North American hockey cognoscenti. And while Julius Honka's being picked was perhaps more a matter of valuing high skill and hockey sense over height, Guryanov's selection clearly reinforces the perception that Dallas trusts their own people far above any other scouting services or pundits. They could have sent people to interview Connor or Barzal's second-grade PE teacher if they wanted to, but their confidence in Guryanov's abilities trumped any greater assurance that might have come with a "local" boy, and that's pretty telling.
On Guryanov, really quick: Of course the #russianfactor is still a thing, but the ruble's collapse presages a much smaller opportunity for Russian players to get paid well in the KHL, and all indications are that Guryanov's KHL contract won't preclude his appearance over here in a couple years in any meaningful way. (And besides, you have to think he'll be itching to come hang out with Val, right?) Jim Nill sounds sure of Guryanov's eventual presence in North America, and that belief is surely based on the same collection of research, interviews and judgment that led the Stars to select him in the first place. If it's any bit of reassurance, three other Russians were selected in the first round alone, so it's not exactly a repeat of the (unfounded) speculation about NIchushkin two years ago.
But to reiterate, it seems that this team is confident that their due diligence is equally or even more trustworthy than any of the generally available opinions on these prospects, and the more widely known prospects in particular. True, the danger of sticking with internal measurements is always going to be outsmarting yourself and getting married to a player who doesn't merit high regard, but it's hard to suggest that being the case mere days after a draft class is selected.
Jim Nill himself has said that just getting two or three NHL players out of a draft is a big success. This year, the Stars simply trusted that they had a better chance of achieving that goal by sticking to their plan in each round, and that happened to result in zero Canadians coming into the fold. It probably says much less about what the Stars think of Canada than about what the Stars think of their own scouts. You're only as good as your people, you know.