No Connor McDavid? No Auston Matthews? No problem.
It’s no secret by this point that the 2017 NHL Entry Draft will be, for the sake of comparison, a relatively weak one. With all due respect to Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier, the two top prospects in this year’s class, there don’t appear to be any elite, generational talents that will be available this time, the kind of prospects that are worth tanking an entire season for.
Worse still, there’s a widespread notion that the depth of talent available all throughout the 1st round pales in comparison to recent drafts. As one unnamed hockey executive noted in this week’s edition of Elliotte Friedman’s essential “30 Thoughts” column:
Some tweeters were surprised I said during a radio interview he may fetch a first-rounder in return. It comes down to how much of a demand there is, but teams are not married to those picks in 2017. If one executive ever hears me getting wishy-washy on the topic, he texts a reminder: “How many times do I have to tell you that teams are going to trade their firsts? This draft is terrible!” I hope someone does so he stops yelling at me.
This, on the surface, might seem like a problem for the Dallas Stars.
With Dallas sitting well outside of a playoff position, multiple teams ahead of them and time running out, it seems very likely at this point in time that they aren’t going to make the playoffs this season. Necessary discussions about the team becoming sellers at the upcoming trade deadline have already begun in earnest.
One small bright side for the Stars right now is that, when looking at the team’s roster as currently constructed, they’re actually in a healthy and productive position to sell. The team has a number of talented veterans on expiring contracts, the kind of players that usually draw the most attention from buyers on the trade market.
Patrick Sharp, Patrick Eaves and Johnny Oduya could all fetch a nice trade return for teams looking to make deep playoff runs, while Jiri Hudler, Lauri Korpikoski, Adam Cracknell and maybe even the injured Ales Hemsky could all bring in something, anything, as well.
The most common exchange for veterans on expiring contracts, generally, are draft picks. If a team is going to miss the playoffs and decides to sell off roster pieces, there’s at least some potential reward for doing so if said team can acquire picks in return and eventually turn those picks into reliable NHLers down the road.
However, given that this year’s draft is going to be a weaker one than usual, does it still make sense for Dallas to be sellers before the deadline?
My answer, unequivocally, is yes. Here’s why.
When pundits talk about the 2017 draft as being weak, much of this sentiment comes when analyzing the 1st round in particular, but not as much the rounds that will follow. Even though the 1st round looks to be uninspiring, that’s not necessarily true for the 2nd round and 3rd rounds, or even the ones after.
Why does this matter? Because the difference between good teams and great teams is often how effectively they can draft outside of the 1st round. For a recent example of this, look at the 2016 Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins. Two of the team’s best and most integral players, Kris Letang and Matt Murray, were both 3rd round selections. That’s how much smart drafting can ultimately make an impact.
Now, the obvious challenge is that players that fall outside of the 1st round aren’t perfect prospects. These are players that often excel in some areas, but have notable deficiencies in others. That being said, however, NHL rosters are often composed of players with different strengths and areas of expertise, creating a balance that can lead to success.
To put all of this more succinctly, the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the draft (and occasionally the ones after) are still prime places to acquire prospects that possess skills that could translate well to the NHL.
Let’s look at Esa Lindell, one of the Stars’ rookie blueliners, as another example. He was drafted by Dallas in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft after putting up 51 points in 48 games in Finland’s top junior league. Even though Lindell had troubles with his skating, his big size and solid puck skills made him a worthwhile draft choice. While his skating still remains a problem for him, that same combination of size and puck skills has helped him to carve out a regular NHL job at just 22 years of age, the start of what could be a long and productive NHL career.
The 2017 draft, as disappointing as it might be at the top, will nevertheless have a number of prospects similar to Lindell available in the proceeding rounds, players that are talented enough in certain areas to give them genuine NHL potential.
For some reference and a jumping off point for further research, here are the current Top 100 rankings for the website Future Considerations, one of the best independent scouting services in the business. There’s no shortage of intriguing, impressive prospects from spots 32 all the way to 100.
The Stars could certainly benefit from a forward like, let’s say, Robert Thomas. He’s not large in stature, but he makes up for it with tantalizing offensive awareness and playmaking ability. A member of the OHL’s London Knights, the best program in all of Canadian junior hockey, Thomas’ development is undoubtedly in good hands. Getting to play on the same teams as, and learn from, players like Mitch Marner, Matthew Tkachuk, Christian Dvorak, Olli Juolevi and other top prospects is certainly an added bonus.
What about someone like defenseman Max Gildon? The native of Plano, Texas is a big, athletic defender that is a strong skater and has a burgeoning offensive side to his game that hasn’t been fully tapped into yet. As a member of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program he, like Thomas, is reaping the benefits of being a member of a top-notch organization. And, hey, who wouldn’t love to see the Stars draft a talented young Texas native?
Dallas has had serious trouble drafting and developing goalie prospects in recent years and needs to re-rack, but luckily for them, there will be a number of different netminders available in the early rounds that still have high levels of potential. One such goaltender is Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. Measuring in at 6’4”, Luukkonen had generated some buzz as a possible 1st round pick in 2017 after backing Finland to a gold medal at the 2016 IIHF U18s against older competition, but saw his draft stock tumble a bit after coming down with pneumonia in October.
These are, of course, just three of many examples of compelling prospects that the Stars could add. The broader point here that is worth making is that the more draft picks that Dallas owns, the better their odds of finding future NHL talent.
While it’s unlikely that Sharp, Eaves, Oduya or any of the other pending free agents will be sought after enough to bring in 1st round draft picks in return, they could certainly bring in 2nds and 3rds, and enough extras in those rounds should be sufficient to plug any existing holes in the Stars’ prospect pool.