A collection of numbers balls, all placed inside a machine, rumbled and bounced and crashed into one another, much like the very atoms that matter itself is composed of.
At one point early Saturday evening the machine stopped and spit out four of the many balls. And just like that, the fate and future of an NHL franchise was forever changed.
Two, six, eight and thirteen - those were the numbers that, according to this fantastic behind-the-scenes look at the NHL Draft Lottery from Sportsnet, turned out to be the lucky ones for the Dallas Stars, awarding the team with the 3rd overall selection in the upcoming 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
It was an incredible bit of good fortune for the Stars, who entered this weekend with the 8th-best odds in the lottery, behind the seven teams that finished below them in this year’s regular season standings and the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.
The New Jersey Devils won the 1st overall pick, and the Philadelphia Flyers, in an even greater stroke of luck, the 2nd, despite having only the 13th-highest odds. Instead of picking 8th (or, in the absolute unluckiest of possible outcomes, dropping as low as 11th), the Stars will jump all the way up into 3rd.
It will be the highest draft selection since the franchise moved to Dallas, surpassing the 5th overall pick in 1996 that was used on defenseman Richard Jackman. You’d have to follow the organization’s lineage back to the Minnesota North Stars days to find a time when there was a selection even higher still, all the way back in 1988, when a young phenom named Mike Modano was taken 1st overall. You may have heard of him and the long, impressive career that he would go on to have.
The opportunity that is now presented to the Stars is, to put it lightly, quite an incredible one.
Without the luxury of high picks over the last few drafts, Dallas’ prospect pool has inevitably fallen behind that of other teams, making their projection of the future a little bit more murky. The addition of an elite young talent this year, however, has the potential to give the organization a much-needed shot in the arm.
And make no mistake, that potential is very real with this upcoming draft.
There has been talk all season long that this year’s draft is going to be “weak,” and there is certainly a modicum of truth to that. Compared to recent years, there is no Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel or Auston Matthews available, a prospect that is so purely talented that he alone could change the entire fate of a franchise.
That does not mean, though, that there aren’t still some amazing players ready to be taken, players that will be All-Stars, that will challenge for annual awards, that will anchor top scoring lines and top defensive pairings. Players that will be essential, difference-making individuals on championship-winning clubs.
The two top prospects for this year’s draft, narrowed down quite firmly over the past few months, are centers Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier. Patrick is a big two-way forward in the mold of someone like Eric Staal, while Hischier is a quick, skilled, and electrifying. While it’s still hotly debated who will go in the lauded 1st overall position, these two are widely expected to be the first names to be called come draft day on June 23rd.
Beyond those two, the competition for next in line gets a lot tighter, as there are a few players that are in the mix. This is where the Stars and their scouts will need to really buckle down and get to work in the coming weeks.
Will Dallas select Casey Mittelstadt? The center from Eden Prairie, Minnesota is a sublime playmaker with quick hands, someone that can make his linemates better and run a powerplay. He’s off to the University of Minnesota next season.
How about Cody Glass? The toolsy Portland Winterhawks pivot shot up everyone’s draft rankings this year, finishing with 94 points in 69 games. He’s tall and lanky, which suggests that he’s only going to get better and better once he adds more muscle to his frame.
Gabriel Vilardi is a big, strong forward that can play both center and wing, and is an absolute beast when he has the puck below the offensive zone faceoff dots. His Windsor Spitfires team will be hosting the 2017 Memorial Cup later in May and he’s their best forward, so that should be a nice boost for his development.
If Dallas wants to go the defenseman route, Finland’s Miro Heiskanen has recently cemented himself as the top blueliner in this year’s draft class. At 17 years-old he played among men all season long over in Finland’s top league and fit right in, and then was dominant at the IIHF U18s in April. He’s smart, poised, and mobile, and could be a #1 NHL defenseman in the future.
As we do every year, we here at Defending Big D will be profiling all of these prospects (and others) much closer in the coming months as the draft nears closer.
Until the team makes their final decision, one thing is for certain: this is a huge opportunity for the Stars, one that could significantly alter the future of the entire organization. And we all have four numbered lottery balls to thank for that.