The phrase has become so common it deserves its own zip code. "The 2017 NHL Draft is weak," they say. Granted, the "they" are well respected minds in the prospect world. But for the Dallas Stars, this draft will help define the franchise for years to come. They have two first round picks. One of which is 3rd overall.
With the team primed to compete now, there's a good chance this is their only shot at getting a premiere roster player for the price of mere diligence. In other words- they best not miss.
How many wingers in Dallas' system can replicate Patrick Sharp's numbers a season ago? How many centers could approximate Jason Spezza's production, even as he plays in the twilight of his career? How many defensemen project to swim instead of sink in a potential top four role? How many goalies can pick up the slack should Dallas' starters get injured?
By that metric, Dallas doesn't have a very good prospect system. There are no certified blue chip talents. That's not to say none of these young players can develop into quality NHL players. Only that their numbers and pedigree reflect a pattern of being able to contribute, but not dominate. And that's where the important of the 2017 draft comes in.
Why Dallas Needs Centers
The conventional wisdom is that Dallas is set at center. Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Radek Faksa, and Devin Shore nominally make up Dallas' center depth. In terms of futures, they have Jason Dickinson, Roope Hintz, Gemel Smith, and even Justin Dowling. Mattias Janmark, Adam Cracknell, and Cody Eakin have also been able to fill the center gaps when needed.
This year's draft has a glut of premiere centers that range from "2C at best" to "1C in a pinch": Casey Mittelstadt, Gabe Vilardi, Cody Glass, and even players available in the teens (if Dallas moved down with their 3rd overall or up with their Anaheim pick), like Elias Petersson, Michael Rasmussen, and Martin Necas are all centers that project to have higher ceilings than anyone in Dallas' system.
It's easier to convert a center to wing than vice versa, which is also critical, since Dallas is barren at wing. Who can take over the Spezza role in a few years? That's a critical question, and one that deserves serious reflection. There’s a good chance the best player available at 3rd overall will be a center. And there’s a good chance no young center Dallas currently has on their roster can replicate this would-be talent.
Why Dallas Needs Wingers
There's a good chance Remi Elie has graduated from Texas. And some of Dallas' center prospects, like Dickinson and Smith, have spent sizeable portions of their time at wing. But who's the go-to sniper in the group? Who projects to be a perennial 20-30 goal scorer?
Dallas has two prized wingers. Unfortunately one is still in Russia, hip deep in perogies, and the other could contribute as soon as this upcoming season. The problem is that the organization has vague definitions of "ready", and I'm not sure a fast two way player who has already spent a full season in the AHL playing bottom and top line minutes along with earning PP and PK duties, qualifies.
I don't mean to sound sour about Dallas' treatment of Denis Gurianov. But if Dallas had stayed healthy, nobody in Texas would have sniffed the roster, including a platoon of forwards who proved more than worthy of the "overripe" tag.
The other glaring issue is the lack of small, speedy, puckhandling wizards. Dallas has gone with size at forward over the last several drafts. They went with Tufte over guys like Sam Steel, and Alex DeBrincat (127 points in 63 games for the Erie Otters this year). When they picked Elie, Nicolas Petan was still on board. When Gurianov was taken, Matthew Barzal (79 points in 41 games for the Seattle Thunderbirds) and Kyle Connor (17 more points than Denis in his AHL stint with Manitoba) were available.
That's not to say that Guryanov won't grow into his own. Or that he won't be better than some of these prospects at the NHL level (it's important to remember how most of his AHL run was spent in bottom pairing minutes, purely at even strength, and all while dealing with a language barrier on a mediocre team).
But placing a premium on size, whether pronounced or subtle, seems superficial. And it's a trend Dallas should look to change sooner than later if they truly believe in simply drafting the best player available.
When you consider the type of player who has been “overdrafted”, these players tend toward the much “taller/ready physically” trend. The common scouting criticism that players need to "add size" or "needs to handle physicality" are overstated at best. Especially when looking at how many good small forwards there are in the league right now.
Picking Owen Tippett would be seen as a reach at 3rd overall. Especially when players with higher ceilings like Mittelstadt, Glass, and Vilardi will be available. But small playmaking forwards will likely be available with the Anaheim pick: such as Mason Shaw (8th in WHL scoring with 94 points in 71 games), Kailer Yamamoto, whose 99 points in the WHL has some calling him the next Johnny Gaudreau, and Nick Suzuki if he miraculously falls.
Why Dallas Needs Defensemen
A lot of people, media, scouts, and analysts have Dallas likely taking Miro Heiskanen; a player everyone considers among the best defensemen in the draft.
Heiskanen is a good player. This in depth analysis on reddit is one of the best summaries of his skills anywhere on the net, with advanced stats and plenty of video.
With Lindell and Honka graduating, Dallas gets a lot thinner on the prospect blueline. In the AHL, Gavin Bayreuther has been a revelation- filling out the profile of offensive defensemen without sacrificing defensive IQ. Ludwig Bystrom is a stay at home defensemen who happens to be a brilliant skater. Elsewhere, John Nyberg has played heavy minutes in Europe while Niklas Hansson struggled this season, but likely has the talent to bounce back.
It is a prospect need, but over a game breaking forward? That's the question. Dallas already has a solid right hand side with Klingberg, Honka, and Johns down the middle. Some people lament the prospect of drafting another offensive defenseman. But looking at Anaheim and Nashville slugging it out in the Western Conference Finals, it's clear that you can't quite have enough. Especially in a case like Heiskanen, whose hype comes predominantly from his defensive play in a man's league as a 17 year old.
Why Dallas Needs Goalies
There's a reasonable chance Jake Oettinger will be available with Anaheim's pick.
He's a good young goalie. Despite starting out his prepubescent hockey career as a defenseman. The impressive 17 year old won the job over a pair of older goalies at Boston University.
Picking goalies in the first round is typically adventurous, since the numbers don’t favor them. But there’s no question Dallas needs them. Nobody in the pipeline could even hope to suddenly take over a starting role at the NHL level. And given Dallas’ complete inability to scout goaltending talent, maybe this isn’t the team to take that chance. Nonetheless, it could be worth the risk since Dallas will have three picks in the top 40.
The stark truth is that Dallas needs help everywhere in their system. Luckily for them they’ll have plenty of future solutions to their current problems.