Seven rounds and 217 picks later, the 2017 NHL Entry Draft has ultimately come to a close.
For me personally, the end of the draft is a bittersweet feeling. I have spent an absurd amount of time over the past few months watching games, watching highlights, reading scouting reports and poring over endless pages and pages and pages of statistics, all in preparation for this weekend. It’s strange for it to be over now, passing by in the blink of an eye over two hectic days. I’m sure that my girlfriend and my friends, however, will be glad to spend more time with me again.
I’ve been an obsessive draft enthusiast (an amateur-amateur scout?) for the last seven or eight years now, but as the 2016-17 Dallas Stars never fully hit their stride and sputtered in the NHL standings, it grew increasingly apparent that this year’s draft was going to be more important for the organization than usual. When the Stars sent veteran forward Patrick Eaves to the Anaheim Ducks at the trade deadline for a high conditional pick (which ended up being 29th overall) that feeling only got stronger. By the time Dallas got a lucky bounce of the balls in the draft lottery and moved all the way up to the 3rd overall pick I was already neck deep in reports and highlight packages.
To recap my Dallas Stars coverage of this year’s draft here at Defending Big D, I’ve put together the following final thoughts and reflections. As always, feel free to leave your own thoughts and reflections in the comment section below. I hope everyone had as much fun this weekend as I did.
Without further ado:
Elite defensemen are at a premium, and the Stars got one in Heiskanen
There were a lot of rumors flying around on Thursday and Friday about picks near the top of the draft changing hands. Did the Vegas Golden Knights want to make a splash in their first draft in franchise history and move up to one of the top two picks? Were the New York Rangers really trying to move up and snag the 3rd overall selection?
Even Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill himself admitted on Friday night, in an interview with Josh Bogorad, that he had received three “really good” offers for Dallas’ 3rd overall pick.
In the end, however, Nill decided to hold onto the pick, and with it, chose Miro Heiskanen, a player with the potential to become one of the best defensemen in franchise history.
Heiskanen is still just 17 years old (he turns 18 on July 18th), but for the past two years has been punching up in weight classes while playing over in Finland. He spent most of last season playing for HIFK in The Liiga, which is one of the top pro leagues in the world. There, the smooth puck-mover picked up 10 points in 37 games, while averaging 18:59 per contest and being a player that drove puck possession for his club. That’s pretty remarkable.
It was only when he returned to playing against competition his own age, though, that everyone fully realized just how good Heiskanen was. He was absolutely sensational for Finland at the 2017 IIHF U18 World Championship, scoring 12 points in 7 games from the back end en route to a silver medal. He was named Best Defenseman for the tournament and nobody else was even remotely close.
Comparing teenage prospects to NHLers, whether past or present, is always a precarious activity. Most players aren’t really going to become the next Gretzky or the next Crosby or the next whomever. That being said, people keep comparing Heiskanen to Duncan Keith and Scott Niedermayer and, yes, even Nicklas Lidstrom (heresy!), and you can’t help but admit: it’s hard to not see numerous similarities when you watch Heiskanen play.
As such, it’s no wonder that the Stars are thrilled right now. They added a prospect that, if they’re being truthful and not just blowing smoke, they considered to be the best in the entire draft. That’s lofty praise.
It will likely be at least one more season, if not more, before Heiskanen heads to Dallas and joins the Stars. But when he does, the team will have one heck of a player on their hands, one that will be an ideal complement to blueline cornerstones John Klingberg and Julius Honka. A possible franchise-changer. Regardless of what other teams were offering, that’s a hard notion to pass up on.
Drafting Jake Oettinger was a risk that the Stars needed to take
One of the most intriguing draft-related topics of debate over the last few years has revolved around goaltenders. Essentially, it boils down to a seemingly straightforward line in the sand: should NHL teams occasionally use 1st round choices on goalies, or is it simply never worth the risk? There are many great arguments that can be made for both sides. Active members of the Defending Big D comment sections have been witness to some great back-and-forth discussions as of late.
I’ll try to summarize my thoughts on this matter now, as best as I can.
Is it generally more risky to select a goalie with a 1st round pick than it is to select a forward or a defenseman? Yes, absolutely. 100%.
However, I’ll steadfastly make the argument that drafting Jake Oettinger 26th overall (and trading up from the 29th spot to guarantee their chances at getting him) was a necessary risk that the Dallas Stars needed to make.
The franchise hasn’t drafted and developed an NHL starting goalie since they took Mike Smith all the way back in 2001, and even then, Smith only became an NHL starter after the Stars traded him away. It’s been a long and, frankly, embarrassing amount of time since then. The well-noted struggles of goaltenders brought in externally to fix the problem, such as Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi (to say nothing of Andrew Raycroft, Alex Auld and Anders Lindback), has only exacerbated the problem.
Simply put, the Stars desperately need to develop a stud goalie in-house.
In their attempts to do so they just picked the netminder that pretty much every single scout in the business agrees is not only the best one in this year’s draft, but is also better than any that were available last year. If 99% of scouts, sampled from different organizations and even different continents, all consider Oettinger to be that good then, well, maybe there really is something there.
Again, drafting a goalie this high is undeniably a risk. Especially since the wounds leftover from Dallas taking Jack Campbell 11th overall in the 2010 draft still feel fresh. But Oettinger presents the best chance that the Stars had this year, and maybe even the best chance that will they get for a long, long time. Nill and his staff rightfully rolled the dice.
Not just two 1st round talents, but three
If you weren’t thrilled with the Stars taking a goaltender at 26th, how do you feel about them using the 39th overall pick to add a forward that was widely considered to be one of the 30 best players in the entire draft?
The Stars received a fantastic bit of good fortune this weekend when Jason Robertson, a left wing with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenancs, fell out of the 1st round and right into Dallas’ lap in the 2nd. He’s a power forward that scores goals. Lots and lots and lots of goals. He has issues with his skating that need to be addressed, but in spite of that, he still has some serious Top 6 potential.
Hmm, a big, skilled, goal-scoring left winger that fell down the draft board because he had skating issues at 17...remind you of anyone?
Apparently a number of teams didn’t consider Robertson to be a 1st round talent, but the Stars sure did. They admitted as much. They could barely contain their excitement when they made the pick. Watch out for Robertson in a few years, he’s the real deal.
The best of the rest
The Stars only had four picks after that, and the early returns look promising.
They went off the board in the 4th round to take gigantic OHL center Liam Hawel, but some draft experts like his potential upside. They trusted their superstar Swedish scout Rickard Oquist once again in the 5th round, taking Swedish center Jacob Peterson. Nobody else seems to know much about Peterson, but given Oquist’s impressive track record, this will probably be a prospect to watch out for in a few years. They rounded things out with their last two selections by taking Brett Davis and Dylan Ferguson out of the WHL, the former a forward that will likely play on his team’s top scoring line next season, and the latter a goalie that will be his team’s number one.
Picks in the later rounds always take longer to develop, but there’s already a lot to like here.
So, is there anything that maybe should have been done differently?
Like I’m doing now, at the conclusion of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft I organized some final thoughts and offered the following reflection:
“As I've come back to a few times now in a few separate posts here on Defending Big D, the Stars don't really have many prospects that have elite playmaking or stickhandling capabilities, and they didn't add any this draft. While players like (Jason) Dickinson and Devin Shore are certainly capable in those areas, there's not really a Jonathan Drouin or a Mitch Marner type of player in the system that truly excels at it.”
Fast forward one year later and I could write the exact same thing.
Once again, the Stars focused a lot of attention on size and skating ability, but not a lot on playmaking ability. Now, there’s obviously nothing wrong with players that are big and can skate. That’s an incredibly valuable combination to have. Yet, at some point, should a team start to worry about having too much of the same thing and not enough of something else?
Even using later picks could have helped to address this issue. With all due respect to the aforementioned 6th and 7th round picks Davis and Ferguson, I can’t help but feel like the Stars would have been better off using those selections on creative playmakers, such as Linus Weissbach or Ivan Chekhovich, to round off the team’s prospect pool. To add a little sizzle to the steak, if you will. I still have some concerns about what Dallas’ powerplay might look like five years down the road, comically envisioning two small defensemen passing the puck back and forth to each other at the blueline while three giant forwards all try to screen the opposing goalie at the same time.
But, I digress. I’m more or less nitpicking at this point. The first step towards planning for future NHL team success is to accumulate talent with potential, and by all means, the Stars did a bang-up job of that at this year’s draft.
Was this the best draft since the Stars franchise moved to Dallas? 2005 (Matt Niskanen, James Neal) was pretty good. 2007 got the Stars Jamie Benn, even if their first two picks that year combined for 0 NHL games. 2013 might become special one day if Valeri Nichushkin decides to come back from Russia and reaches his full potential.
While it’s impossible to say anything with much certainty this early on, it certainly seems like Dallas just added a very special draft class to their prospect pool, one that genuinely may turn out in the future to be the very best in franchise history. If you’re a Stars fan that doesn’t really follow the drafting and development of prospects but is interested in starting, now is an ideal time to begin digging in. You never know which fresh-faced teenagers of today will be your favorite Dallas Stars of tomorrow.