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Matching Minors: Where Dallas Can Go Right and Wrong at the 2018 NHL Draft

Derek and David can’t pretend to be angry talking sports heads, so they respectfully talk about all your draft needs, such as who the best pick is at No. 13, the good reaches, the bad reaches, and everything in between.

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You’ve already read their work (we hope). Today, Derek and David will ‘yak about the draft, the best versus the less prospects, they’ll agree on some things, and disagree on others. This way, you can either rejoice or slam your fist in disgust when Dallas picks at No. 13.

Let’s start this matching minor with a few notes of unfettered jealousy. Rasmus Dahlin is going to Buffalo. Andrei Svechnikov is probably going to Carolina. Montreal badly needs a left-handed defenseman, which means Quinn Hughes just got gifted to them. Unless they go BPA (Best Player Available) and draft Filip Zadina. Who is getting the best prospect in proportion to team needs?

David: I think Montreal (like Dallas last season) is the big winner. Buffalo needs more than Dahlin for help on their blue line. Carolina needs more than Svechnikov to boost their offense, especially with whatever on earth is going on in their front office right now and if they do something silly like trade Jeff Skinner. Montreal is not a well-run club. Bergevin has downgraded their blue line from P.K. Subban and Mikhail Sergachev to Shea Weber and Karl Alzner. Not only is Hughes one of the best pure defenders in this draft, but he’s one of the best skaters of his class. Dallas knows what it’s like to hit that reset button with a home run after a few strikes. Zadina’s the better pick, but Hughes fills the bigger need without sacrificing much in BPA.

Derek: Montreal definitely has some tough choices to make, but hey, that’s a pretty nice problem to have. Zadina is pretty much the consensus third-best player in the draft, but Hughes and others are certainly close. There’s been a lot of talk about Jesperi Kotkaniemi going third as well, primarily because Montreal really needs to draft a center. As for other clubs, you have to think that the teams holding the first nine picks are feeling pretty good about themselves. One would imagine that Edmonton badly wants a defenseman at 10th, but they might be a pick too late to get someone that they really like. Their fingers will be crossed. I’m also really intrigued by the New York Islanders, who have the 11th and 12th picks. Their prospect pool needs a little bit of everything. There are a lot of fun one-two punch scenarios that could be possible for them: Do they draft a left-shot defenseman and a right-shot defenseman? Do they draft a playmaking center and then a scoring winger? So I’m excited to see what they decide to do based on who is available for them.

Enough about other teams. Who is the best player available at No. 13? Who is the player we won’t be hearing about a year later, setting records in other leagues (*cough*Tolvanen) for another team?

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David: I don’t expect there to be much disagreeing here. If Jesperi Kotkaniemi falls to No. 13, that’s the pick. Of all the skills a player can have, skating is what I love the most, so for an average skater to be so high on my list says a lot. Teams have flat out admitted he’s impossible to defend. In the absence of a Matthew Barzal-esque fall, the answer is Joe Veleno. Yes, there’s the whole “needs” issue, but to me it’s not just about needs. It’s about developing chemistry among the forwards with the right synergy. Yes, I’m excited about Hintz, Dickinson, and Robertson, but stick them all on one line, and you’ll have two-way hockey that is productive, yet not potent. That’s the value of a playmaker; their creativity can allow plays to unfold fast enough for shooters to make plays, and for grinders to become shooters.

Even the Dallas Stars’ most hyped players (like Hintz) don’t have that kind of creativity. I see writers and fans bring up Vegas as some kind of model for what happens when a lot of hard workers and “two-way” guys are in sync, and I’m sorry — but that’s just nonsense. They’re led by Fleury first and foremost. The Stars need to watch the Capitals, with their one-two punch of Backstrom and Kuznetsov. That’s what Dallas needs, and Veleno — while not either of those two — at least projects similarly. He was involved in 35 percent (!) of his team’s production, and I believe only Zadina and Evan Bouchard were higher. The shooting percentages for both teams he played for saw their power play increase by five percent (!) with him versus without him. That’s not a coincidence, and it’s in keeping with his rate of production since January, which is 1.47 points per game (higher than even Zadina). He’s a player his coaches have trusted on the penalty kill. Plus he’s fast. I like fast.

It doesn’t hurt that we’re getting tracking data for prospects these days.

The overall dataset is small, but it confirms how good Veleno is as a transition threat (one of the best of those tracked, in fact). Don’t overthink this, Dallas. He’s the guy you need. And he’s the BPA at No. 13.

Derek: I definitely agree about Veleno (though where’s the fun in agreeing for one of these columns, right?) He’s a special talent with enormous upside and very low risk. Best case scenario you get a first line center, worst case scenario you probably end up with a great third line center. He’s ranked right around that 13th spot, even though I think he should be higher (I had him at 11th in my Top 101 ranking). If he falls to Dallas at 13th then I think he’s an absolute must-draft for the team (much like how I felt Mathew Barzal would have been a must-draft prospect if he was still available at 12th overall in 2015, but let’s not go there). Unless, of course, someone ranked even higher than Veleno also falls unexpectedly, which does happen. The draft is weird.

However, for the sake of discussion here and now, let’s go ahead and assume that Veleno is gone by 13. Who else do you look at? Joel Farabee and Ty Smith would both be perfectly solid choices, although I would lean towards Farabee simply because Smith plays such a similar style to Miro Heiskanen and doesn’t fill as much of a need. I would also support the Stars going a little more high-risk, high-reward and choose K’Andre Miller, Vitali Kravtsov, and Jonatan Berggren. Knowing how much the Stars love to gamble, I think the first two are possible (I still worry Jim Nill and his scouting staff are skeptical of smaller players, to a fault).

David: Of those names, who do you like the most? I’ve gone back and forth on Farabee. Some of his stats are elite. He had the highest estimated points per hour at even strength of draft eligible prospects, and his shots per game is behind only Wahlstrom, Svechnikov, and Zadina. But his team was so ridiculously stacked; that US National U18 Team had next year’s first overall in Jack Hughes, then Wahlstrom (the best pure sniper in the draft), Jake Wise (one of the 15 best pure snipers in the draft), Miller (you convinced me, this kid is the real deal), Wilde (one of the best pure skaters in this draft), Tyler Weiss, and Mattias Samuelsson. Production is production, but it’s hard not to be just a little skeptical given his skill set — which is good, but good in proportion to his production?

Derek: Honestly, at that point I think I would go with Miller. He’s still really raw, so he hasn’t gotten as much love this season as other prospects have, but I think his potential is enormous. I really believe that he could become a minute-munching, top-pair defenseman by the time he’s fully developed. Those kinds of guys are just hard to pass up.

Sometimes a reach is not the same as a bad pick. What reach pick would you be okay with, assuming the consensus names are all gone?

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David: I’ll assume Kotkaniemi and Veleno are gone. Here’s where we’ll diverge. I’d want Dominik Bokk. Personally, I’ve never felt like Jamie Benn was a bad center. Dallas could split Benn and Seguin in the future — which I think is potentially the best move, in addition to my suspicion that Hintz, Dickinson, and Faksa are not potential second-line centers. Faksa would need a lot of help to produce like a 2C, but he’s not Sean Couturier, who was a playmaker converted into a checking line center, and thus always had the potential to produce. They’re going to need a winger who doesn’t just drive through lanes, but who actively opens them up, especially with centers like Benn and Seguin who can finish.

Of all the skills that are translatable to the NHL, I consider puck handling near the top — it’s the hardest to defend and the most essential to making plays. And Bokk is the best puck handler in this draft. Being able to buy time and space on Seguin or Benn’s wing would be a boon for a team who has been drafting wingers from the Xerox machine of big body hockey. Enough already...

Derek: I touched on this a bit in my last post, but Miller, Kravtsov, and Berggren. Miller and Kravtsov would be a little reach-y, but nothing crazy. They’re thought of highly by a lot of different scouting outlets and both guys have really high ceilings if their developments go smoothly.

My fun pick, though, is Berggren. He’s small and he’s scrawny, but man, he can play his butt off. His feet never stop moving, his creativity and vision are elite, and he can make skilled plays with the puck that others can’t. He absolutely torched Sweden’s top junior league and then made a statement at the IIHF U18s. You can’t put too much stake in one tournament, but at the U18s Berggren outplayed Veleno, Smith, and a bunch of other top prospects. That’s impressive. He’d also fill a huge hole in Dallas’ system, as they just don’t have anyone who excels in the areas that Berggren does. I think he would be a wonderful future linemate for guys like Denis Gurianov, Riley Tufte, and Jason Robertson.

As for your preference, Bokk, I could certainly be talked into it. Like the three guys I listed, he has a really high ceiling if his development goes according to plan. He’s a rare talent with the puck. At the same time, I’ve read some negative things from scouts who’ve watched him a lot about how his effort level is inconsistent, and I would have liked to have seen more production from him (Berggren had 16 more points in the same league). A lot of scouts do still love him, though, so maybe there’s something special here.

David: Re: Bokk. Pronman had a really good counterpoint to the Bokk production criticism. Which is that this is typical for countries without serious business hockey. Germany doesn’t have the programs that Sweden, Finland, Russia, or North America do. Even guys who ended up becoming elite didn’t produce much, like Anze Kopitar and Lars Eller. I have to consider — for me at least — what Bokk will look like under a real program built to maximize his potential. I agree about Berggren though. You just can’t pull me out of this Bokk front seat is all.

Sometimes a reach is the recipe for a bad pick. Who should Dallas avoid assuming the consensus names are all gone?

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David: First off, I don’t think “two-way” is a dirty (hyphenated) word. But we already know something about what makes forward trios work. We suspect that playmakers are better than shooters, who are better than balanced forwards, who are better than dependents. And we suspect that that teams with the strongest links (i.e. the best players) are better than balanced teams. That’s why I like players like Bokk. And that’s where I’m at with players like Barrett Hayton (meh), Ty Dellandrea (no thanks), Joel Farabee (sure why not), Ryan McLeod (no), and Isac Lundestrom (could be worse). Dellandrea’s power play production wouldn’t alarm me if he offset that with even strength production, but his EV production per hour was low, and lower than centers who aren’t even sniffing the first round like Aidan Dudas, Blade Jenkins, and Kyle Topping. Dallas is a school without a music class, and none of these players drum, riff, or sing like Kotkaniemi, Veleno, Bokk, Kravtsov, or Denisenko. Filip Hallander is the only two-way player Dallas could reach for that I actively like (mainly because what he lacks in pure playmaking he makes up for in raw aggression). But maybe that’s just me.

Derek: I have to agree (boooo) about Hayton. His name has been brought up a lot when discussing the 13th overall pick, and he certainly seems like a guy the Stars would love (he’s big, he’s smart, and they really trust their OHL scouts), but I don’t think he will be the BPA at 13. I’ve liked Hayton ever since I watched him at the Ivan Hlinka and still think he’s a very good prospect, but I don’t believe he’s the right pick for the organization at this moment. His skating is too much of a concern for me. If they want to draft a two-way center with size, I’m fine with that, but maybe save that focus for a later round.

It’s also possible that the Stars really reach, like they did with Gurianov and Julius Honka. Based on what elements they’ve targeted frequently in past drafts, I could see Bode Wilde, Serron Noel, and Ryan McLeod drawing a lot of interest from Nill, scouting director Joe McDonnell, and the rest of the staff because these three prospects combine great size and great skating ability. Like Bokk, I could be talked into Wilde based off of his potential ceiling (he also shoots rights, which is a bonus), but Noel is too similar to who the Stars already have and McLeod has trouble turning his tools into actual production.

David: No, no, no to Bode Wilde. Just to take from Jeremy Davis, “Of all the 5-on-5 goals that the USNTDP team scored against USHL competition while Wilde was in the lineup, Wilde had a primary point on just 3.5% of them. That Primary Involvement Percentage is one of the lowest of all the players on this list.”

And that was on the aforementioned super stacked team no less. I wouldn’t complain too much about Noel though. Yes, he’s Tufte 2.0, but I like that he has a bit of a playmaker’s instinct, and I really love his ability to use a bit of skill to add to that size in terms of being a net-front presence. He was fifth among all OHL forwards in high danger goals scored, which I think is a reflection of more than just "big body” hockey.

Derek: Wilde is one of those guys where the numbers don’t paint the full picture. Yes, his performance this season wasn’t the greatest, but his size, his skating, and his ability to make moves with the puck is such a rare combination. He has tools that other players don’t have, he just needs to better learn how to use them.

He reminds me in some ways of Hampus Lindholm. Lindholm didn’t put up great offensive numbers in his draft year, but his tools were obvious, and Anaheim was confident that they could develop him up. Lindholm was a far, far better defender than Wilde at the same age, so the comparison isn’t perfect, but Wilde could be a real home run draft pick if a team is patient and attentive with his development.

Now Dallas has their pick. Onto the development part. With Denis Gurianov getting healthy scratched in the AHL, what is Dallas missing when it comes to why their draft record is so abysmal? Is it the draft picks themselves? Is it the development aspect? A mixture of both? If so, what specific mixture?

Derek: That’s a good question. It’s a mixture of both, but the biggest problem in my opinion is still the actual drafting. The Stars have graduated a lot of prospects to the NHL in recent years, a higher total than most other teams, so there is evidence that they can develop. I’ve also read nothing but good things about the team’s two player development coordinators, J.J. McQueen (who worked as the strength and conditioning coach when the Stars won the Stanley Cup in 1999) and Rich Peverley.

With regards to Gurianov as a specific example, I don’t think the Stars did anything wrong with his development. They got him out of the KHL when he wasn’t getting ice time and he’s played a lot since joining the Texas Stars. The healthy scratches are a new thing. At the same time, though, I think everyone can agree right now, after a few years have passed, that Gurianov wasn’t the right pick in 2015. That’s on Nill and the scouts.

They definitely messed up Jack Campbell by not having a goaltender coach for him, but that problem was fixed when they hired Jim Bedard to help develop goalie prospects. I do have some questions about why Julius Honka took a step back this season, though. I think there is still room for improvement in how the Stars develop players, but I don’t think it’s as bad of a problem as some Stars fans think it is.

David: I have to agree (boooo) just a little here. I sometimes get the impression that Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth are considered “ones that got away” just because they got ice time on competitive teams. Are they better than Esa Lindell and Miro Heiskanen? No. Are they significantly better than Dillon Heatherington, John Nyberg, and Gavin Bayreuther? No. So, forgive me, but ”who cares?”

Obviously, there are times when development busts; the fact that they didn’t have a goalie coach in the AHL is unforgivable. Then there are times when the drafting busts and is flat out, out of their gourds (like with Gurianov).

However, I think part of what exacerbates it all is the way management and coaching rarely seem aligned at any level. In the NHL, we’ve had Nichushkin and Lindy Ruff stare daggers at each other. Ken Hitchcock flat out admitted to having zero interest in development, hence his bizarre treatment of Honka, Dickinson, and Smith. Nicholas Caamano is good enough to nearly make the Stars out of training camp, but he can’t unseat a bunch of AHL grinders? Denis Gurianov was tied with Curtis McKenzie and second on the team in estimated goals per hour at even strength (and a better even strength performer across the board than Roope Hintz during the regular season), and good enough for 74 regular season games, but all of a sudden the team is better off without him?

I get it. It’s the AHL playoffs. But it’s also about individual futures who can make an impact at the most important levels (and a business). I suspect this is borne out of a lack of micromanaging. That word can have negative connotations (we are talking about the home of Jerry Jones after all), but I prefer to think of it as editing. Which is not just reasonable, but mandatory in many cases (thanks Logan!). It’s not “meddling” to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Do you see anyone graduating from the current crop of Dallas prospects for the 2018-2019 season?

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Derek: Heiskanen seems obvious at this point. And then the older guys like Dickinson and probably Dillon Heatherington as well. I think all three of these guys will be in the NHL for all of 2018-2019.

A lot of Stars fans want to see Hintz make the team, and he’s probably ready for the NHL, but I don’t think it happens. There’s just no room for him at forward, and I think the Stars want to see more out of Dickinson, Elie, Brett Ritchie, Devin Shore, and Gemel Smith before they trade anybody away.

Besides, I’d rather see Hintz getting first-line minutes in the AHL for one season instead of him only getting limited ice time in Dallas. There will be more room for him in 2019-2020.

David: Ritchie, Shore, and Elie? I was cool with doing this by the book, but you just ripped my life apart with that one. Ritchie, Shore, and Elie?! At least two of them have received top-six minutes with Dallas’ best players — and they’ve done it all inside their peak production window. Plus, Elie has been awful (despite his point totals) in the AHL playoffs. No, I don’t think his performance should indict him (I actually like him too, I’m a sucker for good skaters and he’s got a brilliant stride, but as a fourth liner). But his postseason is just confirmation of his regular season limitations.

I have to go with Caamano. His ability to constantly find himself in prime scoring areas (fourth in the OHL in high danger shots on goal), and only shooting at nine percent no less makes him a predictable dark horse pick. Plus, it helps that he’s a natural winger. He’s the player that ends up taking Roussel’s spot in my opinion.

Derek: Development is a tricky business. You run the risk of taking too long to cut ties with players who don’t develop according to plan, but at the same time, there’s also a risk if you cut ties too early.

Shore and Ritchie were great junior players and great AHLers. Just because they haven’t lit up the NHL yet doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t. There’s a release point, but I don’t think it has been reached yet for either player.

Similarly, for as much as I like Caamano, there’s still a very real chance that he too, like Ritchie and Shore, might need time to become an impact NHLer. If you trade away a forward ahead of him to make room, but then Caamano struggles… then you’re just in a worse spot than you were in before. There have been many instances of teams putting guys into the NHL too soon and having it be a mistake. Besides, the jump from the OHL to the NHL is a huge one to make, and I feel like Caamano’s long-term development would be better off if he logged some reps in the AHL first.

I think the most logical plan is to start the season with Ritchie, Shore, and Elie in the NHL, and with Caamano, Hintz, and Gurianov in the AHL. Wait a month or two and then reassess.

And besides, Nill has said many times how much he loves depth. Given how many forwards the Stars already have right now, plus the possible additions of Val Nichushkin and maybe a free agent (Ilya Kovalchuk?), I think it’s incredibly unlikely that Caamano, Hintz, or whoever else makes the team up front. At least not at the start of the year.