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Comprehensively Grading the Dallas Stars’ 2018 Draft

Ty Dellandrea is way better than you (or I) thought. The other picks less so, some more so.

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2018 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Let’s be honest, the idea of draft grading is ridiculous. It’s a grade predicated on having a time machine. Sure, we technically have one. But it won’t offer any grand insights.

Having said that, draft grades work as a smooth template for looking back, and reviewing the process. Was there a theme for each round? If so, was it optimal? Did Dallas get the best value for their pick? Did they miss out on best value?

In preparing for this draft review, I simply went back and did more research. This isn’t my full-time job, so it’s hard to do the research I’d prefer. Like anyone else, confirmation bias sets in for players I like, players I see most scouting services also like, and so I come away with a preferred list of players based on my assumptions about them rather than a thorough profile of each player.

Did the extra research help in this process? I think so.

First Round: B+

Why it’s good: I had Delleandrea ranked 25th on my draft board. Most outlets had Dellandrea ranked in the 20s. When the Dallas Stars picked Dellandrea, I practically rage-quit. And then I collected myself. I gathered more information. And now I’m convinced it’s actually a very solid pick. There are typically two good reasons for why a player’s likely to succeed — good numbers and good tape.

First, the numbers. Mitchell Brown’s tracking data is a really good resource here. While a sample of seven games may seem small, there are twelve different elements being tracked: scoring chances per hour, scoring chance assist rates, entries, exits — basically, the (offensive) works. There were three other centers from the CHL picked in the first round Brown’s data has access to: Joe Veleno, Barrett Hayton, and Liam Foudy.

Here’s how he stacks against Veleno, against Hayton, and against Foudy. Besides Dellandrea being better than each across the board (with very few exceptions), his scoring chance assist rate and scoring chances per hour are what stand out. Why? Because scoring chances are actually more predictive than corsi.

The best part is that Dellandrea compares well against more than just the centers of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, but some of the elite wingers as well, like Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina, and Joel Farabee. Everything about the underlying metrics bodes well.

Second, the tape:

I didn’t have access to this video before writing my profile, but it’s a great shift-by-shift video driving home how good he is with his positioning in all three zones. Even though he has great acceleration (he nearly catches Ryan Merkley on the backcheck in this one), and good top speed, he doesn’t always have to move fast because his positioning is well above average.

If you were watching the feed with Pierre McGuire, you wouldn’t know anything about this pick. On Sportsnet, however, it was revealed that Dellandrea only had six goals through his first 43 games because he was diagnosed with celiac disease, which was something Josh Lile elaborated on over the weekend*. For a kid who would go on to score 27 goals, that’s a huge turnaround. There are plenty of other underlying factors at work in support of Dellandrea, which I broke down on Twitter.

Why it could be better: I’d give Dallas a higher grade based on the player alone, but their drafting pattern deserves some inspection.

Dallas won’t admit that they draft for need, but the proof is in the pudding. In 2014 they went ballistic over defensemen because the team needed defensemen. This year they drafted four centers, and only one defensemen because they need secondary scoring. Needs change constantly. As Assistant GM Trevor Timmins said so perfectly, “the danger in catching up with your needs is that the player is not good enough to fill that need in the future.”

Ty Smith and K ’Andre Miller were the best defenseman on the board from where Dallas was picking. Was this ever up for discussion just because Dellandrea was a center? For all the chatter about trading pieces from the right side, Miro Heiskanen is the only left-handed defenseman with elite potential. If Lindell is ever bumped down into a support role, will his effectiveness be the same?

Could Dallas have successfully traded down? It sounds like there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell given other team’s opinions about Dellandrea. Still, you have to wonder how aggressive Dallas was in moving up a spot (which could have been huge when you look at how close Dallas was to getting someone like Wahlstrom or Dobson), or with another piece.

Second round: B-

Why it’s good: Albin Eriksson was a reach at No. 44, but there’s no denying his potential. He’s a big right winger with above average puck handling ability, a good wrist shot, and fluid skating (relying a lot on his pivots and lateral mobility). He’s the rare high-floor, high-ceiling type pick.

Why it could be better: Dallas’ insistence on “moar size” (as the internet puts it) is moderately troubling. I’m not silly enough to argue that Dallas’ scouts don’t get it, or are behind the curve when it comes to league-wide trends. But they should have felt humbled by what players like Alex DeBrincat, Matthew Barzal, and Nic Petan have done (Petan less so) after passing on them. There was some great undersized talent on board such as Calen Addison (WHL defenseman who ended up going at No. 53 to Pittsburgh), and Niklas Nordgren (5’9” Finnish right winger who is an excellent playmaker).

If Dallas had wanted a big winger, Kirill Marchenko (who went at No. 49 to Columbus) might have been an equally interesting option. Corey Pronman had Marchenko ranked 18th on his board. Niagara’s Akil Thomas was another center I thought had first round potential. Jacob Olofsson and Filip Hallander, who went later in the second, were also good options, and two players I profiled here and here (respectively). Because Dallas seemed intent on drafting forwards, they missed out on two very good blue line prospects in Jonathan Tychonick, and Scott Perunovich as well.

Third round: C-

Why it’s good: Farjestad’s Oskar Bäck is very similar to a lot of Dallas’ recently drafted centers like Jason Dickinson, Roope Hintz, and Radek Faksa. He’s a tools-y center with slightly above average puck handling and a deceptive shot. There’s very little downside to what Bäck provides. Not for nothing, but in the test duration portion of the VO2 max exercise, he placed fifth.

And just in case you’re easily amused, there’s this:

Why it could be better: You’ll find a recurring theme here, which is that I wonder just how prevalent “BPA” (Best Player Available) really was as a philosophy. Pronman’s analysis isn’t gospel, but I consider him very progressive when it comes to talent analysis. He prefers to focus on raw skill and potential stardom over character, and two-way style of play. He had center Semyon Der-Arguchintsev ranked at No. 25 on his board (of course, he also had Noah Dobson at No. 20; like I said, ‘not gospel’, but still one of the brighter draft minds in my opinion), who ended up going a pick later to Toronto. Semyon wouldn’t seem to fit the Stars’ forward profile, standing at 5’10” and just 159 pounds. Alexander Khovanov was another undersized forward who drew high praise before his draft season, seeing it sidetracked when he was diagnosed with Hepatitis-A.

There was also a really good defenseman on board in the Barrie Colt’s Joey Keane.

Fourth round: A-

Why it’s good: The running joke I see in any comments section of any Stars-affiliated site is that if a kid has the wingspan of an 18-wheeler, Dallas will draft him. Sure enough, Dallas drafted the nearly 6’9” center from the Windsor Spitfires — Curtis Douglas. It’d be easy to stop there. But Douglas has real potential.

Per Prospect-Stats, Douglas was second (!) in the OHL in expected goals per games played at even strength, tied with Aidan Dudas, behind Arthur Kaliyev (guaranteed to be a first rounder next year), and just above Dellandrea. His skating is a work in progress (if we’re being charitable), but he has soft hands, and a nose for the net.

With their other pick (from Chicago as part of the Johnny Oduya trade), Dallas selected Adam Mascherin. It was nice to see Dallas select an overager given their inherent value. But also nice to see someone they can slot into their AHL lineup. From Pronman:

A former high second-round pick by Florida in 2016, Mascherin has one of the best shots in junior. I also think there are very positive skill attributes to his game between his hands and offensive instincts.

Why it could have been better: There’s not a lot to criticize. I would have preferred OHL center Aidan Dudas (picked at No. 113 by the Los Angeles Kings), and the high IQ left winger Cole Fonstad to either one of these players (with a nod to smooth skating left winger Tyler Weiss), but that’s a lot of value in a round where you typically get none at all.

Fifth round: A

Why it’s good: The other running gag about Dallas’ scouting department is that they don’t start drafting until the fifth round. Is Riley Damiani another fifth round gem? First off, it was nice to see Dallas finally stray away from “moar size.” Second, what makes the 5’10”, 160 pound center unique is that (despite his size) he was trusted by the Kitchener Rangers to shut down the opposing team’s best players — which he did effectively. Mark Scheig had a good, brief write-up of Damiani in the run up to the draft about the five most underrated OHL prospects.

Digging into the numbers, I think some fans have a misconception about “late risers.” This was the (incorrect) criticism of Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

Well if it wasn’t for player A’s World Juniors performance, Hlinka, playoffs, etc.

Except, to state the obvious, these players are young. Players that get better as the season goes along is not always a reflection of a small sample size, but a window into their expected progression. Damiani only scored 37 points in 64 games, but he scored 12 in 19 playoff games. Small sample size, or expected progression? Future Considerations actually had him ranked at No. 75. Another fun fact? Despite his shutdown role for the Rangers, he ranked ninth in the OHL in expected goals per game at even strength (tied with Akil Thomas).

Why it could have been better: Well, his dad could have tortured his own bladder just a little bit longer.

Sixth round: B+

Why it’s good: First thing’s first about Dawson Barteaux. He already has a great trickname: Unabated Ox Wars. The former 2015, WHL 14th overall pick was the only blueliner Dallas selected. I won’t claim to know much more about Barteaux other than that he’s a two-way defender who plays smart, clean, and with just enough talent on his skates, and with his hands to do both effectively. Derek has a good interview with the aforementioned Red Deer Rebel too.

Why it could have been better: Dallas is so good in the fifth round, I feel like they should trade their sixth round picks for another fifth rounder for at least the rest of existence.

Seventh round: A+

When the seventh round typically offers nothing of real value other than a prayer, a good story is a great substitute, and Jamaican-born, Canadian-raised Jermaine Loewen is a great story.

Final Thoughts

All in all, I think Dallas got a solid return in the 2018 draft. On their own, the players all ranged from good to great in proportion to the round they were picked. “Safe” might be a term used to describe it, but I’d prefer specific.

My only criticism of the draft was what wasn’t there. There are players on Dallas’ roster that need a change of scenery. Devin Shore will not be getting anymore top six looks (Benn, Seguin, Radulov, Faksa, Nichushkin, Spezza, and Janmark are all above him). Neither will Brett Ritchie and Remi Elie. And if they’re having second guesses about their former first rounders after a season under Ken Hitchcock, this draft would have been perfect for recovering. The first two rounds were loaded with talent. Was Dallas aggressive in pursuing more picks? Maybe. Maybe this is fantasy draft territory I’m in (nor do we know what Jim Nill has planned), but it’s worth noting.

That’s the key, in my opinion. Dallas still has nothing to show in the last five years for their first round picks. Do I think it’s as bad as it looks? Personally, no. But that’s not to say the skepticism isn’t warranted. With all that said, this looks and feels like a solid draft.

*Sportsnet got it wrong too. Dellandrea had 7 goals in his first 21 games and 20 goals in his final 43 games in the 2017-18 season.