2019 NHL Entry Draft Preview: Dallas Stars Edition

With only four picks still on hand to work with, how should the Stars approach this year’s draft?

Dallas Stars General Manager Jim Nill has, on more than one occasion, outlined what he considers to be a successful draft:

“If you can get two to three players every year, you’re doing a good job... I know that doesn’t sound like good odds, but those are facts. If you can get two or three players and keep doing it every year, you’re setting yourself up pretty good.”

However, with just four draft picks currently on hand heading into the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the Stars are really going to have their work cut out for them this year when it comes to achieving that goal.

Due to trades for veteran roster players over the past few seasons, Dallas now only holds selections in the first, fourth, fifth and sixth rounds in the 2019 draft. There is still a chance that the team could make more trades either before draft weekend (June 21-22) or during it in order to help replace some of the missing draft picks. However, there’s a very real chance that this will be all that the organization ends up having to work with.

While this kind of situation is, of course, never ideal for any team, it’s also not a death sentence, either. Nill, director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell, and the rest of the Stars’ scouting staff don’t have much margin for error, but successfully fortifying the club’s prospect pipeline is still a goal that is very much within reach.

Let’s take a deeper look at the organization’s prospect situation, both how things stand right now and where they could go in the near future.

To help you get up to speed first, feel free to check out the most recent edition of the Defending Big D Dallas Stars Prospect Rankings, or examine the team’s complete depth chart as laid out by the website Elite Prospects.

The Stars are already in pretty good shape, prospect-wise

I know this will come as a controversial remark to those Stars fans who are still stinging over the selections of Julius Honka in 2014, Denis Gurianov in 2015, and Riley Tufte in 2016 (and maybe even still Scott Glennie in 2009 and Jack Campbell in 2010), but it’s the truth: the Stars’ prospect pool is currently in pretty good condition.

Gurianov took some time, but he eventually developed into quite a dynamic prospect with a bright NHL future. Ty Dellandrea, Jason Robertson, Jake Oettinger, and Albin Eriksson all look quite promising as well, and beyond them is a deep, diverse group that spans all positions and a wide range of playing styles and specialties.

Yes, the Stars really struggled for a long period of time when it came to their highest picks, but it seems like the team recently (finally) turned a corner in that regard, while also doing a good job of finding talent in the later rounds to help balance things out (selecting Nick Caamano and Riley Damiani in the fifth round are good examples of that).

Finding undrafted talent makes the shortage of picks much more manageable

One thing that can’t be denied about Nill: he’s a damn good salesman.

Whether it’s highly sought-after veterans (such as Alexander Radulov) or highly sought-after youngsters (such as Tye Felhaber), Nill has a great track record when it comes to getting players to put pen to paper and join the Stars.

That being said, most of the legwork when it comes to signing undrafted prospects is done by the scouts and other members of the organization, who are the ones who have to find and assess these players in the first place. Luckily for Nill, this group has really perfected this process as of late.

In the 2018-19 season alone the Stars dressed four separate undrafted prospect signees: defensemen Gavin Bayreuther and Ben Gleason, forward Joel L’Esperance, and goaltender Landon Bow. Add in Felhaber and you have a group of five players with genuine NHL potential, all of whom were added to the organization without the use of draft picks.

Of course, this should never be a team’s primary strategy, as the best prospects, by and large, are the ones who do get identified through scouting and then drafted. But the importance of having such a successful Plan B cannot be overstated.

That being said, what specific things should the Stars look for in 2019?

As good as any prospect pool is, it can always get better. Here are a few things that the Stars should look and target for as the 2019 draft unfolds.

  • The best player available: This one is obvious, as it’s what teams do the vast majority of the time, yet it’s still worth noting here. As mentioned earlier, the Stars’ current prospect pool is sufficiently deep and diverse, at least enough so that the team doesn’t desperately need to fill a specific position or find a specific type of player. If there’s a prospect that they view as the de facto best player available at any given pick, they’ll have the luxury of being able to select them and not worry about leaving a hole somewhere else (although, I suppose drafting four goaltenders, even if they were the best players available, wouldn’t be the best use of resources).
  • Finesse forwards: The Stars have prioritized a lot recently on adding big, powerful forwards (Roope Hintz was a revelation this year for Dallas, while Gurianov, Robertson, Eriksson, and Tufte are all coming up through the system). However, there is still a notable lack of finesse forwards, prospects who excel when it comes to areas such as agility, stick-handling, playmaking, creativity, offensive vision, and power play specialization. Adding a finesse forward or two would, at least on paper, make the Stars a more diverse and dangerous team offensively.
  • Right-shot defensemen: With Miro Heiskanen and Esa Lindell in the NHL, the Stars are going to be set on the left side of their blue line for a long, long time. The right side beyond John Klingberg, though, is a bit of a question mark, with Stephen Johns’ lingering health concerns and Julius Honka’s healthy scratches. In terms of prospects, the Stars have Joseph Cecconi, Jakob Stenqvist, and Dawson Barteaux, and effectively that’s pretty much it right now. Adding a right-shot defenseman, especially one who projects well in terms of shutdown abilities, could go a long way.
  • Swing for the fences with mid or late picks: Beyond their success with signing undrafted prospects, the Stars have also done a really good job finding “safe” players in the draft, with guys such as Caamano, Oskar Back, and Rhett Gardner. The Stars will have no trouble whatsoever filling out their bottom six in the future, but could stand to add a little more competition for spots in the top six. Despite their shortage of picks and Nill’s goal of two or three players panning out from every draft, I think the Stars are nevertheless in a perfect position to target boom-or-bust prospects with what few picks they do have. Every draft has guys like this in the middlde or late rounds that pan out eventually and teams get a little bit lucky on. Finding a Kevin Labanc or a Jesper Bratt would be huge for Dallas.
  • A goaltender with a late pick: Never hurts to have organizational competition in this regard since goaltenders are so notoriously hard to develop. Oettinger, Bow, and Colton Point all project well, but Philippe Desrosiers and Markus Ruusu are probably leaving the organization this summer, so replacing them would nice. No need to make this a high priority, but grabbing a netminder in the fifth or sixth round wouldn’t be a bad call./

More draft coverage coming soon

Keep your eyes peeled on Defending Big D in the near future, as the next month will be full of profiles of top prospects who could still be available when the Stars use their first selection (18th overall), as well as targets for Rounds 4-6 and my final list of the Top 101 prospects.