The day of the annual NHL entry draft is usually one of the busiest of the season with regards to teams making trades, and it’s easy to see why.
Draft lists vary significantly from team to team, so some clubs may find themselves wanting to trade up to grab someone they really want who is still available, or conversely, find themselves wanting to trade down because they think they can still get someone they like while also adding other assets. Picks move fast and furiously during draft weekend, whether it’s in exchange for players or other picks.
This is a marketplace that the Dallas Stars will need to keep a close eye on at this year’s draft, which takes place June 21-22 in Vancouver.
The Stars currently only hold four draft picks for 2019 (in the first, fourth, fifth and sixth rounds). Even worse, the team only has four picks in next year’s draft as well (although what picks they are is still to be determined, as I’ll explain more below).
The highest pick that Dallas holds in 2019 — and therefore, also their most valuable — is in the first round, at 18th overall.
But does it make sense for them to use the pick? With the possibility that other teams might be looking to trade up into that range, the Stars should really explore their options when it comes to trading down, for a couple of reasons.
Draft picks are useful assets to have on hand at the trade deadline
When the Dallas Stars acquired forward Mats Zuccarello from the New York Rangers prior to the 2018-19 NHL trade deadline, it was a move that made a significant impact on their playoff chances. Without Zuccarello’s 11 points in 13 games, the Stars might not have edged the Nashville Predators in the first round or taken the St. Louis Blues to double overtime of Game 7 in the second.
For the Stars to proceed even deeper into the playoffs in 2020, making a similar move to acquire veteran help at next season’s trade deadline might be required, especially if the team is fighting through injury troubles.
There’s just one problem, though: what would they trade away in exchange?
The price tag for Zuccarello was two conditional draft picks, which means that four separate draft picks were tied up in just one trade. One of those conditional picks (the Stars’ 2019 second rounder) has already been determined, while the other still depends on whether Zuccarello re-signs in Dallas this summer. If he does, New York gets the Stars’ 2020 first; if he doesn’t, they get the Stars’ 2020 third.
In all, more than 40 draft picks changed hands across the NHL in the month leading up to last year’s deadline, showing just how much teams covet them.
With Dallas only having four picks available for the 2020 draft, that’s going to make it much harder for them to pull off a pre-deadline trade.
Trading down from 18th overall might hurt this June, but it’s a move that could pay off big time in early 2020 if doing so allows them to add another pick or two from the 2020 and/or 2021 drafts.
The Stars could still get a very good prospect if they trade down
A common misconception that many hockey fans have about scouting and the draft is that determining who the “best player available” is at any point is an easy thing to do.
All it takes is a few minutes looking at various draft rankings to realize that there is often little consensus about exactly where a specific player should be ranked. Ask 10 scouts to choose between Player A and Player B and you might get a 50/50 response rate.
Where you do see a lot of consensus, though, is in the general range of where a player should be ranked.
It’s no surprise, then, that the concept of adding “tiers” within draft rankings is gaining popularity. In some instances a tier could be two different prospects who are incredibly close and hard to choose between — in other cases a tier could be a dozen players, or even more than that.
When I published my Top 101 draft rankings for the 2019 draft I made sure to also separate the list by tiers. As can be seen through that link, I consider there to be a tier of prospects from No. 13 all the way to No. 24 that are very close in terms of their draftability.
When you look at aggregated draft rankings you see a similar breakdown:
Just waiting on McKenzie's final rankings, but here's the general layout. I expanded the rankings to 14, so these players appear in 10 of the 14.— Will Scouch (@Scouching) June 11, 2019
Blue is their average rank, red is a standard deviation.
Spot the Russians and the Broberg. pic.twitter.com/NPXqTW67v2
So, what does this mean for the Stars? It means that someone the Stars could draft at 18th overall might be just as good (or at least very close) as the prospects chosen at 13th overall and 24th overall.
If Dallas receives an interesting offer and decides to trade down a few spots, they would give up a few options from which to choose, but depending on how far they go down they might not sacrifice any value.
And who knows — the Stars might already have someone circled on their list who they absolutely love, but believe could still be available well past 18th.
Staying flexible right to the buzzer
All of that being said, it’s impossible to predict exactly how the draft will unfold. Perhaps someone the Stars highly value unexpectedly falls all the way to 18th in a stroke of good luck. Perhaps no other teams are willing to trade up to grab someone they like — it takes two teams to make a trade, after all.
What’s important, though, is that the Stars stay diligent and active, moreso this year than other years. Teams will be talking and rumors will be spreading, so Dallas will need to keep an eye to the ground, because the right trade offer could have big implications down the road.