How important is it to find difference-making NHL talent in the later rounds of the draft? Just ask the Tampa Bay Lightning.
They found Brayden Point, Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli in the third round, while Ondrej Palat was grabbed in the seventh round and Tyler Johnson was never drafted at all. All of these players were instrumental in helping the Lightning win the 2020 Stanley Cup.
The Dallas Stars offer further evidence of this point. Jamie Benn and John Klingberg were famously picked in the fifth round, while Anton Khudobin and Joe Pavelski were seventh-round selections of the Minnesota Wild and San Jose Sharks, respectively.
With that being said, I am writing this article now to highlight different prospects whom, I think, could become these types of players for the Dallas Stars. This is a feature that I have written every year since 2015. This time around there will be four players outlined for each of the Stars’ fourth and fifth rounds selections, while I picked eight names for the sixth round since Dallas has two picks there this year (their own and Buffalo’s, which was acquired from the Florida Panthers in exchange for depth defenseman Emil Djuse). They do not have a pick in the seventh round.
Of course, finding these kinds of players is incredibly difficult. While some of the prospects whom I have identified in previous editions of this article (such as Conor Garland, Andrew Mangiapane and Caleb Jones) have turned out great, the majority of them (such as Ondrej Najman, Reid Gardiner and Alan Lyszczarczyk) have not. Getting talent this late in the draft involves just as much luck as it does scouting expertise, if not more.
Why were these particular prospects below chosen for this spotlight? While I like all of their individual chances of becoming impactful NHLers, they also all fall into at least one of the following categories, which I have personally identified as areas of need in the Dallas Stars’ prospect pool:
- Finesse, point-producing forwards
- Right-shot defensemen
- Shutdown defensemen
- At least one goaltender
For a better idea of which prospects the Stars already have in their system, feel free to check out the most recent edition of Defending Big D’s Prospect Rankings, from back in February.
As always, this year’s draft will be full of surprises. Some of these players could get picked long before the rounds I project them to still be available, while a number of prospects from my final Top 101 list could easily still be available as late as the sixth round. They have ultimately been chosen based on an accumulation of various rankings, recent league-wide draft trends and other factors that suggest a high likelihood they will still be around at the rounds I identified.
Important note: These views are entirely my own. They have been developed through personal scouting, research, and analysis of the team’s prospect pool. I have no firsthand or insider knowledge about which players the Stars are actually targeting in this range. Beyond my work here with Defending Big D, I’m also the Head Crossover Scout with an international scouting service called Future Considerations. My analysis has been refined through a dedicated collection of in-person scouting (I live in Calgary, Alberta, and am credentialed with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen and through the AJHL), watching live games and highlight packages online, statistical analysis, reading scouting reports written by others, discussions with other scouts, and other methods.
Let’s dig in.
Round 4 — 123rd overall
Dmitri Ovchinnikov — Center/Wing — Sibirskie Snaipery Novosibirsk (MHL)
Ovchinnikov has speed to burn, and combines it with a very impressive motor, dazzling dekes and a great nose for the net. Earned a first-line spot on his club early in the season and never relinquished it en route to finishing with a point-per-game scoring pace. Played primarily on the wing last season, but might be able to stick at center in the NHL if he can improve his face-off success and defensive play. Made his KHL debut this fall, though is now back to torching the MHL.
Luke Prokop — Defense — Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Prokop is an ox of a defenseman, a player with great size and strength but also one who is hard to slow down when he gets a big head of steam going. However, he leans more on the defensive side of the puck because his hands are an issue. Had a pretty nice showing at the CHL top prospects game competing among his top peers. Will play a lot for Calgary the next two seasons, and probably in all situations, so he’ll get ample opportunity to iron out the creases in his game.
Matias Rajaniemi — Defense — Pelicans U20 (Jr. A SM-liiga)
Not only did Rajamiemi see some action in Finland’s top professional league as a 17-year-old, he also was entrusted with so much ice time that his final average per game of 22:12 (through 12 contests) ended up as most on the team. There’s little doubt about what his best-case projection is: a bottom-pair shutdown defender who can gobble up a ton of minutes on the penalty kill. However, he’s a very safe bet to reach that potential. Esa Lindell would be a great mentor for him.
Kirill Steklov — Defense — London Knights (OHL)
No organization in junior hockey develops prospects better than the London Knights, and you could see the steady growth in Steklov’s game as the season went along. He’s a gigantic defender who can cover ice quickly thanks to his long skating stride, even though his acceleration, balance and fluidity need work. Has a sneaky amount of inherent offensive awareness for this type of player. He is a long-term project, but the reward could be huge for a patient organization.
Round 5 — 154th overall
Jérémie Biakabutuka — Defense — Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)
The nephew of former NFLer Tim Biakabutuka, Jeremie is a natural athlete who is blessed with a huge frame. He can be dangerous on the rush or at the offensive blue line because of how deceptively quick and agile his feet are. He can make the occasional fancy play with the puck, too. Decision-making and play without the puck are currently issues, but with enough time he could be the type of defender who makes a difference for his team in numerous different areas.
Garin Bjorklund — Goaltender — Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
Bjorklund has almost everything you want in a goaltender: size, reflexes, athleticism, composure, competitiveness, situational awareness, rebound control and a consistent track record of performing at a high level. The only real knock on him right now is that his technique can be sloppy and look a little too “road hockey” at times, but that’s something that can be worked on with an NHL goaltender coach. Might be Medicine Hat’s de facto No. 1 if Mads Sogaard turns pro.
Billy Constantinou — Defense — Soo Greyhounds (OHL)
One of the more notable omissions from last year’s draft, Constantinou’s game found new life after a trade from Kingston to the Soo. He is an incredibly mobile defenseman who is also a high-end puck-mover and offensive thinker, tools that helped him produce 53 points (24 of which came on the power play) last season. Defensive game needs a ton of work and will never be a strength for him, but there’s a real chance he could become a dynamic scoring catalyst in the NHL.
Devon Levi — Goaltender — Carleton Place Canadians (CCHL)
Levi had quite a remarkable 2019-20 season. Not only was he named the MVP of both the Central Canada Hockey League and the Canadian Junior Hockey League (which encompasses 10 different leagues), he was also named MVP of the World Junior A Challenge after backstopping an outgunned Canada East roster to an overtime loss in the final game. He’s a late 2001 birthday and not very big, but his smarts, positioning, reactions and competitiveness are all excellent.
Round 6 — 162nd and 185th overall
Artur Akhtyamov — Goaltender — Irbis Kazan (MHL)
Aktyamov isn’t exactly a giant in the crease, but he is 6-foot-2 and has really long limbs to work with. Those limbs can be a problem at times, though, as he currently opens up big gaps under his arms. And while he moves around quite quickly, he overcommits far too often and slides way out of the crease. Regardless, he was a true starter for the past two seasons, which shows he can handle that kind of workload. He’s more than a worthwhile project for an NHL team to take on.
Brett Brochu — Goaltender — London Knights (OHL)
How’s this for impressive: in his first year ever of high-level hockey, Brochu outright won the starting goaltender job on the Knights, the best organization in all of junior hockey, and finished the year with the OHL’s second-highest save percentage at .919. He’s a small netminder at only 5-foot-11, but his crease movements and reflexes are fast, his understanding of how to overcome his size is impressive, and his competitiveness is incredible. Remind you of any Dallas Stars netminders?
Kabore Dunn — Defense — Fort McMurray Oil Barons (AJHL)
Dunn is a defenseman with a large frame, gorgeous skating mechanics and a filthy pair of mitts. So, why would a player like this still be available this late? His situational awareness and decisions with the puck can be atrocious sometimes. On any given shift he could pull off a highlight-reel play, or make a turnover so bad it gets him benched. The good news is that he hasn’t had much high-end development thus far, so there could be a lot of room for growth left in his game.
Jaydon Dureau — Left Wing — Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Portland shuffled their forward lines a lot early last season, but after Dureau got an opportunity on their first line he proved he belonged there. He always had above-average puck skill, playmaking and hockey sense, but playing alongside top 2020 prospect Seth Jarvis helped him make huge strides in his intensity, pacing and 200-foot game. There’s genuine NHL upside here for a 2001-born draft re-entry if he can find a way to pack some muscle onto his slight frame.
Alex Gaffney — Right Wing — Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
Gaffney is a fun little spitfire of a winger. What he lacks in size — and he lacks quite a bit, at roughly only 5-foot-7 and 163 pounds — he mostly makes up for in quickness and competitiveness. You’d be hard-pressed to find many prospects who work as hard and try to push the pace as much as he does. Pursues with focus on the forecheck and isn’t afraid of going to the dirty areas, which often ends up in rewards on the score sheet. His stature is the obvious risk.
2020 NHL Draft prospect, @MuskegonJacks forward, and @Harvard commit Alex Gaffney is a small, but crafty player who shows solid speed and elusiveness with the puck. Gaffney scored in this USHL preseason game. Sometimes can get pushed to the outside on rushes, but he battles. pic.twitter.com/t5gHn8WWrW— Daniel Gee (@DanielGScouting) September 16, 2019
Ryan Kirwan — Center/Wing — Madison Capitals (USHL)
It’s not often that you can find a player with a really high-end tool this late in the draft, but Kirwan’s shot is among the best in this entire class. He can absolutely rip it with his wrist shot, slap shot and one-timer, as evidenced by his team-high 25 tallies. Playing on a weak and thin Madison team last season allowed him to log plenty of minutes in all situations, which helped him grow as a defensive player, a penalty killer and in the face-off circle. Needs to use his 6-foot-2 frame better.
Ryan Kirwan's release is something else. His stick barely moves, yet he blasts it from the top of the circle. pic.twitter.com/ooFfBkosw6— Future Scope Hockey (@FSHockeycenter) March 24, 2020
Jakub Konecny — Center/Wing — HC Sparta Praha U20 (DHL Cup)
What Konecny brings to the table is pretty straightforward: he’s fast and has above-average puck control. The fact that he plays center is a bonus, although there’s some doubt about whether he has what it takes to stay as a pivot-moving forward. The 2020 crop of Czech forwards is fairly underwhelming, which has given Konecny a lot of opportunity to represent his country internationally, something that is likely to continue. Scoring totals don’t fully reflect his tools.
4-1 by Tomas Chlubna (2020). Jakub Konecny (2020) gets the assist. pic.twitter.com/qM43ewP9kh— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) February 5, 2020
Jake Uberti — Center — Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Niagara as a team completely fell apart after they traded away their best players last season, but it did afford youngsters such as Uberti the chance to take on a bigger role, and there was promise in what the Toronto native showed. He moves fairly well, he can chip in offensively in a few different ways, and he can bring a physical presence from time to time. His development could take big strides if, as expected, he gets a lot of ice time this season for the rebuilding IceDogs.