No day warrants more fruitless emotion than Draft Day. For amateur draft nerds like me, we have the names in our heads we want to hear based on either personal evidence or personal preference. For fans interested in the draft but who don’t have time to follow each prospect, you might have names you want to hear based on public rankings. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s potential fun which means our excitement can become disappointment, and vice versa and those mixed emotions can manifest hours from now or (more likely) years from now.
So what should we be feeling this Draft Day, Stars fans?
‘Excited’ of course. The draft might be a “crapshoot” for most players, but not most players in the first round. Over 80 percent of every first round pick will get to suit up at least once for the team that drafted them. In fact, from 2013 to 2016, only one player selected from the first round didn’t play a single NHL game (Colorado’s Connor Bleackley). Granted, there’s a larger handful of players who didn’t play meaningful games, but for the most part, there’s no good excuse for teams to come away from the draft completely empty-handed. Just look at Dallas: since 2017, their first round has yielded Miro Heiskanen, Jake Oettinger, Ty Dellandrea, Thomas Harley, Mavrik Bourque, and Wyatt Johnston. Hardly a crapshoot.
Recall that the 2017 draft was also considered “weak” and look at how that turned out. I don’t like talking about a draft’s strength or weakness because I consider it irrelevant. Fact is, if you look hard enough, do the homework, avoid tunnel vision or any of the hundreds of cognitive biases that can keep teams from making the optimal decision, and focus on the talent more likely to make the great impact...then you will find something.
Rather than do a deep dive on the players themselves, I’ll link to videos or articles I consider the most useful in their names. I’ll talk about them but I’ll focus more on the broader themes within the players themselves. So to make this more ‘fun’ I’ve divided the list of players Dallas should take into reaction tiers — all the way from round one to six.
The “Holy crap we basically won the lottery!” Tier
Matthew Savoie (C, 5’9, 175lbs), Brad Lambert (C, 6’, 175lbs)
Why would two extremely talented centers potentially fall to 18? Because every year there are players that teams galaxy brain into thinking are more problematic than they are. Maybe the player isn’t as “coachable” or doesn’t play a “200-foot game” or isn’t “mean” enough. We saw this in 2014 with Dylan Larkin, in 2015 with Mat Barzal, in 2016 with Alex DeBrincat, and the list goes on. Savoie is your classic triple threat offensively. His problem? He’s small and doesn’t skate as fast as some scouts think he’ll need to be to offset his size disadvantage. As for Lambert, he’s considered inconsistent and not a full 200-ft player.
I don’t want to talk about either one of these guys too much because even with their flaws, there’s no reason why they should be available at 18. Even with players like Stankoven and Johnston in the system, Savoie or Lambert would automatically be Dallas’ most high-end forward prospects, which should tell you all you need to know. If one of them falls to Dallas, they should take it, run, and then keep running. Suddenly Dallas has forward assets they can leverage as prime trade chips.
The “Noice!” Tier
Kevin Korchinski (LHD, 6’2, 185lbs), Pavel Mintyukov (LHD, 6’1, 197lbs), Owen Pickering (LHD, 6’4, 178lbs), Ryan Chesley (RHD, 6’0, 195lbs), Lian Bichsel (LHD, 6’5, 216lbs), Isaac Howard (LW, 5’10, 182lbs), Frank Nazar (C, 5’10, 175lbs) Conor Geekie (C, 6’3, 196lbs)*
One thing this draft has plenty of is defensive depth. Granted, draft nerds might take issue with Korchinski being at 18 being a steal but Corey Pronman has him at #19 in his rankings so: just saying. Point is there is plenty to choose from if Dallas wants to restock a blueline cupboard that needs stocking.
Korchinski, and Mintyukov have the potential to provide the puck moving prowess that Klingberg left but in different ways. What I like about Korchinski that stands out is his ability to use his offensive creativity in the defensive zone. This has always killed me about defensive perception — that doing passive things like blocking shots or trying to foul guys with the stick is somehow a net positive. Korchinski shoulder checks brilliantly to cut back and use his skating to optimize breakouts. Mintyukov doesn’t have the vision of Korchinski, but he has a bit more in terms of raw agility and speed. Deciding between one or the other is where I think subtle things like a roster’s core might factor into Dallas’ decision. Both can create offense in their own way; but which way better suits the forward core of Roope Hintz, Jason Robertson, Wyatt Johnston, and Logan Stankoven?
Pickering and Bichsel are two players who give me pause in the best way. In recent years, you’ve seen a lot of defenders criticized for their lack of offensive ceiling. We saw this not only with Heiskanen and Moritz Seider but also Jake Sanderson, K’Andre Miller, Braden Schneider, Kaiden Guhle, and even our own Artyom Grushnikov (not saying Grushnikov is on that level). We still have a long way to go when it comes to analyzing what defenseman do best which is their ability to activate the play from their own zone, and neutralize rushes/cycles against: that means how they handle forechecking pressure, how they recover dump-ins, how they gap up, how well they use their vision to sequence the puck from zone to zone, etc.
Pickering uses his size in the defensive zone actively, choosing the best routes to retrieve pucks (Pickering gets bonus points for his favorite player being none other than Heiskanen ) while Bichsel relies on using his massive frame for effective aggression i.e. winning races, and corner battles. With the puck on their stick, both can move well too - Esa Lindell (no offense) these prospects are not. The same goes for Ryan Chesley, who beyond having the obvious distinction of being right handed, showed some elite transition data in the 11 games Mitch Brown tracked for EP Rinkside.
As for the forwards, I wouldn’t expect to see Nazar fall to Dallas with his blend of blazing speed and high compete level, but I can see the worry others have that he may just be another Alex Kerfoot, which I think is a justifiable concern; though I don’t agree. It’s hard to imagine Dallas picking Nazar given the amount of small to smallish centers they already have in the pipeline. I do believe it’d be a great pick, however. As for Howard, I’ll just defer to Scouching on this one: Howard won his Mr. Analytics award with his high danger passing and shot metrics. Scott Wheeler has him 10th on his personal ranking. Needless to say, Howard could easily end up one of those players who had no business falling where he likely will a la David Pastrnak. Last but certainly not least (and certainly not least because he won’t fall to Dallas) Geekie might be stereotyped as a brutish forward, but I’m done underestimating big men who can pass, and Geekie can do that extremely well in addition to the other variety of offensive tools at his disposal.
The “My amateur instincts aren’t tingling but I’ll trust the pros on this one” Tier
Rutger McGroarty (RW, 6’0, 200lbs), Denton Mateychuk (LHD, 5’10, 188lbs), Seamus Casey (RHD, 5’10, 172lbs)
I’ll just leave this one here with McGroarty. Granted, this tweet is about Cutter Gauthier but I think this still applies.
I think Gauthier’s production here is telling. The common belief is that his athletic makeup makes him more projectable up. I think what’s often revealed is that guys with “pro-built” games actually feast on the small, weaker competition and find their advantages diminished up. https://t.co/vA1qai0FCI— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) July 4, 2022
Robertson was a fantastic success story but even the most elite talents can be held back by a lack of skating; just look at Alexis Lafreniere. Dallas is severely lacking at depth at right wing, but gambling on Robertson 2.0 as if Robertson 1.0 wasn’t a miracle is a bridge too far IMO. Regardless, if it happens, I gotta think Dallas scouts see something beyond the data and the tape.
As for Mateychuk and Casey, they’re exactly what modern day puck movers provide, which is why they wouldn’t be my personal first choice. I’m the last person to be “bored” with flashy, skill-first blueliners, but I do think hockey is starting to develop a surplus of defenders who do nothing more than swagger jack a winger’s routes. Does that mean Mateychuk and Casey are like everyone else? No. But I do think they have the kind of abilities that are inherently more constrained at the NHL level, where I think their issues are less about whether their talents will translate, but whether they’ll be playing in a pro system that willingly leverages their strengths over their weaknesses rather than vice versa.
The “Wow...this could either be an awesome reach or a major bust” Tier
Round 1 (or 2)
Ivan Miroshnichenko (LW, 6’1, 185lbs)
Remember players like Aatu Raty and Timothy Liljegren who were considered certified top picks early on in their draft year and then tumbled down the ranks as the year came to a close? Miroshnichenko is that kid this year. Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in March, it was a tough draft year completely beyond his control. The good news is that he’s completed his recovery and is cleared to play. The bad news is that’s not the only reason he fell. For the most part, everyone agrees that Ivan has elite goal-scoring tools: he can shoot in a blistering variety of ways and has the movement to capitalize consistently. The question is about whether or not he has the spatial awareness to capitalize on them at the NHL level. Not only are we looking at a player a team must be confident in drafting, but they must be confident they can develop him as well. Which is fine? I don’t know where it’s written that a group of well-paid men can’t help a player create confidence and not simply leave it up to the player like some ghoulish Test Your Might rite of passage. Not every player can succeed by being left to their own devices. It’s time we stopped viewing that as a flaw to discard rather than a challenge to accept. There will be better players to pick at 18 (or 50) but not all of them will be better talents, and that’s what makes Miroshnichenko so fascinating.
The “Cool, I’ll learn about them later” Tier
Mattias Havelid (RHD, 5’9, 172lbs), Devin Kaplan (RW, 6’3, 198lbs), Noah Warren (RHD, 6’5, 225lbs), Alexander Suzdalev (LW, 6’2, 176lbs), Kenta Isogai (LW, 5’11, 154lbs), Jack Devine (RW, 5’11, 176lbs), Liam Steel (RHD, 6’6, 216lbs)
Why these players? They all fill more of a “needs” role. Havelid is a small right handed defenseman whose game resembles Rasmus Sandin a lot: nothing crazy or obvious in the way of skillset, but plays a nuanced, problem-solving game from the backend. Dallas has a decent amount of shooters among their forward ranks which is what makes Kaplan, Suzdalev, and Devine in particular so attractive: they’re pass-first types, with Kaplan being the most notable (Per Mitch Brown’s article, analytically, he grades out as an elite playmaker).
Warren and Steel are in that Grushnikov mold: not a lot of offense in them, but project as smooth-skating shutdown blueliners. Warren is projected to go in the third round, while Steel is not projected to be drafted at all. I think there’s something to be said for being able to learn the game so quickly. In Steel’s case, he learned to play hockey in his adolescent years in England. Warren, meanwhile, grew up on swimming, soccer, and basketball. As for Isogai, what’s not to love (late in the draft) about a Japanese winger who plays a skilled, hyper-determined game? For what it’s worth Will Scouch has him ranked #64 on his board.
Closing Thoughts and Predictions
This one should be fun. There’s enough talent within the first two rounds that we can expect something like a defensive version of the 2021 draft. While I don’t expect Dallas to draft defenders simply because they need them, I do think there’s enough defensive talent to justify picking a truckload of them in this particular draft.
I also don’t think the forward talent is so otherworldly at where Dallas is picking that they’ll be challenged to do otherwise. A lot of forwards in the second half of the first round don’t have a high ceiling in terms of production, and those that do have question marks about the rest of their game. The defenders, conversely, are all extremely well-rounded. With such a glut of centers in the pipeline, expect Dallas to focus on right wing when they do go forward. And when they do go forward, expect playmakers rather than shooters.
*A lot of players could go in this category — Jiri Kulich, Jimmy Snuggerud, Liam Ohgren, Lane Hutson — but I wanted to focus on players I think Dallas is more likely to draft.