The Dallas Stars hired a new general manager and a new head coach this offseason. Theoretically that means a new direction for the entire franchise, and that includes the NHL draft, which concluded June 30.
The Stars had nine selections, but the ones that were the most important were the first five. Thanks to some of those trades the Stars made this past season, they had five selections in the first 68 picks, giving new general manager Jim Nill and new head coach Lindy Ruff plenty of chances to stake out a new direction.
Jason Dickinson, a Canadian, turns 18 on July 4 and looks like the kid who delivers your newspaper.
That direction was clear. Skill won the day.
Six of the Stars’ nine overall selections were centers or wings, including their first three selections — Valeri Nichushkin, Jason Dickinson and Remi Elie.
The NHL Scouting Service considered Nichushkin the most skilled Russian player in the draft, and Nill, during his days as an assistant general manager in Detroit, had pretty good luck drafting Russians.
Nichushkin is barely 18 and is already a budding star in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. Many experts believed Nuchushkin wouldn’t slip to No. 10, but some teams were scared off by potential contract issues in the KHL.
Nill told the media on Sunday that Nichushkin could be ready to play in the NHL next year but won’t push him. But Nichushkin may actually do the pushing. He’s already said publicly that his desire is to play in the NHL right away, but he didn’t rule out returning to Russia if things don’t work out.
Nichushkin told the media that he has worked out a way to get out of his KHL contract, that he wants to be in Dallas this week for prospect camp and that he wants to work out a contract quickly. He’s drawing comparisons to Alexander Ovechkin, though it’s clear Nichushkin is still raw.
Otherwise, Nill selected talent that he admits need a “three- to five-year process” to mature. Dickinson, a Canadian, turns 18 on July 4 and looks like the kid who delivers your newspaper. But he has two years under his belt in the Ontario Hockey League, a Junior A league, and he has scored 82 points in two seasons.
Elie, another Canadian teenager, scored 63 points in two junior seasons, one of which was with London in the OHL. In the second round, the Stars even nabbed a potential goaltender of the future in Philippe Desrosiers.
If you look hard enough, you can see a starting lineup four years from now.
You rarely get the immediate payoff in the NHL draft that you might receive in the NFL or NBA. In fact, the NHL draft is more akin to the MLB draft, where it’s expected for young talent to sign and head to the minors immediately for development.
Player development was Nill’s primary job in Detroit and ostensibly the reason he was hired in Dallas. The talent he cultivated as the Red Wings’ assistant general manager and as the general manager of the Red Wings’ top minor-league affiliate helped the Wings win four Stanley Cup championships. So he has the track record.
But for Stars fans who were expecting a quick fix, there is none when it comes to the NHL draft. For Stars fans who can be a little more patient, Nill may be laying the groundwork for something great. The Sporting News gave the Stars’ overall draft an A.
But only time will tell if this high-on-promise draft will lead to headlines down the road.