Thursday, June 27, 2013

NHL Draft Day Approaches

I take great pride in following the local NHL club in the offseason, as it is a personal passion of mine more than it is a job.  Now, I will tell you with great confidence that I am not qualified to give you much more than I usually do - which is a feel for the Top 15 or so spots in the draft.  Sadly, for the last several years, the Stars have been in that range so this has turned into a fair amount relevant discussion.

Last year, when doing this breakdown, we actually nailed Radek Faksa as the guy the Stars would get in this very blog entry.  I agree that this is a very unlikely scenario for someone who is as poor at predictions as I am (Bruins in 6), but we can't just give up our attempt to hit 2 in a row, right?

The Stars have a number of great spots in this very deep, highly-praised draft on Sunday.  They will select at #10, #29, #40, #54, and #68 in the 1st 3 rounds.  5 picks in the Top 68 is highly disproportionate, and makes the Stars one of the top holders of currency in the early going of a very strong draft.  Obviously, it is a rare opportunity to either grab the 5 best players at those spots and continue to populate the organization with heralded prospects, or they can gather some of those chips together and move on up for a bolder strike and a player with a more likely upside.

Last year, I thought the Stars were in the 3rd tier of the draft with their pick at #13.  This year, I actually would say they are at the tail end of tier #2.  It isn't that different, really, except for the idea that it does appear that if they just hold the pick and take whoever falls to them, they should really get an exceptional player.  But, of course, that is excruciating as you wait and hope that the apple of your eye does make it to you.  If they feel that the 2nd tier does not match their evaluations on a man-for-man basis, then obviously, you strongly consider a leap up the board if you can do it by packaging #10 and either #40, #54, or #68 to shoot up different distances on the board to somewhere between #6 and #8.

The price is heavy for moving up - especially when teams know you have so many picks - but, the reward might be substantial.  That said, a new regime might be more inclined to fill in organizational gaps by simply making sure they have selected many kids who can increase the big picture possibilities in a 5-year plan.

The organization has gone through plenty of trouble to accumulate 2 1st rounders and 2 2nd rounders, and now it is time to make the most of it.

Alright.  Let's try to narrow down things at #10.

Top Tier (These Players have no chance in falling to the Stars so let's not waste much time here):

There have been 3 players at the top of the board since Christmas, and while beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it seems that most experts will claim that all 3 of these guys are destined for some level of NHL stardom.  Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones, and Jonathan Drouin are all thought of as absolute studs.  Seth Jones is the franchise defenseman in the group and has a skill set that is absolutely jaw dropping in a league that labels Top D-men as the rarest of commodities.  However, it should be noted that it is often difficult to project players on the blue-line as "can't miss" through the years.  And in a draft this good, if Jones is only "really good" and you passed on an unbelievable forward like MacKinnon or Drouin, you might be kicking yourself for quite a while.  MacKinnon is highly regarded as a center with a fantastic offensive game and seems to have all-around center capabilities.  Also, he is 17 years old so many feel that he is simply scratching the surface of his talent.  Drouin set juniors on fire this year with a scoring pace that was mind-boggling, and the experts believe he can convert to any of the 3 forward positions you so desire.  Both MacKinnon and Drouin are celebrated for their competitive edges and high motor drive, clearly attributes everyone wants.  There is one more player that likely belongs in this tier, and might tempt someone (Tampa Bay at #3 or Nashville at #4) to grab him and that is Finnish center Alexsander Barkov.  He is another player that excelled at only 17, and he has size at the center position that is prototypical for dominance at 6'3, 209.  He is another player that it seems is widely agreed upon as a tick below the top 3, but a tick above the next group.

Next Tier (These are players who are closely grouped together.  The good news is that at least one will get to the Stars.  The bad news is that even they will only find out on Sunday.)

The next group has a number of European prospects, which of course makes things very fuzzy for evaluation purposes.  On the other hand, Jim Nill has worked in Detroit for long enough to know all of their secrets, and if anyone has consistently and properly evaluated European/Russian prospects, it is certainly our friends in Michigan.  That group is highlighted by the very impressive winger, Valeri Nichushkin.  He is massive and a freight train coming down the wing.  Of all of the players in this tier, he would be the one worth trading up to go get if all things were equal.  However, he does come with the considerable leverage of being comfortable and well paid in the KHL in Russia.  This is an issue and will always be a delicate item to be navigated for any team that selects him.  But, he sure looks like on his day he can be the best player on the ice.  He has absolutely jaw-dropping highlights that make you wonder how good he can really be.  But, he also has the KHL factor which has caused some to drop.  Don't count on it, but that is certainly in the back of the Stars' minds as a possibility.

There is also Elias Lindholm, a tenacious 2-way center from Finland who may not have offensive superstar capabilities, but there is a always going to be a place in this world for a Top 6 center who can fill all needs well.  Then, you might argue the 7th best player available is Canadian defenseman Darnell Nurse.  Nurse is another massive young man, 6'5, who has an edge to his game and can really skate.  He is famously the son of a professional CFL football player and nephew (through marriage) of Donovan McNabb.  Of all of the defensemen besides Seth Jones, Nurse is the one I am most smitten by.  He really looks like he could be a special player and capable of that top pairing spot that you always covet.

So, that is your top 7 by most people's thought process.  If any of them make it to #10, you will see dancing at the Stars table, but it isn't very likely.  I would be very delighted to walk away with Nichushkin or Nurse and might be tempted to give up a 3rd and #10 to make it happen, but I assume that might not be enough.  Also, I don't think the Stars necessarily value Nurse substantially the next tier of defensemen that includes another massive Russian, Nikita Zadorov (6'5, 230) who skates like he is 6'1, but also seems to be a bit docile and gentle.  Finnish product Rasmus Ristolainen is thought of as a sure thing with a lower ceiling, but a higher floor as NHL d-man, and then another giant who is just figuring out his game is Samuel Morin who stands at 6'7 and does seem to enjoy the physical side of the game.

There are also 2 more centers who are constantly named in this group and should be on your radar for Sunday.  Sean Monahan is the best of this group and has many supporters, despite a less than amazing skating ability.  He is another player that might turn heads if he dips to #10.  Max Domi, another famous son, has a fantastic offensive game even if his dad didn't, but seems to have that same competitive attitude Tie had.

So, there are 12 names to consider.  I don't think the Stars are in on all of them, but that is the landscape for the possible names on their list and the teams in front of them.  If someone not on this list breaks into the top 9, such as Curtis Lazar, Hunter Shinkaruk or even Ryan Pulock, figure that the Stars will be happy as names they like will get pushed down further.

So, from there, here is a little video on the Top 5 names for the Stars at #10.

#1 - Valeri Nichushkin

#2 - Darnell Nurse

#3 - Sean Monahan

#4 - Rasmus Ristolainen

#5 - Nikita Zadorov

This is a bit different than last year in that I think the Stars might be more aggressive for the right guy.  But, at #10, they cannot predict the dominoes in front of them.  I think the top 2 names Nichushkin and Nurse are long gone.  That leaves Monahan, Zadorov, and Ristolainen as the choice most likely.

Rather than making a specific pick this year like I did on Faksa last year, I am just going to sit with my order of preference.  As unlikely as #1 and #2 are, I think aggressiveness might be the play.  Monahan is also doubtful to get there, but they would be very delighted.  Then, the fall back are the two defensemen.

But, this time around, all are highly thought of and exciting to add.  Very excited about Sunday and the 3-5 premium picks the Stars have in their pocket.

So, Bob, what is your actual prediction here for the 2013 Stars pick?

The guy I want them to get?  Darnell Nurse.
The guy who I hope against hope that he drops as a dream scenario?  Nichushkin.
The guy I think they likely end up with if they sit at #10?  Ristolainen.

That is the best I can do.

Go get em, Mr Nill.

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