The draft lottery’s biggest winner was the New Jersey Devils, who secured the first overall selection and the choice between the draft’s two top stars in Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier. The biggest mover in the lottery was the Philadelphia Flyers, who went from picking in the middle of the first round in an average draft to a top-two selection and a chance at one of the draft’s best talents. But if there’s one team that could have the biggest immediate benefit from the way the ping pong balls fell in late-April, it might be the Dallas Stars, who landed the third-overall pick in the upcoming draft.
Unlike the Devils, Flyers or really any of the other clubs who dot the top-10 selections in the draft, the Stars are the one team that’s in a situation where making an honest-to-goodness run at the Stanley Cup next season is well within the realm of possibility. The talent up front? Check. A goaltender capable of taking them to the top? Ben Bishop certainly fits the bill. And coach Ken Hitchcock has more than proven he can lead the way. He’ll undoubtedly make the Stars better next season and has a nice bit of history in Dallas, bringing the league’s most prized hardware to town back in 1999.
But the reason the third-overall selection can make more impact for the Stars next season than the first- or second-overall picks will make in New Jersey and Philadelphia, respectively, isn’t because whoever’s taken with the pick can come into an already-powerful lineup and produce Calder Trophy calibre numbers. Rather, it’s that the pick can be used as trade fodder, shipped away to bolster a team that is looking to bulk up its roster. It’s a genius move by Nill, too, because his is a club that is in position to win now, with prime-aged stars and a goaltender with playoff pedigree. Going for it now makes more sense than taking a player who stands to hit the NHL in two, three or four seasons’ time.
To suggest the Stars are willing to move the pick is far more than speculation, too. It’s something GM Jim Nill has made no secrets about. In speaking with SiriusXM’s NHL Network Radio Thursday, Nill said he has “talked to other teams already about possibly moving that pick (and) getting an established player back.” And there’s a good chance there are some takers on that offer.
As we head into the June expansion draft, there are several teams who are going to be in tough situations with GMs under the threat of losing valuable assets for nothing. The expectation, though it’s not guaranteed, is that it could very well lead to one of the more active trade markets we’ve seen in some time. In the same interview with NHL Network, Nill acknowledged that, as well. And for Dallas, that mean the perfect storm for finding a fit to fill out what has been a largely underperforming blueline over the past few seasons.
With the expansion draft in mind, the most obvious trade partners if the Stars are seeking an “established” defender are the Minnesota Wild and Anaheim Ducks, both of whom are in danger of losing a top-half-of-the-roster talent due to the draft’s protection rules. For the Ducks, the choice could come down to whether or not they want to lose a defenseman such as Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen or Hampus Lindholm, while the Wild have to be concerned about the likes of Jonas Brodin or Marco Scandella being plucked off their roster. But Nill doesn’t have to be limited to targeting those two clubs, because there could be plenty of teams in the midst of rebuilding who could be interested in acquiring the third-overall pick.
The draft choice could be enough, for instance, for Dallas to pry someone like Alexander Edler away from the Vancouver Canucks. Or maybe it’s enough for the Carolina Hurricanes to part ways with Justin Faulk, especially with a defense corps that already has Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin, Ryan Murphy and a few up-and-comers on the way. How about targeting the New York Islanders, who have a logjam of their own, and trying to pry away Nick Leddy or Travis Hamonic? Maybe the Los Angeles Kings, in need of a shakeup, would consider shipping either Jake Muzzin or Alec Martinez to Dallas if the third-overall pick was coming the other way.
The above are only examples, of course, and it’s not likely to be a one-for-one deal that occurs. These things tend to be more complicated than that. The point stands, though, that the Stars could use the selection not to build up their mediocre stock of prospects, but to finally solidify a defense that has been in dire need of it in recent years.
However, maybe it isn’t safe to assume that Nill is only interested in moving the Stars’ third-overall pick for a defenseman.
Run-and-gun offense and a Texas-sized goals for total has been Dallas’ calling card over the past two seasons, but the years of the high-powered Stars offense might be fading away. Yes, Dallas still has Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza, and those three alone can help power the Stars offense this coming campaign, but gone in the off-season are Patrick Sharp and Ales Hemsky. Aside from the fact the pair account for nearly 60 goals over the past three seaons, the losses of Hemsky and Sharp leave the second line in shambles. As of Friday, and based on the past season’s minutes, the Stars’ second line would feature Antoine Roussel, Cody Eakin and Devin Shore. That’s hardly a unit that strikes fear into opposing defenses.
So, with that in mind, why not explore the opportunities that exist up front?
The third-overall pick might not be enough to land one of the potential big-name trade chips, such as Colorado Avalanche winger Matt Duchene, but maybe it’s enough to add an intriguing piece that a team could lose in expansion. Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg is an obvious example, as is Minnesota’s Jason Zucker or Nino Niederreiter. Columbus Blue Jackets winger Matt Calvert or center William Karlsson could also fit the bill. Or how about the Detroit Red Wings’ Gustav Nyquist or Tomas Tatar? Speculation has been that the Oilers are also reportedly considering moving Jordan Eberle and it could be worth kicking the tires on that, though Edmonton would probably like to land some defensive help in return. Again, only examples and the deals would likely be more involved, but there is definitely a crop of players Nill could consider if he’s looking for additional offense if or when he moves away the pick.
That Nill has openly said he’s been exploring the market, though, likely means he’s going to search high and low for ways to use the third-overall selection to improve his club next season. And given he told NHL Network that "early June will be an exciting time for player movement,” you might be able to count on the Stars GM being right in the middle of it.
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