After two short years as general manager for the Dallas Stars, Jim Nill has accomplished one of his goals for the organization.
Through the NHL Draft, he has bolstered depth in every position group with young prospects knocking at the NHL door or making their initial impact with the big team.
Moves made early last season made room for several young defensemen to make their mark on the organization, most notably 22-year-old John Klingberg, who tied for fourth on the Stars in scoring last season with 40 points in 65 games.
The young tandem of Jamie Benn, 25, and Tyler Seguin, 23, pushed Dallas to a 3.13 goals per game average this season, bested only by Stanley Cup finalist Tampa Bay’s 3.16 per game.
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So, for the first time since joining the organization, Nill has true flexibility to take the best player available in the Stars’ six picks in the NHL Draft, beginning with No. 12 overall in Friday night’s first round.
“It doesn’t change, no matter where you pick,” Nill said. “You’re goal is to get the best player. The ultimate goal is to hopefully draft two or three players, [that] three, four or five years down the road, eventually play for your team.”
For all the work Benn and Seguin did to put Dallas at the top of the league in offensive production —accounting for making up 26 percent of the team’s total offense — they were only two of the three Stars players who finished with more than 40 points.
So, with the Stars’ first-round draft pick, a high-output goal-scorer might be high on Nill’s wish list.
The majority of draft experts lean toward Dallas selecting right wing Timo Meier of the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
In 61 QMJHL games last season, the 18-year-old Meier scored 44 goals and had 90 points, good enough for 11thin the league’s regular season. Left wing Kyle Connor of the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League and center Pavel Zacha of the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting are also some of the projected first-round options for the Stars.
Consistency at goaltender was the Stars’ fatal flaw last season, keeping them just short of a repeat trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs after breaking a five-year playoff drought the previous season. The Stars finished 27th in the league in goals against per game, averaging 3.13 with starting goalie Kari Lehtonen allowing 181 goals this season, second most in the league behind Arizona’s Mike Smith (187).
Waiting in the wings are Jack Campbell, a 23-year-old who signed a one-year contract extension this summer, and 19-year-old Philippe Desrosiers, who played for Rimouski Oceanic of the OMJHL last year.
Nill said it will be important to try to draft a goalie.
“You always want to draft a goalie in the draft, but like every other position, we’re going to see who that player is we want to pick, doesn’t matter if it’s first round or second round or all rounds after that,” Nill said.
Dallas found an instant contributor in right wing Valeri Nichushkin, the 10th overall pick in the 2013 draft. He had 34 points in 79 games during his rookie season two seasons ago. He played in only eight games last season after recovering from hip surgery.
That kind of instant gratification most likely won’t be available to the Stars at No. 12 in this draft.
“Other than the top three or five players, history has just shown it’s a long process,” Nill said. “Even for the top picks that get drafted, that first year is a bumpy road for them.”
In the Stars’ regular-season schedule released Thursday, Dallas will play 12 back-to-back sets this season, with 17 of those games played away from the American Airlines Center.
Dallas opens their regular season at home at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 8 against the Pittsburgh Penguins and wraps the season April 9 at home against Nashville.
The Stars’ longest homestand is five games from March 11-19, and they will play a season- high eight home games in March and December.
BB&T Center, Sunrise, Fla.
Round 1 — 6 p.m. Friday, NBC Sports
Round 2-7 — 9 a.m. Saturday, NHL Network