With NHL Draft weekend in the rear-view mirror, the Dallas Stars gear up for development camp having made little noise. While such an approach may not have been exciting, it was precisely the way general manager Jim Nill and company needed to approach the event.
Far too often in the past decade the Stars have made a splash at the draft by taking chances on prospects like Denis Gurianov in 2015 and Jack Campbell in 2010 when they should have chosen the best player available. So, to say the Stars had a ‘boring’ draft is promising. Here’s a look at the four members of the Stars’ 2019 class, as well as the trade made with the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday.
Thomas Harley (1st Round, 18th Overall)
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3, 193 lbs.
Team: Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
Stats: 68 games, 11 goals, 47 assists, 58 points, minus-15 plus/minus rating
Strengths: Skating ability, offensive upside, vision, size
Weaknesses: Defensive zone
Often compared to Thomas Chabot of the Ottawa Senators and Jake Gardiner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Harley was an intelligent pick with the 18th selection. The Stars have had a strange aversion to taking the best player available with their first-round picks, and, while Harley may not have been the top prospect on the board, he was in that conversation.
The Syracuse, New York native was relied on heavily in his sophomore campaign with the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads and rose to the task. Harley posted 11 goals and 58 points in 68 games in 2018-19, after only putting up 15 points in 62 games the year prior. The rise in production can be attributed to both his development and the fact that he was thrust into a top-pairing role last season.
Harley’s struggles in his own end caused him to yo-yo up and down the first-round draft rankings throughout the season, but he remained projected for the first round because of his elite play-making ability (his 47 assists ranked fourth among all OHL defensemen) combined with a skating ability rarely seen in a 6-foot-3 frame. The 17-year-old has the potential to be a steal and could anchor the left side of Dallas’ blue line along with Miro Heiskanen and Esa Lindell for years to come.
Samuel Sjolund (4th Round, 111th Overall)
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1, 172 lbs.
Team: Sweden AIK J20 (SuperElit)
Stats: 31 games, 9 goals, 6 assists, 15 points, minus-4
Strengths: Puck-handling, skating, positioning, gap control
Weaknesses: Inconsistency, strength
The fourth-round selection was the Stars’ second pick in the draft and was by far the biggest reach of the day. Some pre-draft rankings had Sjolund going as low as the seventh round, but anything goes once the draft moves past round three. Sjolund hails from Stockholm, Sweden and is another left-shooting defenseman, making the position one of the Stars’ strongest in terms of young talent.
The 6-foot-1 blueliner played the majority of the season for AIK J20 in the SuperElit in his home country and tucked home 9 goals and 15 points in 31 games. He is the epitome of a European defenseman: smooth on his edges, calm with the puck and excellent with body positioning in his own zone. However, Sjolund will need to put on some muscle if he hopes to make the jump to the NHL; the smaller ice and physical play won’t be friendly to his current stature. The 18-year-old is a bit of a project, but, with the defensemen already in the Stars’ system, Sjolund can take all the time he needs.
Nicholas Porco (5th Round, 142nd Overall)
Position: Left Wing
Height/Weight: 6-feet, 176 lbs.
Team: Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Stats: 67 games, 20 goals, 16 assists, 36 points, minus-5
Strengths: Speed, goal scoring, compete level, penalty killing
Weaknesses: Lacks elite skill
He was the only forward selected by the Stars in 2019, but Nicholas Porco is everything you look for in a late-round selection. The later rounds are less about finding players with abundant skill and more about identifying players who can be an asset in specific areas of the game. For a team like the Stars, defined by quickness in transition and stingy defense, Porco checks the right boxes.
Two of the most notable aspects of Porco’s game are his speed and relentless forecheck. He hounds opposing defensemen and forces them to make poor decisions with the puck, which is an asset head coach Jim Montgomery can never have enough of. In addition, Porco is known for being an effective penalty killer—yet another trait that will help him in the Stars organization.
The beauty of Porco, is that he notched 20 goals in 67 games for the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL. He possesses the ability to add secondary scoring, and that is something the Stars desperately need. Only time will tell if that skillset will translate to the big stage, but the possibility of adding a speedy penalty killer with a scoring touch is something to be excited about.
Ben Brinkman (6th Round, 173rd Overall)
Height/Weight: 6-feet, 216 lbs.
Team: University of Minnesota (NCAA)
Stats: 38 games, 1 goal, 6 assists, 7 points, plus-11
Strengths: Mobility, strength, physicality, hockey IQ
Weaknesses: Offensive production
Ben Brinkman is another example of what a solid, safe draft pick looks like. The third defenseman chosen by the Stars has all the right tools to be a steady stay-at-home presence on the back end. There isn’t much potential as far as skill and offensive upside are concerned, but the 216-pounder’s combination of strength, mobility and smarts more than make up for it.
Most hockey players don’t play in the NCAA until the age of 20, but the Minnesota-native accelerated his high school education to play for the University of Minnesota as a 17-year-old freshman. As a result, Brinkman spent last season competing against men up to seven years older than him and he led the Gophers in plus/minus with a plus-11 rating.
Many may be turned off by his point totals, but Brinkman’s maturity on and off the ice may make him the most NHL-ready prospect chosen by the Stars in 2019. With the departures of hard-nosed defensemen like Roman Polak looming in 2020, Brinkman may be able to step up sooner rather than later.
Hartman for Pitlick
Two days after the draft concluded, the Stars and Flyers swapped bottom-six forwards. Tyler Pitlick was shipped to Philadelphia in return for Ryan Hartman. It didn’t make headlines, but it’s a move that benefits the Stars.
Pitlick was a serviceable forward during his time in Dallas, however, he struggled at various points in the 2018-19 season. His 27 points and plus-9 rating from 2017-18 faded to 12 points and a minus-2 rating in 47 games last season.
Meanwhile, Hartman has the potential to contribute as Pitlick did, plus more. The three-year NHLer contributed 12 goals and 26 points in 2018-19 between his time with the Flyers and Nashville Predators, and eclipsed the 30-point plateau in both seasons prior. Additionally, Hartman brings a gritty edge that Pitlick has never shown. In short, the Stars acquired a player to add a few goals while also filling the energy role that was left vacant when Antoine Roussel departed.
This weekend may prove to be a big step forward for the Dallas Stars. Not only did they finally approach the first round of the NHL draft with a ‘best player available’ mentality and add a high-quality prospect in Thomas Harley, but the additions of Porco and Brinkman are low-risk, high-reward moves. The thought process is a welcome change for fans who have watched the team squander several important draft picks in the past.
Furthermore, the Stars addressed two issues with the addition of Hartman. He has the ability to electrify the home crowd on any given night with his physicality but can also take some of the offensive load off of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. If Jim Nill is able to re-sign Mats Zuccarello, this Stars team will be in good shape.
A native of Dallas, TX, Travis grew up a Stars fan and vowed to play hockey at the NCAA level. He achieved that goal as a defenseman at Lebanon Valley College (DIII), and was even named an AHCA Academic All-American following his junior season. While at Lebanon Valley, Travis worked for three years as a staff writer and editor for his college newspaper. He now joins The Hockey Writers eager to cover the game he’s spent his life in.