Although we have not reached 2017 yet in our Stars Draft Picks series, I wanted to skip ahead. Why? Because the 2017 draft class has had their fingerprints all over the past two seasons for Dallas. Is it their best draft class in franchise history? Let’s find out.
First Round (Third Overall): Miro Heiskanen, Defense (HIFK Helsinki, SM-liiga)
Miro Heiskanen is no longer a secret in the NHL. After impressing Stars fans for two seasons, he had his coming-out party in the 2020 Playoffs where he tallied 26 points in 27 games. Since then, the 22-year-old defenseman has only gotten better. While his offense was down last season, he solidified himself as one of the best defensemen in the league. His speed, skill, and awareness on the ice allow him to make plays that not many players can make. Whether it is a swift move out of his own zone, a sweeping poke check that ends a dangerous rush, or an incredible back-door pass that leads to a goal, he finds a way to make an impact all over the ice.
This season, Heiskanen has recorded 15 points in 19 games for the Stars and continues to provide far more than just offense.
“Oh, Miro… Classic Miro… Standard. 29:07, one goal, two assists. Just Miro. Standard. Two hits. He’s hitting guys, too. What else you want from him?”– Stars forward Tyler Seguin
One underrated aspect of Heiskanen’s game is his ability to avoid injury. In his NHL career, Heiskanen has rarely missed a game while playing heavy minutes on a nightly basis. Many believe he is a future Norris Trophy winner, but it seems that “future” may come sooner than anticipated.
First Round (26th Overall): Jake Oettinger, Goaltender (Boston University)
Jake Oettinger was a target for the Dallas Stars in the 2017 Draft. In fact, they traded their 29th and 70th picks to the Chicago Blackhawks in order to move up and select him at 26th overall. An injury to Ben Bishop pushed Oettinger into the NHL much faster than expected as he backed up Anton Khudobin throughout the 2020 Playoffs. During that time, he played some late-game minutes, was able to learn from Bishop and Khudobin, and experienced the camaraderie and chemistry that the Edmonton bubble provided.
In 2020-21, he was thrown into his first real NHL action as Bishop was expected to miss most of the regular season. Oettinger earned a win in his first start against the Detroit Red Wings and began to show that he may be ahead of his development schedule. Seemingly overtaking the starting role from Khudobin, Oettinger finished the season with a .911 save percentage (SV%) and 2.36 goals-against average (GAA) in 29 games.
Despite his great start, the addition of veteran goaltender Braden Holtby forced Dallas to send Oettinger to the American Hockey League to start the season. As he has done with every other challenge in his career, he handled it like a professional, worked hard, and eventually got his chance one month into the season. Since his return, he has a 4-0-0 record and leads the NHL in both statistical categories with a .959 SV% and 1.26 GAA.
“He’s very calm in the net, and he’s reading the play very well, his anticipation is right on, no rebounds, he’s swallowing pucks, he’s right on top of his game.”– Stars head coach Rick Bowness
Perhaps his best attribute is his calm demeanor, a rare trait in a young goalie. The 22-year-old has the ability to remain calm and in control throughout the game. Even when the game is hectic as it so often is in the NHL, his demeanor never changes. This allows his team to play with confidence as they trust that any mistakes will be mopped up by their young goaltender. While Oettinger is considered the future for the Dallas Stars, he has continued to show that he is more than ready for the NHL right now.
Second Round (39th Overall): Jason Robertson, Left Wing (Kingston Frontenacs, OHL)
Jason Robertson also benefitted from the taxi squad experience during the 2020 Stars’ playoff run. After struggling in the first three games of last season, Bowness decided to make him a healthy scratch so that he could view the game from a different perspective. Since that point, he has been unstoppable. The 22-year-old forward exploded onto the scene, racking up 45 points in 48 games to finish the season. He became a huge part of the Stars’ top line along with Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski, and found a way to make an impact in each and every game. Robertson finished second in Calder Trophy voting for the league’s best rookie, but outperformed every rookie over the final few months of the season.
“He wasn’t great in training camp, and he knew it, and he really did a good job on working on his weaknesses, and he changed the player he was. I think one of his biggest strengths is how hard he works and how he learns from his mistakes. You look at where he is now, and he’s got to be the most improved player in the league.”– Rick Bowness
Heading into this season, expectations were high, but so was the focus of opposing teams. After missing the first six games with a lower-body injury, Robertson has recorded 13 points in 13 games for the Stars. The top line has been dominant, the power play is lethal, and the Stars have been on a roll as of late, largely due to the performance of Robertson.
Continuing the theme of this draft class, he is far ahead of the curve when it comes to his development and has already shown the ability to be an elite player in the NHL.
Fifth Round (132nd Overall): Jacob Peterson, Center (Frolunda, Sweden-Jrs)
The final piece of this draft class may in fact be the most unique. Jacob Peterson entered his first NHL training camp this year after playing exclusively in Sweden. As the 22-year-old forward adjusted to the smaller rinks of North America, he opened the eyes of the Stars staff with his hockey IQ and playmaking ability throughout the preseason. As each round of cuts was made, he surprisingly remained on the active roster and eventually earned a spot on opening night.
As if his story was not already great enough, he scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game, opening the scoring against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Since then, he has tallied four points in 13 games for the Stars and has played a complete overall game. As the team has found their depth, he has found chemistry with Radek Faksa and Alexander Radulov, providing a balanced trio that can play a complete 200-foot game. In the Stars’ most recent game against the Arizona Coyotes, Peterson left the game for repairs after smashing his face into the end boards. Just a few moments later, he returned to the ice and scored the go-ahead goal, proving that he has the toughness, maturity, and skill to play at the highest level.
“I think his skill is the first thing, but the thing I noticed right away was his confidence and his mind. He’s not your typical rookie.”– Stars forward Tyler Seguin
As Peterson continues to impress and surprise with each game that passes, Dallas believes they stole a big-time player in the fifth round.
Yes, the Stars have had successful drafts in the past. However, it is hard to find a single year that comes close to the success of 2017. At just 22 years old, these four players have already accounted for 338 games played for Dallas. Heiskanen will win a Norris Trophy, Oettinger will be among the elite goaltenders for years to come, Robertson is already averaging nearly one point per game, and Peterson is years beyond his expected development. The 2017 Draft was a massive success for the Stars, the best in franchise history, and they are reaping the benefits this season.
Sam Nestler is a credentialed Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the Stars, the NHL, and college hockey. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!