The Dallas Stars are a team that embraces building talent through homegrown draft picks. From past picks like Mike Modano to more recent picks like Jason Robertson, the Stars usually hold onto the players they draft for major parts of their careers. Along with fellow 2017 Draft picks Miro Heiskanen and Jake Oettinger, Robertson is developing with a young core that can turn the Stars into a contender again.
While Robertson is emerging as a solid winger, not every breakout player the Stars drafted spent their best years with the team. This list will count the times that players were overlooked and ultimately had better careers outside of Dallas.
Matt Niskanen was drafted 28th overall by Dallas in the first round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. A native of Virginia, Minnesota, he attended the University of Minnesota-Duluth and had 31 points in 39 games his last year in college. He had a solid rookie season in 2007-08, posting 26 points in 78 games. He improved during his sophomore season, amassing 35 points over 80 games. His plus/minus plummeted from a plus-22 to a minus-11 in his second year. His time on ice dropped slightly in his third year, and he only scored 15 points in 74 games.
Niskanen was dealt in the 2010-11 season to the Pittsburgh Penguins, along with James Neal, for Alex Goligoski. At the time, former Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk praised this trade being made. Goligoski was a starting-caliber defenseman in a depth role in Pittsburgh and Niskanen’s point production had fallen off completely. When we look at this trade now, Dallas was a definite loser in this deal. Niskanen had 21 points in his first full season in Pittsburgh and scored 46 points in the 2013-14 season. In his four seasons with the Penguins, he totaled 85 points in 214 games. He only had 83 in his four seasons in Dallas.
Niskanen hit new heights when he signed a seven-year, $40 million contract with the Washington Capitals prior to the 2014-15 season. He played 390 games with the team, collecting 156 points over five seasons, including winning the Stanley Cup with Washington in 2018.
If anything, Goligoski was comparable to Niskanen in his production. Dallas loses on this trade because Goligoski was traded from Dallas prior to the 2016-17 season for a fifth-round pick in 2016. That pick ended up being Colton Point, who hasn’t had any production in the NHL yet.
Niskanen ended up having a 13-year career, nine seasons he did not spend in Dallas, while Goligoski only lasted six season in Dallas.
Neal was the Stars’ third pick in the second round in the 2005 NHL Draft, and was the third member of the Goligoski-Niskanen trade. He had three productive seasons in Dallas, amassing 131 points in 214 games. After the trade in the 2010-11 season, he scored 81 points in 80 games in his first full season in Pittsburgh. Neal also tallied a league-leading 18 points on the power play that same year.
His stats in Pittsburgh would be much more jarring if he was able to stay healthy. He only played 40 games in the 2012-13 season but had 36 points, and in the 2013-14 season had 61 points in 60 games. He was traded to Nashville for the 2014-15 season for Patrick Hornqvist and Nick Spalding. Over three seasons with Nashville, he about matched his stats with Dallas, scoring 136 points in 219 games
Whereas Niskanen was struggling with Dallas before he was traded, Neal was a solid point scorer. He immediately became a scoring threat with the Penguins and had continued success in with the Nashville Predators. The Stars missed out on someone they knew could produce, and he benefitted elsewhere.
Jack Campbell was drafted as the 11th-overall pick in the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Unlike Neal and Niskanen, Campbell was neither productive for the Stars, nor was his departure from the team very notable. He only played one career game for the Stars, a 6-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks during the 2013-14 season.
Campbell struggled with injuries and effectiveness while playing for Dallas’ AHL affiliate Texas Stars, and was ultimately traded to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Nick Ebert in June of 2016. The Kings were in the process of rebuilding during Campbell’s four-year stint with the club. After only playing in six games over his first two seasons in LA, he had a breakout 2018-19 season. In 31 games, he posted a .928 save percentage (SV%), ranked third amongst all goalies that year, and had a 2.30 goals-against average (GAA) that ranked fifth in the league that season.
He was traded the following season to the Toronto Maple Leafs, along with Kyle Clifford, in exchange for forward Trevor Moore, a 2020 third-round pick that became Alex Laferriere, and a conditional third-round pick in 2021. Campbell has rivaled fellow backstop Frederik Andersen for the starting job in Toronto, posting a.925 SV% and a 2.11 GAA in 19 games this season. Andersen also is set to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, opening the possibility that Campbell can be the starter next season.
Without Campbell on the roster, Dallas needed to overpay in order to fill their need at goaltender. Ben Bishop, who is on long-term injured reserve, is due to be paid just under $5 million per season for the next three years. Anton Khudobin is getting paid around $3.3 million per year for the next three years. The money spent on goalies creates less cap room to re-sign players or approach them in free agency.
Dallas is not, by any means, bad at drafting. They usually retain players, who spend a majority of their careers with the organization. However, with these three players, Dallas became impatient and let them go too quickly. All three contributed to teams that were considered Cup contenders. In the years that they flourished on other teams, the Stars had mediocre seasons and were left to miss what they once had.
Dallas Stars writer at ‘The Hockey Writers’. I’ve previously covered college sports at the University at Albany. I secretly love to analyze trades from the past and observe the impact on a team’s future.