A year removed from their fifth Stanley Cup Final appearance, the 2020-21 Dallas Stars failed to make the playoffs. The 2020-21 campaign was tough; the Stars battled through many injuries to key players and struggled when games stretched out to overtime.
The offseason will not be easy either. The Stars will need to re-sign Miro Heiskanen and multiple depth players with little available cap room this offseason. Also, the upcoming expansion draft guarantees the Seattle Kraken will take a player from the Stars.
Fortunately, the Stars stayed quiet at the trade deadline and kept all of their 2021 draft picks. These picks hold huge importance to the team’s future. The team’s core is starting to age, and injuries to forwards Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov were partial reasons for missing the playoffs. The Stars have also started a partial rebuild, with rookie winger Jason Robertson skating on the top line during the final few months of the season and goalie Jake Oettinger splitting time with Anton Khudobin.
The Stars will get the 15th pick in the draft lottery at 96.8 percent odds. While the impact of this year’s draft may not come until a few seasons from now, let’s look at draft picks at each position the Stars should target in this year’s draft.
Mason McTavish, Peterborough (OHL)
Mason McTavish was the Canadian U18 team’s co-captain, which won gold in the IIHF U18 World Championships in early May 2021, where he scored 11 points in 7 games. He was playing on loan this season in the Swiss League for EHC Olten, for which he had 11 points in 13 games. Additionally, in the Swiss League playoffs, he scored seven points in four games.
He seems like a solid forward who may have some advanced skills shown by his competent play in Europe. McTavish has great scoring ability with a solid wrist shot and can win most of his faceoffs. Transversely, he also has skill in his own defensive zone and was used regularly on the penalty kill.
McTavish wasn’t able to play in the OHL this season due to COVID restrictions, but his performance at the U18s has made his draft stock skyrocket. He won’t be able to make an immediate impact on an NHL roster without growing his skills in the minors, but he will be a steal if the Stars can get him at the 15th pick.
Projected selection: Round 1, pick 15.
Samu Salminen, University of Denver (NCAA)
Samu Salminen has played professionally in Finland since the 2017-18 season. He was an alternate captain with the Jokerit U20 team, amassing 26 points in 17 games this season. He was the captain of the U18 Finland World Juniors team and scored nine points in seven games.
Salminen played on the Jokerit U20 team since the 2019-20 season and has tallied 46 points in 40 games. He has good size, with the ability to handle the puck and above-average passing ability. His skating skills are still underdeveloped, assessing that he may be more of a project than a complete player when he comes out of the draft.
Projected selection: Round 2, pick 46.
Fabian Lysell, Luleå HF (SHL)
Fabian Lysell is another prospect that may slip under the radar. He is a sure-fire first-round draft pick and is considered one of the better all-around players on this draft board. He had 13 points in 11 games with the Frölunda HC J20 team, and his points fell off a bit when he transferred to Luleå HF, only tallying 3 points in 26 games. He had a good showing at the U18, scoring nine points in seven games for Team Sweeden.
Lysell has incredible agility and speed that can make him stand out against other prospects in the first round. Unlike McTavish, who may be a year or two away, Lysell’s speed could be effective immediately for a Stars team that couldn’t keep up with other teams in overtime.
Lysell has the potential to be a top 10 draft pick, but this year’s draft doesn’t have the same hype surrounding it as last year’s did. Players may fall for no apparent reason, and Lysell struggled with his new team. There is a possibility that he could slip a few spots back and be picked by the Stars.
Projected selection: Round 1, pick 15
Cameron Berg, University of Nebraska-Omaha (NCAA):
Cameron Berg played in USHL with the Muskegon Lumberjacks for the 2020-21 season. He scored 58 points in 51 games and four points in four playoff games. He was traded from the Omaha Lancers to the Lumberjacks during the 2019-20 season, and his production exploded. He had four points in 14 games with the Lancers during that season and had 30 points in 32 games with the Lumberjacks. Berg said his lack of production was because the Western Conference was more defensive-oriented, and playing in the Eastern Conference has better suited his game. He is committed to the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
Berg can play as a winger or a center and has enough versatility to move up and down the lineup. He works well on the boards and has the ability to separate himself into open ice. While his offensive stats are impressive, he struggles somewhat on the defensive end of the ice. He will need to get bigger to be productive in skirmishes on the boards, and he needs to get better when he passes. He will be a project player who will probably go in the middle rounds.
Projected selection: Round 4, pick 111
Logan Mailloux, RHD, SK Lejon (HockeyEttan):
Logan Mailloux was one of the players that played this year despite COVID canceling the OHL season. He played for the SK Lejon in the HockeyEttan league in Sweden and had a decent year, scoring 15 points in 19 games.
Mailloux has all the aspects that make a defender great. He can push shooters out of the slot and into tough angle shots on the boards, he can get into the passing lanes to break up a possible scoring chance, and he has some offensive ability of his own. Mailloux is quick to jump into a play offensively but has enough speed not to get caught outnumbered. He can improve on certain aspects of his game, but he is a safe pick in the third round.
Projected round/pick selection: Round 3, pick 79.
Topias Vilen, Lahden Pelicans (Liiga):
Topias Vilen played for the Lahden Pelicans in Finland during the 2020-21 season. He scored eight points in 35 games before being put on loan to the Heinolan Peliitat of the Mestis league, also in Finland, where he had one point through six games. Vilen also played in the U18 tournament for Finland as an alternate captain, tallying four points through seven games.
Vilen is an exciting prospect for the Stars, as they have a deep-rooted history with Finnish players. Miro Heiskanen, Esa Lindell, and Roope Hintz are all Finnish nationals and high contributing members of the current Stars’ core. Vilen has the ability to jump in offensively and create chances for his team.
Project selection: Round 5, pick 142
Joseph Vrbetic, North Bay Battalion (OHL):
Joe Vrbetic did not play this season in the OHL, and it will hurt his draft stock. In the 2019-20 season, he struggled with a 4.23 goals against average and a .881 save percentage in 42 games. Despite that, he is listed at 6-foot-6 and has the athleticism to stop low shots. Vrbetic may need extra time in the minors to develop, but his size and agility are two reassuring traits.
With three starter-caliber goalies on the NHL team, the Stars have the availability to take on a long-term project at the position. The Stars’ minor league affiliate also has three currently signed goalies; two of them were undrafted free agents. Sure, Anton Khudobin could be lost to the Kraken in the expansion draft, but Ben Bishop will be healthy next season and give enough depth to the team.
I’d personally like to take Topias Vilen in the fifth round, then see if Vrbetic can fall into the sixth round since the Stars don’t need to rush to fill the position, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Projected selection: Round 5, pick 142.
Edwin Mustafic, BIK Karlskoga J20 (Sweden):
Edwin Mustafic is yet another player whose draft stock was affected by COVID. He played just eight games on the BIK Karlskoga J18 team, posting a 2.76 goals against average with a .907 save percentage. He was brought up to the J20 squad and has yet to play a game for them. Mustafic stays square to the net and challenges shooters in close. He has good fundamentals and is fast on his feet.
Related: THW’s 2021 NHL Draft Guide
Dallas has no deficiencies at goalie, so there is little risk on a player who may take a few extra years to develop. Mustafic is a good draft option at goalie if the Stars are unable to draft Vrbetic. Look for him to be the Stars’ last pick in the draft if they do select him.
Projected selection: Round 7, pick 206.
Who Should They Take?
The first round in this year’s draft looks full of top-six wingers who can develop into solid contributors for their teams. McTavish and Lysell have the potential to be selected before the Stars pick at 15, but I feel that at least one of them will still be on the board when Dallas is on the clock.
I predict the Stars take a defenseman in either the second or third round, but plenty of exciting prospects will fall in the draft because they didn’t play due to COVID.
If the Stars take a goalie, it will be in the later rounds. They will likely focus on forwards and defensive depth because Jake Oettinger is young, plus Anton Khudobin and Ben Bishop are under contract for the next few years.