Monday, June 21, 2010

NHL Draft Features on the Dallas Stars Website: Draft Day Magic

With the NHL Draft right around the corner. Dallas Stars Website Writer Bob Matuszak writes about the some of the biggest impact draft picks in team history. Some of the picks include Mike Modano, Brendan Morrow plus some of the more recent picks like Jamie Benn, James Neal and Steve Ott. Also some info on teams that have gone from the bottom of the barrel to powerhouse in a short order thanks to the NHL Draft in recent years.

Also Bob Sturm wrote about what the Stars need to focus on for this year's draft class.

By Bob Matuszak of the Dallas Stars Website:

One has to look no further then the recent Stanley Cup Champions Chicago Blackhawks to see the important and integral role that a draft plays on a team's makeup and ability to become a contender.

In the early 2000s the Blackhawks were a mess. But over a six year period they were able to build a solid foundations of players that were key components in helping a team to win the championship for the first time in nearly 50 years.

Chicago began it's rebuild with the selection of defensemen Duncan Keith in the 2nd round of the 2002 NHL Draft, and a year later added defensemen Brent Seabrook with the 14th overall pick. In 2006 they snagged captain Jonathan Toews with the third overall selection in the entry draft, and electrics forward Patrick Kane came to the windy city after Chicago selected him #1 in 2007.

The Stars have also enjoyed draft-day bonanzas since entering the league and the Minnesota North Stars in 1967, especially in 1988 when general manager Lou Nanne claimed Mike Modano with the #1 overall selection. Soon afterwards, Modano was able to help spurhead the franchise to the second of three Stanley Cup Finals in a dramatic fashion.

Minnesota finished the 1990-1991 season in fourth place in the Norris Division, and was a prohibitive underdog when it faced the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs. The Blackhawks finished with a league high 106 points that season, while the North Stars had mustered just 68.

But behind the dazzling skating and stick-handling of Modano, coupled with 35 goal scorer and 1982 #1 Pick (2nd Overall) Brian Bellows, and 1979 second rounder Neal Broten, Minnesota overcame all odds to dispose Chicago in 6 games.

The North Stars followed that upset with inspiring performances to get past St. Louis and Edmonton before falling in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals. What follows are three other drafts that helped shape and forge Dallas/Minnesota into elite status.

It's good to be bad

In the summer of 1978, the North Stars were coming off a disastrous five season stretch where they qualified for the post-season just once, losing in a two-game sweep to the Buffalo Sabres in 1977. Following a dismal 1977-78 campaign in which they were a miserable 18-53-9, the Stars were awarded the #1 overall pick in the draft, a pick that would quickly turn the team's fortunes.

Bobby Smith was a long and lanky play-making center playing Junior Hockey in Ottawa when the Stars made him the top pick in 1978. Minnesota then reunited Smith with his Ottawa teammate by taking line-mate Steve Payne in the 2nd round (19th overall). Minnesota added more offense by picking Steve Christoff with the second of two second round picks, and shore up the blue line with collegian Curt Giles in the fourth round.

A year later, the North Stars had three selections in the first two rounds once again, and hit on all three. Craig Hartsburg was chosen sixth overall, and forwards Tim Mccarthy and Broten were each picked in the 2nd round. Minnesota then got their goalie in the 1980 draft, taking Sudbury's Don Beaupre in the 2nd round.

The North Stars missed the playoffs again in 1979 despite the dynamic play of Smith, who led the team with 74 points en route to winning the Calder Trophy as the league's rookie of the year. But things started coming together a year later, as Minnesota not only reached the playoffs, but advanced all the way to the league semifinals before losing to Philadelphia in five games.

In 1980-81, Smith led the North Stars once again with 93 points, Payne had a team high 30 goals, the rugged Hartsburg led the blue line with 43 points and 124 penalty minutes, Mccarthy was fifth in scoring with 48 points, Giles played in 67 games, Beaupre began his nine year North Stars career by teaming with veteran Gilles Meloche to give Minnesota a solid one-two punch in the crease.

Not surprisingly, the North Stars cruised to their first ever Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1981 by going 11-3 in the first three rounds of the playoffs. But the New York Islanders eventually proved to be too much for the upstart North Stars, winning the second of four straight Stanley Cups with a 4-1 series victory.

Building the Blue Line

In 1990, the North Stars selected American Born behemoth defensemen Darian Hatcher with the 8th overall pick in the draft. Hatcher was a dominant force with a mean streak while playing junior hockey in North Bay, and quickly began learning from the likes of veteran Minnesota defensemen like Giles, Mark Tinordi, and Craig Ludwig.

Following the 1990-1991 season in which the North Stars finished 27-39-14 they took another gritty defensemen Richard Matvichuk, 8th overall.

Then, in February 1996, with the Stars having migrated south to Dallas 2 and a half years earlier, 1989 first round pick Doug Zmolek was shipped to Los Angeles for defensemen Darryl Sydor in a deal that also included Dallas fan favorite Shane Churla. Despite Sydor bringing a much need offensive style to the Stars back end, the deal was originally fround upon the Stars faithful, who had quickly turned Churla into cult hero status because of his punishing hits he delivered and entertaining fights he routinely started to stir the old Reunion Arena into a frenzy.

But those Bone-and-board rattling checks were quickly forgotten when Hatcher, Matvichuk and Sydor became prominent parts of a Stars team that took the metroplex on a magnificent three year run. Starting in 1998, Dallas was captained by Hatcher, went to the Western Conference Finals three straight years, two straight Stanley Cup Finals and the teams' first and only Stanley Cup title in 1999.

Dealing for Newy

Bob Gainey took over the general manager reigns in 1992, and with the 11th overall pick in the 1995 draft he choose Kamloops scoring star Jarmoe Iginla. With agility, quickness and soft-hands in a rock solid body, Iginla showed that he had potential to be a star in the NHL after he accumulated 71 points and 111 penalty minutes in 72 games in his second year with the Blazers in the 1994-1995 season.

Gainey gladly snagged the native Alberta native, knowing that Iginla would soon help alleviate some of the offensive pressure that was on Modano's shoulders.

After being drafted, Iginla started his third season with Kamloops and quickly began tearing up the Western Hockey League, eventually finishing the season with 136 points and 120 penalty minutes in 63 games.

But in December 1995 Gainey suddenly sensed the need to change course. With a budding team that was gaining experience but still a piece or two away from being truly special, the former Montreal Canadiens captain wanted a body that could help right away. Then when he pulled the trigger on the biggest trade in Dallas Stars history, sending Iginla and Corey Millen to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Joe Nieuwendyk.

The 6'1" Nieuwendyk was a consistent offensive threat for the Flames, toppling the 30 goal mark in six of seven seasons starting in 1987-1988. The stretch included a pair of 50 goal campaigns, and two straight 45 goal campaigns from 1989-91.

Nieuwendyk immediately did what Iginla was supposed to three or four years down the road - take the load off Modano. The classy and poised center became a big part of shaping a team that instantaneously got on track towards accomplishing something big.

The fruits of Gainey trade eventually came to fruition when Nieuwendyk won the Conn Smythe Trophy as Playoff MVP during the Stars Stanley Cup Championship of 1999.

As for Iginla, he hasn't disappointed in Calgary, and has scored 441 goals and accumulated 920 points in 1024 games and 13 seasons with the Flames. He helped lead Calgary to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2004, but the Flames lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games.

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