You have to feel for the Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks, who sunk in the 2016-17 standings like they’d been outfitted with cement shoes. In recent seasons we’ve seen the Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets justify their agony via the draft lottery with Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, the Four Horsemen of the NHL’s next great star generation. Top 2017 draft prospects Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier don’t project to have those types of ceilings, but they would’ve been good gets for two star-crossed franchises. Alas, Colorado and Vancouver whiffed on the ping-pong balls. Tough luck.
Still, after the equally hopeless Devils landed the No. 1 spot in last weekend’s lottery, it was darn fascinating to see the Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars jump way up to nab picks No. 2 and 3. Among the non-playoff teams, they’re much closer to haves than have-nots.
The Flyers have a good use for the second selection. They’re already loaded on defense, with a young stable of Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Samuel Morin, Travis Sanheim, Philippe Myers and Robert Hagg to develop and build around for years to come. Their future crop of blueliners rivals those of the Anaheim Ducks and Carolina Hurricanes. So the Flyers have a legit need for a Patrick or Hischier up front to complement veterans Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier.
The Stars, though? Different story. Picking third excludes them from nabbing one of the two most coveted forwards, who are pretty much a consensus 1-2 now. That means Dallas would be looking at a center such as Gabe Vilardi or Casey Middelstadt, a scoring winger like Owen Tippett or a puck-moving blueliner like Cale Makar or Miro Heiskanen.
Makar and Heiskanen wouldn’t make sense for Dallas. This team already has a promising youth movement on ‘D’ including John Klingberg, Julius Honka, Esa Lindell and Stephen Johns. And while one of the higher-end forwards available third overall would make a fine choice, no forward in the draft except Patrick and maybe Hischier is expected to jump to the NHL right away.
That’s a problem for Dallas, as this is a win-now team despite the playoff miss in 2016-17. The Stars are one year removed from winning the Central Division and leading the NHL in goals. They have two superstar forwards in their prime in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, and they are running out of good years from No. 2 center Jason Spezza. General manager Jim Nill stuck to his guns and gave his goalie tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi a chance at redemption this year, and they flopped again. But if Nill can properly remedy his team’s crease for 2017-18, we could see the Stars competitive again. Very competitive. This team has plenty of talent, and its young D-corps should only improve.
Which brings us back to the No. 3 pick. Should a win-now team in a year with a relatively weak draft class want to use this pick on a player? How about trading it instead?
The Stars were gifted an unexpectedly high draft choice after finishing with only the NHL’s seventh-worst record, but using the pick isn’t the only way to benefit from their good luck. We know Dallas needs a goalie as badly as any team in hockey. But where to find one good enough to justify surrendering the No. 3 pick…
How about a team years away from contending, bad enough to win the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery and in possession of an excellent starting goaltender?
The Devils will build around Taylor Hall, Pavel Zacha, Mikey McLeod and one of Patrick and Hischier but won’t field a Stanley Cup threat or even a playoff threat for quite some time. No team has a more barren group of defense prospects. Meanwhile, they’re wasting good years from a top-end netminder in Cory Schneider. He didn’t get his chance to start until relatively late in his career, remember, so he’s quietly 31 already. How old will Schneider be by the time New Jersey can compete for a Cup…35, if he’s lucky? Why not cash him in now to a team that could massively benefit from his services?
The Stars would immediately become a playoff threat again with Schneider in their lineup. He has a no-trade clause, but he’s a competitor. “Come to Dallas and play with Benn and Seguin and try to win a Cup” wouldn’t be a bad sell. The Stars would then have to find a taker for Niemi or Lehtonen. They likely wouldn’t be claimed in the expansion draft even if they waived their clauses, but each has just one year left on his deal and could be offered to a salary-floor team. Either might waive his-no-trade to go there, too, if it meant a chance to play more in a contract year.
Meanwhile, wouldn’t it be worth it for Devils GM Ray Shero to lose Schneider if it meant owning two of the top three picks? Imagine walking away from the draft with Patrick or Hischier and Makar or Heiskanen. That would change the Devils’ long-term trajectory in a hurry. Just because it’s a weaker draft than in recent years doesn’t mean it won’t yield some highly impactful NHL talents.
Is any goaltender worth a top-three draft selection today? Debatable. The mock proposal doesn’t have to be a 1-for-1. We’ll let the GMs sort out any other picks, roster players or salary retention involved. But maybe they’ll recognize a nice trade fit leading up to draft day in Chicago and get talking.