Just over one week after the Dallas Stars announced the hiring of Lindy Ruff as the franchise’s next head coach, the first big decision of recently-hired Stars general manager Jim Nill, the former Detroit assistant GM will again be front and center at Sunday’s 2013 NHL Entry Draft at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
The Stars will have two picks, 10th and 29th, in the first round and will also have the 40th and 54th picks in the second round. All told, Dallas will have nine picks in Sunday’s one-day event, a situation that the new GM definitely feels good about.
“We’re very happy. In the real world, you’d like to be picking 30 because you know you had a great season, but the way things have worked out we’re in as good a position as we can be,” Nill said. “Tenth is a very good pick and we’re also going to have the 29th pick, which was Boston’s and then we have two good picks in the second round, at 40 and 54. So, our draft is set up well and gives us lots of options.”
At the early June event to unveil the Stars new logo and uniforms for the coming season, an event where it was also announced that the club will retire Mike Modano’s iconic No. 9 at an in-arena ceremony next March, Nill said the club’s biggest needs currently lie at center as well as on defense.
However, since that event, the Stars have added veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar, inking the former Senators d-man to a two-year deal, making their ranks at the blueline at least a bit more solidified heading into the draft.
But even though Nill was clearly glad to add someone with such an impressive hockey resume to his roster like Gonchar, he’d still like to tweak things a bit in the back.
“I like the depth there but I’d like to change the dynamic of the defense a little bit. It’d be nice to add some more size but that’s something it’d probably take time to do that,” he said. “But as far as our depth, we have lots of depth there so we’re happy with that. Adding Gonchar helps give us a real power-play presence, which is important. You have to have a good power play in this league, so that was a good addition there. The other need is at center ice and that’s something that we need to work on. We’ll start working on that at the draft.”
While this might be Nill’s first swim through the draft as a GM, he does have nearly two decades of experience on draft day from his long and respected tenure with the Red Wings where he worked closely with Detroit GM Ken Holland, who has been the Wings’ GM since 1997 and is universally respected as one of the truly great hockey minds in the NHL.
Of course, Nill learned countless lessons from all those drafts and other experiences alongside Holland, a knowledge base he’s definitely going to tap into as he continues toward his goal of helping the Stars end a five-year playoff drought and return to the postseason.
“There really hasn’t been too much difference. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve run the draft the last 16-18 years so I’m very comfortable with it, especially this season because I’ve probably been out there watching the players almost as a head scout. So this draft is very comfortable to me,” Nill said. “We’ll move forward. It’s going to be a little bit different, rely a little bit more on our head scout and our scouting staff, but as far as this draft I’ve been out there and seen all those players, so between our staff, the knowledge that they have and the knowledge that I’ve gained during scouting this year, I’m pretty comfortable with this year’s draft.”
As a testament to the Stars missing the playoffs for a fifth straight year, Dallas will be picking 10th overall and there has been talk of the club inquiring about the price of moving up. But for Nill, that price was simply too high, meaning Stars fans should expect the club to sit tight at Nos. 10 and 29.
“It’s always an option, but there is a very high price to it. I’ve talked to a couple of teams and they told me what the price would be and it’s something we’re not willing to give up. Where we’re picking in the draft, we’re going to have a lot of options, the two first-round picks and four picks in the top 54 gives you a lot of options,” Nill said.
He added: “It’s a deep draft. If it wasn’t too deep of a draft, then you might have had a cutoff line at 15 players but this cutoff line goes pretty deep. There’s 35 or 40 real legitimate players and there’s always somebody under that who is obviously going to draft. We have options. As you get closer to the draft and more things start to happen, we’ll talk to teams even more and we’ll just kind of monitor everything that takes place.”
Of course, this has been a busy two months for Nill, who was hired to replace Joe Nieuwendyk as GM on April 29. In mid-May, he announced that the club would not be retaining Glen Gulutzan as head coach for a third straight season and last Friday was the official introduction of Ruff as the club’s new head coach.
The draft is just the latest responsibility for this longtime hockey man and next in early July will come free agency. He admits his first few months in Big D have been a bit of a blur, but it’s clear that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Yeah, it has been a whirlwind but I kind of knew that coming in. I was prepared for that when I took the job. I sat down with Tom [Gaglardi] and we discussed a lot of the needs. I sat down with the rest of the management team and where we had to make changes, where we had to make additions,” Nill said. “I’ve got a great staff in Dallas. Our management team and the front office is very good. I’m very confident with our scouting staff. That’s really kind of eased the burden as far as all the things that have to take place over the kind of next six weeks. It’s worked out well and I’ve been very blessed to have great people underneath me working well.”
Nill is not alone when he says that this is one of the deeper drafts in recent history. In fact, at the unveiling of the new Stars logo in early June, he said he sees this year’s event as having the deepest talent pool since the 2003 draft, when the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry all went in the first round.
And the current Dallas GM has been through enough drafts that like his colleagues who are tasked to help improve their respective clubs, he often gets a feeling about how active teams will be on draft night in terms of trades. However, he admits his instincts usually mean the exact opposite will happen once the draft gets rolling.
“I get vibes but they’re usually the opposite,” Nill joked. “I still feel like there’s going to be quite a bit of action this year. It’s become a different dynamic with the cap world we’re in. With the cap coming down, there are teams that have to make some changes to get under cap. I think that just adds another dynamic to the draft. I think the draft is where a lot of these changes and moves might take place. I’m anticipating quite a bit of action and it should be a fun day.”