AMSTERDAM, July 11, 2014 —While its on ice product has remained competitive over the last several seasons, the Dallas Stars front office has experienced a bumpy ride. The most recent shake up occurred in April 2013, when the club hired Jim Nill as general manager. Up to that point, Dallas had succeeded in drafting and signing some promising young players, but were still lagging behind the western conference powerhouses they would have to overtake to make any kind of run in the postseason.
Nill wasted no time rebuilding the team around its young core, signing veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar, then engineering a blockbuster, multi-player trade with the Boston Bruins, acquiring Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverly. Seguin may never fulfill expectations as a first round selection, but he has already established himself as an elite player, and one of the league’s best young centers.
Jim Nill definitely has the pedigree to evaluate players and build a franchise. After his playing career was over, Nill joined the Ottawa Senators’ scouting staff before moving on to the Detroit Red Wings, where his scouting acuity helped the club win four Stanley Cups in the late 1990s and early 2000s. During his tenure in Detroit, Nill and his staff consistently found high end prospects buried in the draft, even as they were picking late almost every year.
An emerging theme in Nill’s rebuild in Dallas has been fortifying the middle of the ice. The acquisition of Tyler Seguin gave the Stars a legitimate number one center, along with promising third year player Cody Eakin. So far this summer, Nill has added even more center ice depth, acquiring Jason Spezza from Ottawa, while fortifying scoring by adding sniper Ales Hemsky. With centers Vernon Fiddler, Shawn Horcoff, and Rich Peverly also on the roster, Nill’s Stars now have strength down the middle on all four lines, as well as organizational depth at center should the opportunity arise to trade for more pieces.
The Stars appear to be set in goal with veteran Kari Lehtonen as the starter, and Anders Lindback battling top prospect Jack Campbell for the backup role. On the blue line, veterans like Gonchar, Trevor Daley, and Alex Goligoski will be sharing defensive duties with younger players, Kevin Connauton and Brenden Dillon. The defense could use another top four, and Nill may not be finished dealing.
After weathering several years of instability inside its hockey operations department, the Dallas Stars appear to be headed in the right direction under Nill’s guidance. His pro scouting acumen will allow the Stars to add veteran leadership while his ability to identify hidden talent late in drafts ensures the Stars will not waste any picks, while giving them the option to trade down at the draft for later selections. Dallas fans can rely on Nill’s ability to evaluate personnel – it was Nill’s staff in Detroit who found Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk in the seventh and sixth rounds respectively.
Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.