Quick Analysis: Grading All Six Picks From the Dallas Stars 2023 NHL Draft

Quick Analysis: Grading All Six Picks From the Dallas Stars 2023 NHL Draft
Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill works the phone on the 2023 NHL Draft floor.

The 2023 NHL Entry Draft is in the books, and I expect it to be one of the best drafts of the last 20 years (personally). I didn't write 1000+ words on a draft that Dallas only had five picks in starting at number 61 for my health. I wanted to cover this draft because I believed Dallas had a real opportunity to find gamebreaking talent even with just a late second rounder to start. Did they accomplish that?

More than you'd think. Although it's not without some asterisks. Before we begin the grades, here are Dallas' picks.  

Round 2, Pick 61: Tristan Bertucci, LHD (OHL)
Round 3, Pick 79: Brad Gardiner, C/RW (OHL)
Round 4, Pick 125: Aram Minnetian, RHD (USA)
Round 5, Pick 157: Arno Tiefensee, G (DEL)
Round 6, Pick 189: Angus Macdonell, C (OHL)
Round 7, Pick 221: Sebastian Bradshaw, C/LW (AAA)

But first, a quick word on grading. The following grades are meant to be a preliminary rank based on preliminary thoughts. Nothing more. Prospects are subject to change, whether in progress or regress. The grades are meant to capture where I think the space between the player's potential and Dallas' intention in selecting them ranks. Giving a player a "D" for example doesn't mean I think the player is bad. It simply means I've identified a mixture of things working against the pick: lack of desired traits in the player themselves, Dallas' intent, and what was available. So if you have a problem with grades, then I don't know what you're doing here to begin with: the draft itself is defined by its arrangement of uncertainty. If you're allowed to be provisionally excited, why am I not allowed to be provisionally disappointed? Just saying.  

For extra context, I've divided my analysis into two sections: my "in the wild" reaction, and my "now that I've thought more about it" reaction. Beyond just being a fun way to do this, I think there's a lot to learn too. How often do you find your gut reaction to be more accurate, or less accurate? Conversely, how much does added reflection really add to your bottom line judgment? More, or less?          

Tristan Bertucci

LHD. Shoots left. 6'2. 172 lbs.

Bertucci is a left-handed defensemen out of the OHL. He's played for the Flint Firebirds the past two years, tallying 63 points over that span (with 50 of them coming this year). Often placed above where he was taken, and sometimes below, his development is right where it should be, and he was picked right where he should be.  

Quick note: as I post player cards, there's a lot of data that gets tracked, so keep in mind that I'm posting them not because I think they're the last word, but because it's information: simple as that.

Data per Mitch Brown (EPRinkside)

In-the-wild reaction:

I didn't like it. For better or worse, draft picks are always weighed against one another. To that end, Dallas could have selected the same thing out of Albert Wikman, only with a better defensive base (who went 127th overall to Florida). Hunter Brzustewicz might not be as physically gifted (he went 75th overall to Vancouver), but he was one of the headier defenseman in the draft and a right shot to boot. There was also a ton of blue chip offensive talent left on board between Grace Sawchyn (picked at #63), Riley Heidt (#74), and Coulson Pitre (#75).

Offensive defensemen who need to work on defense always worry me not because I think one is more important than the other, but because their offense always invariably becomes secondary if they can't do it at an elite level, leaving the foundation of their off-puck awareness as the skeleton of what makes them a would-be NHLer. Bertucci wasn't on a bad team either, which is why his lack of defense stands out despite how he's commonly defined in traditional scouting circles.

Quick note: for those who aren't used to these charts, Mitch Brown defines the last two components of a player's performance as such:

Defensive Plays/CA: The sum of a player's DZ break ups, slot pass interceptions, opposition shots that they pressured, neutral zone break ups, and recovered dump-ins in the defensive zone, rated per corsi against.
Retrieval Success %: The percentage of a player’s DZ retrievals that resulted in his team’s possession divided by their total number of retrieval.

What I could be missing after sobering up:

Regardless of all the above, you can't teach the raw nature-nurture sublimation of skills he possesses. His skating as as good as it gets in all areas. Speed, agility, edgework, anticipation, spacing, etc. He's a defensemen built to cut through zones like a warm knife through butter. What adds an additional ingredient to his effectiveness is his puck handling, which happens to have an equal amount elements of confidence and deception. He's very good at protecting the puck as the yin to his stride's yang. There's a difference between upside and potential, and Bertucci happens to have both.

Grade: (A strong) C+    

Brad Gardiner

Center. Shoots right. 6'1. 183 lbs.

No not the former DBD writer (come on people: check the spelling). Gardiner is listed as a center. Playing out of the OHL for the last two years for the Ottawa 67's, the toolsy forward is widely considered a reach. However, just because you reached for someone doesn't mean they weren't worth the effort. Is that the case here?

In-the-wild reaction:

I'm gonna quote myself from yesterday's draft post because I need to keep it 100 with you.

I do have a little devil on one of my shoulder's reminding me about the Stars 2013-2016 stretch, when it seemed like they were drafting to support their Benn and Seguin core rather than finding ways to replace them. It's hard to square that draft stretch with the one that followed, so all I'm saying is that I hope they're not looking for ways to support the young core they have now. Just keep doing what you've been doing.

This pick feels like exactly that, a potential depth piece for the Johnstons and Stankovens of the world. Here's the thing about depth: you can get it anywhere.

I think there are certain types of depth worth drafting for in the later rounds — shutdown defenders and forechecking centers, for example — but not in the top three, or even top four. Aydar Suniev, who went one pick later to Calgary, is the same size, plays an equally well-rounded game, but scored over 100 points in the BCHL this year if you include the playoffs. So yea. I don't get this one. It reminds me too much of the Remi Elie pick: a pick made explicitly to add depth despite names like Artturi Lehkonen still on the board. (This is not hindsight analysis. Lehkonen ranked #7 among European skaters according to NHL Central Scouting.)  

What I could be missing after sobering up:

Gardiner played a lot of different roles due to his team's injuries this year. It's possible that the lack of stability screwed with his development. Any player's draft year tends to be a critical time in their maturation process. Throwing a big wrench into the process can make the wrong kind of waves. If he settles into a center's role instead of wing, or vice versa, what does his versatility look like then? I'm giving him a harsh grade, but I can totally see what Dallas is banking on.  

Grade: (A weak) D-

Aram Minnetian

RHD. Shoots left. 5'11. 194 lbs.

This Jersey kid was part of the US National Team in the NTDP. He scored 31 points in 62 games, and was largely considered a late bloomer after showing out at the World Juniors. What's the bottom line?

In-the-wild reaction:

I was posting that famous Antonio Banderas Assassins gif on Twitter. What does that tell you?

But if you need to know more, then know that Minnetian ended up being one of Team USA's minute munchers at the U18s. Obviously, Minnetian's skating and puck movement are what make him stand out, but he's not your cookie cutter puck mover. While I wouldn't at all him good defensively (which some of his tracking data argues), I do like that he's engaged in all three zones. This is not a player that takes shifts off, or looks for shortcuts. This bodes extremely well for his development, and while he's not tall, he is stout.  

Even so, I hesitate to call him a puck mover. He can move the puck extremely well, but he really is a hybrid defender through and through. That he happens to be better offensively than his production would indicate, and weaker defensively despite the common perception is not a knock against him. If anything, that's the best sign of all. It indicates that rather than create skills or habits he doesn't yet have whole sale, his mind and and his talents simply need a little alignment.

Not for nothin but Scott Wheeler had him going in the second round, and openly questioned whether he should have been ranked even higher. A lot of scouts consider this a slam dunk pick.  

What I could be missing after sobering up:

The biggest criticism is that for a "puck mover" he didn't put up points. In which case, what are you left with if he's not that? With that said, I consider offense more important than production. His passing metrics make a strong case for something sustainable. Same thing with his shot metrics: when looking at the actual shots that got taken, he had a weak impact. However, in the quality of shots that got taken, he had a strong impact. Added up, and I think we're looking at what the hockey nerds call "regression." Yes, it can flow up. Don't be surprised if he has a massive Draft+1 year.    

Grade: (A strong) A+

Arno Tiefensee

Center. Shoots left. 5'10. 181 lbs.

An overager, the 6'4 German goaltender played 23 games for Adler Mannheim in the DEL: a team that made a strong playoff run for which he was a critical part of, posting a save percentage of .914 in the postseason.

In-the-wild reaction:

You expect me to know anything about goaltenders? My first thought was "too bad Dallas missed out on Gajan" and my second thought was "let's find out more." The main attraction to Tiefensee beyond the clip of him scoring a shrothanded goal is that he's big goalie who was good enough to play full time in the DEL. Equivalency models consider the German professional league the eighth-toughest league to play in. According to Corey Pronman, Tiefensee has been the talk of the scouting town as a genuine sleeper pick.  

What I could be missing after sobering up:

Just the usual: goalies and voodoo.  

Grade: (A decent) B

Angus MacDonell

Center. Shoots left. 5'10. 181 lbs.

Scoring 41 points through 64 games doesn't exactly scream NHL potential, bit the OHL forward was a critical piece of the Mississauga Steelheads as an agitator, and all-around forward. While his points in the regular season leave you wanting, he proved himself a redlight performer when he became nearly a point per game player in both the OHL Postseason, and the World Juniors for Team Canada. Talk about clutch.

In-the-wild reaction:

Wheeler had him in his top 100...at 100. That's how I knew about Angus in advance. The other thing I'll say is that I kind of miss Antoine Roussel. One of my favorite moments is him screwing with Ryan Getzlaf and goading him into a fight while his face was still broken. In a league bereft of personality, players like MacDonell are a breathe of fresh smoke. The fact that went ham in the postseason and the WJ tells me he also has leadership potential too.  

What I could be missing after sobering up:

Ondrej Molnar (LW), and Mazden Leslie (RHD) went undrafted, and you could make a strong case they could have gone where MacDonell ended up going.

Grade: (A weak) A+

Sebastian Bradshaw

Center. Shoots left. 6'3. 196 lbs.

Bradshaw played Tier 1 (youth hockey) this season, so there's no video. We do have an anagram for his name, however, which is just as good.

In-the-wild reaction:


What I could be missing after sobering up:

I have no idea who Kalle Kangas is, but he has a cool name, and he's a huge Finnish defenseman that got picked right after by Pittsburgh. If we're gonna throw shots in the dark, why not add to the Finnish mafia?

Grade: (A solid) C-

Overall Draft Grade: (A solid) B-

The Bertucci pick really brings the overall grade down. Again, that's not a slight on Bertucci. But with the names that were on board—Heidt, Ziemmer, Sawchyn, Brzustewicz, and Pietre—I can't co-sign if I'm being real with you.    

However, overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this draft. While Dallas had opportunities to draft players I personally would have preferred (and who I thought were simply better prospects), the highs really balanced out the lows. Minnetian and MacDonell were steals, while Gardiner was an absolute head scratcher. Bertucci balances it out as the player that felt like a reach in comparison to what was still on board, but not a reach in terms of raw materials.  

I'm also glad Dallas recognized their prospect pool needs. We can argue the dreaded BPA vs. Needs debate all day, and waste precious time, but the fact of the matter is that all teams invariably come face to face with needs in certain areas as a collective. Either they're light on wings, centers, or right-handed defensemen — when that happens, the cupboard needs to be refilled. The Stars still need defensemen, they still need forwards, and they definitely need goalies, and they managed to snag them all in various shapes and sizes.