No matter how much a player looks like a sure thing, and no matter how overlooked those late picks are, the fact is there are always surprises – good and bad – and predicting the NHL career of an 18 year old kid is a calculated guess at best. There’s just no guarantee on how they will adapt once placed in the realm of grown men when the competition level is raised and the stakes are higher.
The Stars have seen their share of both – the good and the bad. Hindsight is 20/20 of course and sometimes it’s only years down the road when you can look back and point out where you succeeded – and where you messed up royally.
With that said, let’s start out with the positive:
*Both significance to the franchise and where they were drafted were taken in to account
1. Mike Modano – 1st in 1988
No surprise here. The franchise’s greatest player by a country mile. Rewind to June 1988, Gordon and George Gund owned the North Stars while Modano and Trevor Linden were widely considered the top two players heading in to the draft. Gordon’s wife Lulie had the opportunity to meet with the two players and really liked Linden – as the two of them continued chatting on the way to the airport while Modano sat quiet listening to his headphones. But GM Lou Nanne knew the franchise needed a star player to attach it’s wagons to, and he knew Modano was that guy. On June 11th 1988, North Stars’ brass confirmed the single best decision this franchise has ever made. If ever there was a situation where ignoring the wife paid off, this is it. Score one for the fellas.
Modano instantly showed his skill was NHL caliber, but it took a few seasons of guidance by Bob Gainey and a new direction for Modano to commit to – a responsible two-way game and the willingness to getting his nose dirty – for him to truly emerge as one of the game’s elite. His ability to fly up and down the ice was incredible and you could argue that it was unmatched. His God-given abilities combined with his willingness to do what it takes to win made him one of the game’s best and most exciting all-round players. With his jersey flapping in the wind, he scored some of the most thrilling goals you’ll ever see at full speed.
He took a game played on ice and sold it to fans in the Texas heat, he brought fans everywhere out of their seats, and he brought the franchise a Stanley Cup in 1999. For a hockey player to work his way in to the conversation with Roger Staubach and Emmitt Smith on the Dallas sports scene is truly amazing. He holds about every significant offensive record in franchise history and it’s safe to say that there will never be another like him. The Hockey Hall Of Fame awaits.
2. Neal Broten - 42nd / Craig Hartsburg - 6th in 1979
The North Stars were on a horrid run of futility in the mid-late 1970s. Draft day 1979 helped turn the team’s fortunes around big time, thanks in part to sending future pugilist Dave Semenko to the Edmonton Oilers for the 42nd pick. The North Stars selected defenseman Craig Hartsburg with their own 6th overall pick in the draft, and with that 42nd pick they selected one of the franchise’s greatest players ever – Neal Broten. Both players would captain the team at different points through their careers and were cornerstones in bringing the North Stars back to relevancy.
A member of the 1980 USA Olympic gold medal team, Broten would become the first American born player to score 100 points in an NHL season and eventually became the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, since surpassed by Mike Modano of course. Hartsburg holds the Stars’ franchise record for points in a season by a defenseman with 77 – a mark that has stood for 30 years now. In his book “Minnesota North Stars – History And Memories”, Lou Nanne labeled Hartsburg as the best defenseman to ever play for the North Stars – no arguments here. He also represented Canada in both the 1981 and 1987 Canada Cups.
Broten enjoyed a successful 17 season NHL career, while the multi-talented Hartsburg unfortunately managed just 570 games over parts of 10 seasons due to injury.
3. Derian Hatcher – 8th overall in 1990
Sure you hope for big things out of an eighth overall pick, but they don’t usually come this big. After Modano, hulking 6-5 235lb Hatcher was the cornerstone of this franchise for years. When Neal Broten was traded to New Jersey in 1995, Bob Gainey handed the “C” over to a 22 year old Hatcher. An absolute rock on defense, he was the guy that opponents hated battling – whether in the corners, in front of the net, or in open ice – he was merciless.
Not the fleetest of foot, his smarts and agility combined with his physical prowess and fierce competitive fire made him one of the game’s elite shut down defenders for years. His hockey sense and awareness to head the puck up the ice and out of danger was also greatly underrated. Typically, defensive defenseman don’t get recognized with individual accolades, but Hatcher was too good at what he did to ignore. He played in the 1997 All-Star game and in 2003, was both nominated for the Norris trophy and named to the NHL’s second All-Star Team. He was absolutely integral in any and all success the Stars put together in the late 1990s and early 2000s and is exactly what the Stars could use right now.
4. Jere Lehtinen – 88th in 1992
The Stars picked another Finnish player with their first pick in the draft – Jarkko Varvio at 34th – but it was 55 picks later when they would hit their homerun. In a draft that proved not to be very deep, it’s nothing short of a miracle to even find a player of Lehtinen’s caliber at all – let alone that deep in the draft. In fact, you could make a strong case for him being the best all-round player in that draft. The hard working Finn found himself as a rookie auditioning on the Stars’ top line with Mike Modano a few years later and that’s exactly where he would stay for the better part of his career.
His unmatched work ethic and attention to detail made him one of the best defensive forwards to ever play the game and his three Selke trophies can attest to that. What’s more impressive about his three Selke wins is that he only played as many as 70 games in a season seven times in his career because of injuries. Combined with his premier defensive abilities was a nice goal scoring touch – scoring 243 goals in 875 games and surpassing the 30 goal mark twice. He finished his career with a +210 rating and although it’s sometimes questioned just how reliable the plus-minus stat truly is, in Lehtinen’s case you can take every digit to the bank.
5. Bobby Smith -1st / Steve Payne - 19th in 1978
The first time in franchise history the North Stars held the first overall pick in the draft, they took high scoring Ottawa 67′s center Bobby Smith. Just 18 picks later they selected Smith’s Ottawa linemate, left winger Steve Payne. The duo was dynamic together in the NHL too and were integral parts of a talent explosion in Minnesota that saw the team go from just 18 wins and a last place finish in 1978 – to 35 wins and a Stanley Cup final appearance in 1981. Not to mention a string of seven straight playoff appearances from 1980 to 1986 – a franchise record.
Smith would capture the Calder trophy in his first season and go on to lead the team in points three of the five seasons until he forced a trade to Montreal in 1983. He also holds the franchise record for points in a season with 114 – a record that has stood for 30 years so far. He returned to the North Stars in 1990 after seven seasons with the Habs and was instrumental in helping the team in their amazing run to the Cup final the following spring.
Payne was no slouch either, averaging over 30 goals a season until 1985 when he would succumb to injuries. He reached a career high of 42 goals and 85 points in 1982-83 and scored one of the franchise’s biggest goals on April 22nd 1984 – a 4-3 overtime goal in round two game seven vs the Blues to send the team to the Campbell Conference final. Lou Nanne also stated in his book that Payne was the best clutch goal scorer that the franchise ever had.
6. Jarome Iginla – 11th in 1995
Though never playing a game for the franchise, Iginla still managed to play a huge role in the Stars’ run of dominance. With Gainey feeling the need to give top line center Mike Modano some support from the second line, he sacrificed part of the future and sent Iginla to the Calgary Flames in exchange for veteran center Joe Nieuwendyk. Looking back on Iginla’s stellar career as it creeps closer and closer to it’s tail end, it’s easy to question the deal and wonder what might have been. How would Modano and Iginla have looked playing together on a top line for the last 15+ seasons? Iginla’s 500+ career goals would have looked good being assisted by Modano.
Bob Gainey had a vision for this team and he followed it with precise trades and signings. We can ponder what might have been with Iginla in a Stars uniform all we want, but the one thing we do know is that Nieuwendyk was vital in this team’s Stanley Cup win. Managing to pluck the best player in the draft and a future Hall Of Famer at number eleven makes this a great draft pick. Parlaying it in to a Stanley Cup – which at the end of the day is the ultimate goal – makes it an even better one.
7. Brian Bellows – 2nd in 1982
Heading in to the 1982 NHL draft, the North Stars were willing to do what it took to draft high scoring Kitchener Rangers winger Brian Bellows. They made a trade with Detroit earlier to gain the number two pick, and handed over promising young talents Brad Palmer and Dave Donnelly to the owner of the top pick Boston Bruins for “future considerations”. Those future considerations were simply the promise from Sinden and the Bruins to not take Bellows, the widely considered best player in the draft. Sinden was comfortable with the deal, as he was sold on defenseman Gord Kluzak. Injuries stemming from his junior days would ravage Kluzak’s career, neither Plamer or Donnelly would ever amount to much, and Bellows would go on to score 342 goals in 753 regular season games with the franchise.
Bellows’ best season was 1989-90 when he tied Dino Ciccarelli’s club record of 55 goals in a season and came just one point shy of 100, earning a spot on the NHL’s 2nd All-Star Team at left wing in the process. He was huge on the team’s 1991 playoff run as well, leading the team in scoring with 10 goals and 29 points in 23 games. He still holds the franchise record for both goals and points by a left winger in a season as well as all-time.
8. Brenden Morrow – 25th in 1997
When you can find your future captain with the 25th pick, you’re drafting just fine. When you take in to consideration that he’s played more games and has more career goals;assists;and points than the next 21 players taken in that draft combined, you’re now drafting with excellent precision. Brenden Morrow made his debut in the 1999-00 season when the franchise was defending their first Stanley Cup championship. His jump and grit forced the powers that be in to keeping him around, and even throughout the Stars’ run to their second Cup final in a row he proved he belonged.
The Stars’ captain since 2006, he enjoyed his best season in 2007-08 with 32 goals and 74 points in the regular season – and dominated a better part of the Stars’ three playoff rounds – scoring 9 goals and 15 points in 18 games. He was a physical force all playoffs and scored two overtime goals, including a massive winner in the fourth overtime vs the Sharks to send the Stars to the conference final. His physical style of play and bodily sacrifice over the years has caused health problems recently, but another bounce back season could be in order and a healthy Morrow only helps the Stars’ chances.
9. Jamie Benn – 129 overall 2007
With the franchise experiencing crippling ownership/economic issues; Mike Modano close to retirement; the talent pool seeming very shallow; and the fan base needing something to get excited about – out of the blue comes Jamie Benn. The Stars likely never had a clue that they were drafting a future franchise player when they took a kid from the Victoria Grizzlies of the BCJHL in the fifth round of the 2007 draft. Benn was a big time goal scorer in the BCJHL, yet never made his way to the WHL until the age of 18 after he was drafted by the Stars. Still honing his skills in British Columbia, the Kelowna Rockets were his new beneficiary. After two excellent seasons in Kelowna, he forced his way on to the Stars out of camp and they couldn’t be happier with his progression to this point.
He’s the second Stars’ player since Mike Modano to score 20+ goals in each of his first three seasons, and he’s showing extreme versatility as well as the ability to dominate games in every aspect. He’s still pretty raw and could use some maturing, but he should only get better and if I did this list again five years from now, there’s a good chance he’ll be moved up a couple spots at least. Considering where Benn was drafted, George Clooney can make Oceans 101 for all I care and he still wouldn’t be able to pull off as big of a heist.
10. Loui Eriksson – 33rd in 2003
Taken with the 33rd pick in the 2003 draft, the slick Swede has quietly made his way to NHL stardom over the past few seasons. He truly came out of nowhere – jumping from 14 goals in 69 games in 2007-08 to 36 goals in 82 games the season after. Some believed his numbers would take a dip after losing his center Brad Richards to free agency last summer, but they were almost replicated exactly. The only real difference was his +/- rating, which actually improved from +10 to +18 as he continued to establish him as one of the game’s better two-way players.
He’s averaged 30 goals and 70 points per 82 games over the last four seasons – yet is rarely receives any hype. In fact, he and Jamie Benn were voted one and two by the players this season on the NHL’s “Most Underrated” list. Just another Star that will gladly go about his business quietly, while making a big impression on opposing teams almost nightly. The pick was vital as he and Benn are two very bright spots for the Stars as the franchise looks to rebound.
Curt Giles – 54th in 1978 / Don Beaupre – 37th in 1980 / Richard Matvichuk – 8th in 1991 / Jamie Langenbrunner – 35th in 1993 / Marty Turco – 124th in 1994 / Steve Ott – 25th in 2000 / James Neal – 33rd in 2005 / Philip Larsen – 149th in 2008
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