Joe McDonnell is of the notion that Nick Porco will play for the Dallas Stars at some point in the future. McDonnell, who is the director of amateur scouting for the Stars, zeroed in on Porco to make the Sault Ste. Marie product the only forward that Dallas selected at the recent National Hockey League draft.
Porco, a speedy winger who has played with the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League the past two seasons, was taken by Dallas in the fifth round, 142nd overall. He was one of only four players that Dallas took in the seven-round draft.
The 6-foot, 175-pound Porco, who has a 2001 birth date, is coming off a 2018-2019 campaign with Saginaw in which he scored 23 goals in 82 games, playoffs included.
McDonnell, a straight shooter who has been an NHL scout for 24 years, began by saying that whether Porco eventually plays in Dallas or not is “up to him. Having said that, we drafted him because the plan is for Nick to be playing for us down the road. He has the tools and the engine to play in the NHL. He has good speed and is a good skater and we like the way he competes. He has great raw skill.
“We drafted him because we like him,” McDonnell continued. “We like him a lot and we are going to give him every opportunity to eventually play for us. We only had four picks in the draft and Nick was the only forward who we took. That’s how much we like him. But at the end of the day, it will be up to Nick whether he plays in the NHL or not,” McDonnell told Hockey News North.
McDonnell made a point of noting two other players in particular that Dallas has previously taken in the fifth round — veteran defenseman Jamie Benn and a top forward prospect in Nick Caamano.
The 29-year old Benn, who is now the team captain in Dallas, was a fifth round pick, 129th overall, by the Stars at the 2007 NHL draft. He played junior in the Western Hockey League.
And the 20-year old Caamano — he doesn’t turn 21 until September — was taken by Dallas from the Flint Firebirds of the OHL in the fifth round, 146th overall, at the 2016 NHL draft. Caamano was later traded to the Hamilton Bulldogs and was part of their 2017-2018 OHL championship team.
Caamano is coming off his first pro season with the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League, where he tallied 12 goals, 12 assists, 24 points in 71 regular-season games.
“Actually, Porco reminds us a lot of Caamano,” McDonnell relayed, adding that “Caamano had a really good rookie season for our farm team in Texas. He is closing to playing in the NHL with us.”
Back to Porco, the 18-year old still has at least two full seasons of OHL eligibility to develop as Dallas monitors his progress. And McDonnell said Porco needs to be a top six forward over his next two seasons in the OHL.
“He needs to play a lot … we need him to play a lot,” McDonnell said, noting that Porco has “probably underachieved a bit” during his first two seasons in the OHL.
Porco is coming off a 2018-2019 campaign in which he scored 20 goals, 16 assists, 36 points in 67 regular season games before adding 3 goals, 4 assists, 7 points through three rounds and 15 playoff outings for Saginaw. Prior to that, in his rookie OHL season in Saginaw, Porco had 6 goals, 10 assists, 16 points in 61 games, playoffs included.
Blessed with blazing separation speed and having what is called a “high hockey IQ”, Porco totaled the 23 goals that he did in 2018-2019 despite a number of obstacles which included being shifted to right wing despite being a left-hand shot and playing on Saginaw’s third and fourth lines, often with mediocre line-mates who were unable to keep up with him.
Thus, there is a prevailing thought that Porco was not properly utilized by Spirit coach Chris Lazary, who replaced the aforementioned Troy Smith behind the Saginaw bench 22 games into the 2018-2019 OHL season.
“Like I said, we need Nick to become a top six forward during the next two seasons (in the OHL.) He needs to play,” McDonnell reiterated.
Speed and skill aside, Porco carries a character reputation of being an “A+ kid.” Friendly, albeit quiet and unassuming, Porco is not in the least bit full of himself and is known as a unselfish player and a good teammate.
“Everything we have heard about him is good,” McDonnell said. “He checks out as a great kid with everyone who we have talked to.”
Meanwhile, Porco — along with a number of other Dallas draft picks and prospects — is spending this week at a Stars evaluation camp down in the heart of Texas.
“That is where they are finding out what it takes to be a pro,” McDonnell relayed. “You have to be totally committed on and off the ice to make it to the NHL. It’s not just about skill.”
PHOTO: Nick Porco, in action at this week’s Dallas Stars evaluation camp.