David Harris The Hockey Writers
Stars Youth Is Playoff X-Factor
The Dallas Stars are one of the most experienced teams in the NHL (from ‘Sizing up the NHL: 2019-20 NHL teams by age, height, weight and nationality,’ The Athletic, 10/09/2019). With players like Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, and captain Jamie Benn providing numbers on the stat sheet and leadership in the locker room, veteran performances are to be expected from this team. However, the Stars have something not all NHL franchises can boast about – young players who can make an impact.
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The contributions from players like Denis Gurianov and Miro Heiskanen have been felt on the ice on a daily basis. That’s something that is felt among the fan base, too. Saturday night, after Gurianov already scored his 20th goal of the season, fans asked why coach Rick Bowness left him out of the shootout. While Bowness did say Gurianov was to be the fourth shooter, he has had plenty of praise for him.
“It’s his first full year, and he’ll just keep getting better,” Bowness said.
The youth on the Stars is continuing to get better every game. Heiskanen, Gurianov, Roope Hintz, and Jason Dickinson are all over 20 points this season. Two of them, Hintz and Heiskanen, are in the top five for the team’s points totals. Meanwhile, Gurianov and Hintz are both in the team’s top three goalscorers.
Kids Score Goals
It’s almost like a broken record at this point, the biggest criticism of the Stars is their offense. Overall, looking at the statistics, there is some fair concern about the team’s ability to score. However, recently those concerns have dropped because the Stars offense and power play have been scoring on a more regular basis.
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If you dive further into the numbers, you’ll see it’s the Stars young players who are a big factor for the surge. At the time of writing, Gurianov has scored goals in three straight games and has four points in the last three. Gurianov’s seven goals are also tied for the third-most in February by a Stars rookie. He sits behind legends like Mike Modano and Neal Broten. He is four goals behind the Stars all-time rookie season record. It’s a record that he’s completely capable of breaking. His 2019-20 season has been a far cry from when he was called a bust.
Hintz has also made his contributions in the offensive zone, he’s also scored three points in the last three games. Dickinson and Heiskanen have also scored a goal apiece in their last five games.
The kids aren’t silent in Dallas, they are making plenty of noise. Without making a move at the trade deadline that adds more offense, the Stars need their young guns to fire away at the net.
Young Skates on the Ice
One thing that is baffling under Bowness is that Gurianov has received less ice time than other players in the line-up. Players like Radek Faksa are getting put on the ice more than the 22-year-old Russian left wing. Gurianov gives the Stars more firepower when he’s on the ice. He’s also been great when placed on the line with Seguin and Radulov.
However, Gurianov and Hintz did see an uptick in their ice time during the game against the Boston Bruins. Hintz had the sixth-most ice time while Gurianov had the eighth-most. The increase is a clear sign that the coaching staff is beginning to put more faith in their younger players.
One young Stars player is clearly getting his bulk of time on the ice. Heiskanen not only leads the three players in ice time, but he also leads all skaters. He currently has an average time on ice of 19:24. Across the entire NHL, that’s the 17th-most ice time.
With all of the fresh legs on the ice, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that younger players are taking a larger share of the workload.
Outside of the FCC line (Faksa, Andrew Cogliano, and Blake Comeau), most of the pieces that the Stars have are interchangeable. On any given night you can see a mixture of veteran talent and young players on the same line. Gurianov and Hintz have been on lines with Seguin, Benn, and Radulov.
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But one of the most effective combinations that could be seen going forward is Hintz, Dickinson, and Gurianov. The three players are more than capable of having success. Both Hintz and Gurianov are effective wings with the talent to score goals. Both of their shooting percentages are over 16 percent and are the two best on the team. Meanwhile, Dickinson continues to push his percentage toward 12 percent and finds himself among the top-10 on the team.
The youthful combinations aren’t just on the offense. While he isn’t what you’d call young, Stephen Johns and Heiskanen have played effectively together. Johns has provided a physical brand of defense while Heiskanen’s speed is hard to beat. The two have also been contributing a goal here and there.
With the playoffs coming soon, every team is looking for that x-factor to give them an edge going forward. For the Stars, that answer can be found in their young players. This season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs might not only have a magical run ahead but it could be a turning point for the franchise’s future.
You can hear the latest recap of Stars hockey on the Supernova Hockey Podcast. This week The Hockey Writers Stephen Ground joins the show to discuss the rivalry between the Stars and St. Louis Blues.
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