One of the defining characteristics of the Dallas Stars this season has been its young, developing talent. Forwards like Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov have seamlessly fit in with the veterans, and at times have outperformed them. Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the ice, Miro Heiskanen could be one of the biggest names in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Related: NHL’s Top 5 Defenses
With an important road trip in Canada that just started, the Stars need to make the next few games count. The team is only a few points behind the first place St. Louis Blues, with a rematch at AAC in a little more than a week. With a chance at a number one overall playoff berth possible, the young talent the Stars have needs to leave their mark north of the border. Here are the players I expect to have impactful games this weekend.
Heiskanen vs. Maple Leafs
Our first young Star that needs to make an impact on this road trip is Heiskanen. Thursday night the Stars will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have the third highest goals-per-game average in the entire league. Game one north of the border is going to be won by playing stout, iron curtain, unbreakable defense. While that might be the Stars bread-and-butter, this team is going to have to bring their A-game.
Heiskanen has begun to emerge as a leader on the Stars defensive front. This season, the second year defenseman has placed himself among the pack of league leaders with 39 takeaways and 70 blocked shots. His intangible skills are also proving to be effective on the ice, working the blue line and using his speed effectively.
Against the Maple Leafs, Heiskanen will need to bring all of his defensive skills and break out some top-shelf passing. He has the second most assists this season for the Stars, and for Dallas to get out of their defensive zone on the attack, he will have to make some strong breakout passes.
Robertson vs. Canadiens
Introducing the latest Stars’ rookie to make his NHL debut, Jason Robertson. Robertson is a 20-year-old forward coming up in the absence of Alexander Radulov, who was initially injured in a collision with Denis Gurianov in Friday’s game against the Minnesota Wild. Odds are that he re-aggravated the injury sustained against the Carolina Hurricanes and won’t be able to return to the ice until next Tuesday. Robertson wasn’t placed in the expected line-up against the Maple Leafs, but could take the ice Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens.
Robertson’s debut isn’t only important because of Radulov’s injury. The 2017 second-round draft pick is a dynamic goalscorer who leads the AHL Texas Stars with 20 goals and 35 points. The Stars are struggling with scoring this season and having a fresh face in the line-up could be exactly what the doctor ordered.
At the trade deadline, the Stars will be looking for a strong scorer. If Robertson can prove to make an immediate impact around the net, it could give the franchise justification to make a small trade for someone like New Jersey Devils forward Blake Coleman.
Regardless of how Robertson does in his Stars debut, it’s always exciting to see the impact that a young player will make on their first day in the NHL.
Gurianov vs. Senators
Stars fans have seen Sean Shapiro tweet his name out in an acronym and his power play one-timer against the Carolina Hurricanes proved the be the game winner. Gurianov has proven himself to be one of the fastest learners in the NHL and one of the most talented rookie forwards. It wouldn’t be shocking if he had a massive game against the Ottawa Senators this Sunday.
The Stars and Senators defenses are exact opposites of each other. While the Stars allow the third fewest goal in league, the Senators allow the third most. Senator goalies only have a save percentage of .901 – that’s exactly .02 less than the Stars, who rank among the league’s best. If there was ever a time for the Stars to take advantage of a bad defense, it will be Sunday.
This game could be a career night for Gurianov. The Stars dominant defense and his lightning speed should lead to breakout chances. “His speed is obvious,” said Stars interim coach Rick Bowness. “He can make plays at top speed. A lot of guys with that top speed have to slow down a little when they try to get a shot off, so that’s a great skill. It’s his first full year, and he’ll just keep getting better.” The rookie has the third most goals on the team and was second until Jamie Benn’s hat trick. With Gurianov’s ability to score, Stars fans should expect him to try to take his place back.
The Stars will return from Canada to the American Airlines Center next week against the Arizona Coyotes. When they return, I’ll break down the road trip and preview the upcoming week on the Supernova Hockey Podcast. You can check out the trailer below.