Stars’ Defense Revolves Around Rookie Heiskanen

Any other season, Dallas Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen would probably be the Calder Memorial Trophy favorite as the league’s top rookie. Unfortunately, it isn’t like most years and the 19-year-old standout on the Stars’ blue line may not even end up being a finalist.

Heiskanen Gets First Star

That’s obviously not a knock on the third-overall pick from two drafts ago. Whenever you score 33 points as a defenseman in the NHL, it’s noteworthy, doubly so if it’s in your first season. When you’re not even 20, it gives any rational fan pause. When you’re theNashville Predators in Game 1 of your first-round series, it evidently leaves you star struck.

Mattias Ekholm, Brett Ritchie
Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm and Dallas Stars forward Brett Ritchie – (AP Photo/LM Otero)

After all, Heiskanen scored two points in his playoff debut, including his first-ever postseason goal. Initially, he had gotten two, but credit for the second was later given to Alexander Radulov. No matter, the Stars and Heiskanen will take the 3-2 win however it comes and try to build off it. The thing is, Heiskanen arguably doubles as the foundation.

Heiskanen’s vs. Dahlin

You can literally list on one hand the number of top-10 defensive picks in the salary-cap era who have had debut seasons as or more impressive than Heiskanen at age 19 or younger: Erik Johnson (No. 1 overall in 2006), Aaron Ekblad (No. 1 overall in 2014) and Rasmus Dahlin (No. 1 overall in 2018).

Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin
Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin – (Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)

With exception to that last one, it’s safe to say they’ve each turned out okay and into the backbones of their respective defensive corps. It’s just unfortunate for Stars fans that last one, Dahlin, also just enjoyed his rookie season and may become the best of the bunch when all is said and done.

It should be noted Heiskanen was leaned on more heavily (23:07 per game) by an injury-plagued defense without Marc Methot, than Dahlin (21:09 per game) was by the Buffalo Sabres. Heiskanen also started far fewer of his shifts in the offensive zone than Dahlin (54.0% to 65.6%), with over a minute less per game on the power play.

Yes, Dahlin finished with 11 more points (but three fewer goals) to Heiskanen’s 33 (12). However, there’s a case to be made Heiskanen was simply more valuable to the Stars. Look no further than how the Stars are still playing.

Heiskanen vs. the Predators

On paper, the Stars’ first-round opponents, the Predators, have a deeper defense. Few would argue to the contrary, looking at Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis. In fact the Predators’ depth all over their lineup is one of the reasons they are favored to win the series, but the Stars have reasons of their own. If Heiskanen continues playing the role of game-breaker and outplays the Predators’ top guns, he’ll be a reason all on his own.

Few may expect Heiskanen to continue leading the Stars in even-strength ice time, as he did in Game 1. In dire need of some semblance of defensive stability, they may not have a choice, but, to Heiskanen’s credit, he’s clearly running with it to the best of his ability, which is pretty far as it turns out.

Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Miro Heiskanen, Radek Faksa, Alexander Radulov
Miro Heiskanen and Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin – (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal)

Realistically, seeing as voting only takes into consideration the regular season, it won’t win Heiskanen the Calder. Taking into account Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson and St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington, there are at least four rookies who have had seasons outstanding enough to merit consideration for the Calder this year. So, someone will find themselves on the outside looking in, but all eyes in Dallas should be on Heiskanen as the Stars vie for the upset in the first round. There are bigger trophies at stake.