The Dallas Stars have 40 prospects listed in their system. Of those, no one is more ready for their shot at the NHL than the team’s second-round selection (49th overall) in the 2015 draft. Roope Hintz – pronounced ROH-pay – has matured well, like a vintage ’89 cabernet sauvignon or a 10-year barrel-aged whiskey. The young Finn may turn out to be the next young star in Dallas as soon as next season.
A Rising Finnish Star
To get the full scope of Hintz’s hockey career, we need to go back to the 2010-11 season. At the ripe age of 14, Hintz was playing for Ilves in his hometown of Tampere, Finland, an organization he would play for up until the 2015-16 campaign. During the 2010-11 season, Hintz split time with the Ilves U16 squad in the SM-Sarja and SM-Sarja Q league, both junior tiers of Liiga, Finland’s highest level of professional hockey. In 23 games split between the two leagues, Hintz potted 11 goals and 13 points, finishing sixth on the team in the Q league with a healthy seven goals in 13 contests.
At the start of the 2011-12 campaign, Hintz again split time between Sarja and Sarja-Q, this time with more success. With the lower-level Sarja Q squad, the Finnish forward tallied six points (three goals, three assists) in four games before being promoted to Sarja where he notched seven goals and 14 helpers for 21 points in 12 games, good for the sixth on the roster.
By the end of the season, Hintz earned himself a call-up to the Ilves U18 team at just 15 years of age. He again proved his worth, this time to the tune of three goals and six helpers in 18 games. He also skated with Team Finland’s U16 team and notched a very nice 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) in 13 contests, earning a plus-11 during that span.
Hintz got his first taste of North American hockey at the start of the 2012-13 season. The Finnish transfer skated for the Tampa Bay Juniors of the now-defunct Empire Junior Hockey League (now the USPHL), a USA Hockey-sanctioned tier three junior league. On the stats sheet, the EmJHL was little competition for the 16-year-old Finn. Hintz finished with the team lead in goals (20) and points (35) despite playing in only 20 games, at least a dozen fewer than most of his teammates.
Hintz stayed in North America until December of 2012 while also appearing in two games with the Bismarck Bobcats of the North American Hockey League, another USA Hockey-sanctioned league, this time tier two, one step above the EmJHL. He then returned home to Ilves U18 club to finish the season where he tallied four goals and nine helpers in nine games, still finishing in the top half of the team despite playing only a quarter of the season.
The 2013-14 season is where Hintz really broke out. He again began the campaign with the Ilves U18 team but only needed one game, in which he recorded two goals, to be promoted to the U20 team. Hintz’s 29-game stint with the club was successful, recording 38 points and finishing third on the team in goals (18), fifth in helpers (20) and fourth in total points. His success earned him his first ever call-up to Liiga, playing for the top Ilves program, cracking the roster as a 17-year-old on a team whose average age was 25.
A Liiga Superstar
Now at the top of his game, the young Hintz began the 2014-15 campaign with Ilves in Liiga and remained there for the season. The winger tallied 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 42 games, finishing eighth in points as the youngest player on the squad. He earned a spot on Finland’s World Junior team in 2015, notching two helpers in five games, good enough for third on the Finnish roster, tied with fellow Stars prospect Julius Honka.
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) June 27, 2015
In the offseason, Hintz was selected by the Stars in the second round and immediately returned to Finland for more development with a new team. The newly-drafted left winger signed a two-year contract with HIFK of Liiga. The change of scenery appeared to do some good, as the 19-year-old improved, putting up 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in a back-injury shortened season of 33 games.
For those keeping score, that’s three more points in nine fewer games than when he was with Ilves the season before. Hintz helped HIFK finish with the league’s best regular season record and then recorded six points (two goals, four assists) in 18 playoff games to help the club advance to the championship series before losing in six games.
Although he and his team fell in the Liiga championship, Hintz again suited up for Team Finland in the U20 World Junior Championship, this time serving as an assistant captain and helped his team capture the gold medal. Hintz notched three goals and a helper in the seven-game run.
Now a more tenured member of HIFK, Hintz proved his worth throughout the 2016-17 season, by far his best to date. He churned out 30 points in 44 games, leading the team in goals (19-tied) and finishing second in points. His plus-10 was good ranked fourth on the team. During the playoffs, Hintz led the team in assists (11) and points (14).
His steady success in Finland’s top league earned him an NHL contract, signing his entry-level deal with the Dallas Stars on May 4, 2017.
Related: Dallas Stars Top 4 Prospects 2017
Turning Pro in Texas
Just two seasons after being selected by the Stars, the 20-year-old Finn was ready for North American hockey, joining the Texas Stars for the 2017-18 season. In his first campaign with the club, Hintz showed no signs of slowing down, finishing fifth on the Texas Stars roster with 35 points (20 goals, 15 assists) in 70 games and ranked second in goals. Not bad, kid.
Hintz helped Texas to a first-place finish in the AHL’s Pacific Division, earning a spot in the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs. After dispatching Ontario and Tucson in the first two rounds, the Stars drew Rockford in the Western Conference Final and in Game 6, Hintz earned his star. With 8.5 seconds left in overtime, the rookie winger scored one of the biggest goals of his career to propel Texas to the Calder Cup Final.
— NHL (@NHL) June 2, 2018
And although a hard-fought seven-game series against the Toronto Marlies would not favor the Stars, the effort was most certainly there. Hintz finished fifth on the team in playoff points (12) and his eight assists during the playoff run earned him the “AHL Playoffs Most Assists by a Rookie” distinction. All-in-all, not a bad first pro season for the young Finn.
The now-21-year-old prospect is very close to reaching the big club in Dallas. He will likely see time in the NHL this season, if not all 82 (plus) games. After all, Hintz might not have spent any time with the Texas Stars this season. He was one of the last cuts out of training camp in 2017, earning high praise from the NHL’s third-winningest coach, Ken Hitchcock.
“Hintz has stepped up here,” Hitchcock said of the young Finn during training camp. “His game has gone up another level. He’s now challenging, where you weren’t sure before.”
Hintz finished the 2017 preseason with one goal, two assists, and a plus-three in six games. And despite not making the team, he earned a call-up in March. Although he didn’t actually suit up for a game, being called up shows the confidence the front office has in the Finnish winger. Expect to see him secure a spot in some capacity this season.
“Hintz has been dynamite. To me, he’s NHL ready.”
When the puck drops on opening night, there’s a very good chance we’ll see Hintz out there. Roope is ready to star in Dallas.