Joel Hanley reached new heights in 2020-21. He not only played a career-high 24 games, but he also became a regular on the third defensive pairing for the Dallas Stars. This is a huge step for young players as it gives them the confidence that they can play on the highest level and do so on a consistent basis. Early on, the undrafted defenseman found himself being pushed in and out of the lineup which can be tough for development. Hanley found his home on the third pair this season, matching up with Andrej Sekera, Mark Pysyk, or Sami Vatanen.
This confidence from the coaching staff came from his stellar play in the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020. Hanley played in 12 games during the playoffs last season, recording two points and a plus-3 rating. His proudest moment came when he opened the scoring in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lighting. This was not only a big goal in the game, but it came as his first and only career NHL goal.
This season, he continued to play with the same consistency and confidence. While he is not much of an offensive threat (16 points in 81 career games), he is solid on the defensive side of the puck. At only 5-foot-11, he uses his swift skating and awareness to put himself in the correct positions all over the ice. He hit career-highs in both blocked shots (21) and hits (25) during the 2021 campaign.
Since Dallas already has plenty of offensive weapons on the backend with John Klingberg, Miro Heiskanen, and even Jamie Oleksiak, it leaves Hanley, Esa Lindell, and others to focus more on their job on the other side of the rink. With that being said, the Stars are a team that has great success when their defense chips in offensively so if Hanley can produce a few more points here and there, it would greatly help his chances of staying in the lineup.
Hanley missed five games this season due to a core injury similar to that of Alexander Radulov. This injury required surgery after the season to repair but that did not stop Hanley from playing when the Stars were in the thick of the playoff race. Before the season came to a close, the Stars rewarded Hanley with a two-year contract extension. The contract is a one-way, $1.5 million deal, the first one-way deal of his career.
“He’s played great for us,” Stars general manager Jim Nill said. “He’s a very cap-friendly player that’s paid his dues. He’s a guy that can go in and out of the lineup anytime. He manages that well. Joel, he’s earned it. He’s earned this contract. He’s come in as a depth guy and has earned a spot in this lineup most nights and done a great job.” (from ‘Defenseman Joel Hanley signs two-year extension with Dallas Stars’ Dallas Morning News, April 14, 2021).
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Along with many of the current players on the Stars’ roster, Hanley is a firm believer in the potential of this group. It is a great time to be on this team and he will get his chance to prove himself for two more years.
“You never know if this opportunity would come,” Hanley said. “Just to be a part of the Dallas Stars moving forward is just so exciting. The future is very bright, and great leadership, amazing young players. It’s just so exciting to be a part of that.”
Next season, he will need to continue to improve, especially with young prospect Thomas Harley inching closer and closer to NHL action. If Dallas re-signs Oleksiak, Hanley will need to battle to keep his spot on the final pairing as the top-four would most likely be set in stone. While the coaches will play the better players, Hanley’s experience in both the regular season and playoffs should give him an edge on any youngsters trying to crack the lineup.
Overall Grade: B+
Sam Nestler is a Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the NHL and NCAA. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!