The Dallas Stars were spotty in October, followed by a promising November, then they rounded out the year with an inconsistent December. Now in January, they have a 22-16-2 record as they inch their way into a wild-card spot, sitting in fifth in the Central Division. Despite more wins than losses this month, the Stars know the second half of the season has to be better than the first.
However, their recent consistency didn’t come without adversity — injuries, COVID protocols, rescheduled games. But despite this, the Stars have impressed lately; their top line of Joe Pavelski, Roope Hintz and Jason Robertson has been dazzling, and veterans like Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin have stepped up. As the team reaches the midpoint of the season, here are the players who deserve awards.
Best Forward: Joe Pavelski
If the game against the New Jersey Devils last Tuesday showed anything, it was Joe Pavelski‘s playmaking skills. He leads the team in points with 40 (16 goals, 24 assists) and has proven that he deserves to wear the “A” on his chest. In the Stars’ win against the Seattle Kracken on Jan. 12, the 34-year-old logged the first five-point night of his career.
Pavelski is a huge reason the Stars are where they are in the standings. His line has been outstanding, with fast offense and skillful puck movement. The trio has consistently put up points, and Pavelski is a notably hard worker who is always trying to improve his play. He has been praised for his excellent hockey IQ and offensive ability. Stars head coach Rick Bowness has praised his ability to get to a loose puck and to get open.
“His anticipation of where that puck is going. Great poise around the net. Goal scorers know where to put the puck. You can put other guys in those situations, and they’re not going to have the natural instinct in order to put the puck past the goalie.”– Stars head coach Rick Bowness
The 16-year NHL veteran is also heading to Las Vegas, where he will captain the Central Division in his fourth All-Star Game.
12 points in his last 6 games— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 26, 2022
Joe Pavelski is RED HOT 🥵 pic.twitter.com/YsRweXKAtC
Best Defenseman: Miro Heiskanen
It’s difficult to say who should get the award for the Stars’ best defenceman. While all eyes have been on John Klingberg and whether or not his contract will be extended, fans should shift their attention to Miro Heiskanen. The Stars have struggled to get offensive from their defense this season, and each defenseman has shown they have room to improve. In light of this, naming the team’s best blueliner was tricky, but the 22-year-old might be it.
He had an incredible start to the season, scoring 16 points in the first 20 games, and his name came up in early Norris Trophy conversations. But now, at the midpoint, he’s sitting with just 25 points, including only four goals. Despite this, Heiskanen is still an underrated defenseman and an underrated player overall. His ability to move the puck and make offensive plays turns heads. He may be missing his offensive prowess now, but don’t count him out just yet.
Team MVP: Roope Hintz
Hintz, on a dynamic top line with Pavelski and Robertson, continues to be one of the most impressive players on the Dallas roster. He and Pavelski both lead the team with 19 goals. Hintz also has 36 points in 39 games and continues to dominate. The Stars have offered him the stage, and he has become one of the most versatile forwards in the league.
The centreman has speed, great offensive ability, and great hockey sense. He’s big, at 6-foot-3, but skates effortlessly, allowing him to stay on the puck and backcheck when he needs to. His shot is deadly, and he’s been nothing but an asset this season.
Before this season, the Finnish forward flew under the radar. In 2020-21, he dealt with injuries to the hip and groin that kept him off the ice for stretches. But that didn’t slow him down. He still tallied 43 points by the end of the season.
This season, fans are watching as he continues to build chemistry with his linemates. He is a huge reason why the Stars are in the playoff race.
Most Surprising: Braden Holtby
After a note-so-impressive season with the Vancouver Canucks, it was a gamble when the Stars signed Braden Holtby to a 1-year contract this offseason. Between him, youngster Jake Oettinger and Anton Khudobin, management had a difficult choice to make in choosing their starter. But in Holtby’s first game against the New York Rangers on Oct. 14, he impressed and continued to impress each game. While the recent game against his old club, the Washington Capitals, on Jan. 28 didn’t end well for the netminder, he’s been consistent between the pipes this season.
He may need to step up if the Stars want to continue to win, but if they can rely on anyone, it’s Holtby.
Most Disappointing : Joel Kiviranta
Joel Kiviranta has only spent two seasons with the Stars, but both have been a rollercoaster for the young forward. Last season, he only managed 11 points due to an injury. This season, he only has four points despite playing in 34 games. He’s had some good scoring opportunities and has played relatively well offensively, but the puck just isn’t finding the back of the net.
His numbers should be much higher at this point in the season. His playmaking should also be more impressive, although he did net a stunning goal against the Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 21.
“Of course, it feels good. Now that we won this game, it feels even better. It has been a weird season. 30 games without scoring a goal. But I did not want to make that too big of a problem to myself. I keep a positive mind every day and every practice and just try to shoot the puck, and sometimes, it goes in.”– Stars forward Joel Kiviranta
Despite ending his scoring drought, Kiviranta should be doing more and putting up more goals. He still has time to make the most of 2021-22; he was a promising rookie and can still be a promising player. He just needs to push a little harder.
What’s Next for Dallas
For the second half of 2021-22, the Stars have to do one thing: win. Their consistency has been shaky, their star players have had both good and bad moments, and their defense is not spectacular. The team is within reach of a wild-card spot. It’s time for the team to reach the next level if they want to have any chance of playing for the Stanley Cup.
Raylene Lung is a journalist based in Ottawa and has a Masters of Journalism from Carleton University. She has previously written for The Victory Press, The Hockey News, Canadian Geographic and most recently worked at CBC Edmonton. She still reads magazines religiously and loves women’s hockey. When she isn’t writing, she is riding her horse. She currently covers the Dallas Stars for The Hockey Writers.