Miro Heiskanen seemed to be non-human early in his young career. He played beyond his years in his first two seasons in the NHL and continued his excellent play into the postseason. Missing only one game over the first two seasons, he was a workhorse that produced on both sides of the ice. It is hard to imagine that he would not have a decline this season after leading the Stars in scoring with 26 points in 27 playoff games during their run to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. With that said, this season did, in fact, disappoint, but there is more to what is seen on the surface.
While the Stars missed the playoffs and viewed this entire season as a failure, there are always positives to take away. One of those positives is the continued development of their young core players, and Miro Heiskanen is one of those players.
Heiskanen started very slow this season, not scoring his first goal until the 18th game, and unfortunately for him, he did not pick it up much offensively from there. His stats do not look awful, as he finished with eight goals and 27 points in 55 games. However, he was not nearly as much of a threat as he had been in the past, and it was obvious when watching a game. It appeared that he was pushing through a skid for most of the year, and although he continued to say that he was not worried about it, his face sometimes showed otherwise. Now, keep in mind that the Stars struggled to score goals all season, and very few players excelled on the offensive side of the puck. Miro would have loved to produce more, especially down the stretch when his team was so close to scratching and clawing their way into a playoff spot.
Although his offense was not as sparkling as it was in the playoffs last season, Heiskanen still played nearly 25 minutes per game and was on the ice in the most crucial situations. This is because he remained the Stars’ best defenseman and one of their best players overall. Just as he was struggling offensively, the opposite was true about how well he played defensively. He is not a flashy player, and a lot of the plays that he makes can go unnoticed by fans. He excels at making the right play, something that cannot be underestimated.
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Heiskanen is constantly in the right spot to break up a pass, poke the puck off the opponent’s stick, or make the small plays to get the puck moving up the ice for the Stars. He knows how to block shots and keep himself in lanes to force the opponents to work harder to gain scoring chances. The 21-year-old will only get better as time goes on, but he is already far ahead of most players at his age. What stands out most is his hockey IQ. Not every hockey player is created equal when it comes to their mental game, and a select few stand above others (think Sergei Zubov). Heiskanen undoubtedly falls into this category. He can think the game faster than most in the league and has the speed, skill, and determination to back it up. It also helps that he has been a very consistent player, only missing three games in his three NHL seasons.
“We mention things to him, we show him things, and he catches on right away,” Head Coach Rick Bowness said. “It’s going to come from within him. He’s got such great natural instincts for the game that you don’t want to tamper with. He’s got great poise, great confidence. It’s just a matter of him continuing to play and gaining experience in all situations. He’ll just keep getting better.”
While Heiskanen did not sparkle offensively this season, he still performed very well in most areas of his game. His point totals should increase next season, along with his overall game, as he develops even more into an elite Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman in the NHL. This was the final season on his entry-level contract, so he should also be due for a nice raise this summer. Whether that will be a bridge deal of three years or a much larger eight-year deal, we will wait to find out, but no matter what, he remains arguably the most important player in the Stars organization.
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!