As we inch closer to the 2021-22 season, the Dallas Stars roster is finally becoming clearer. While there are still need a few questions to be answered, the core of the team seems to be intact. If you were to look back at the past couple of seasons, it is difficult to pick one player that has stood out among the rest. Many top players have been through injuries, surgeries, and tough stretches during that time making it challenging to compare their performance. Some players excelled in the postseason after mediocre regular seasons and vice versa. With an expected healthy lineup heading into 2021-22, who will be the Stars’ most valuable player when the season comes to an end?
Pavelski led the Stars with 51 points in 56 games during the 2020-21 season. At 37 years old, he is still performing at the highest level and proving he belongs. He finished last season with a plus-22 rating and has been a “plus” player during both seasons with Dallas, even while he was adjusting to a new city. Coming into the final year on his current contract, he will have a lot to prove. Not only was he the Stars’ leading scorer last season, but he also led the entire league with 13 power-play goals.
Can he continue to produce at the high rate that he has since the COVID-19 stoppage in 2020? His confidence should be high and he will benefit from a healthier lineup, including linemate Roope Hintz, which should provide even further opportunities offensively.
Robertson was arguably the best rookie in the NHL after March 1. After taking some time to adjust to the league, he became one of its top players. From March 1, he tallied 39 points in 41 games. There was even a time when he was trailing only Connor McDavid in 5-on-5 points. Once the Stars united their top trio of Hintz, Robertson, and Pavelski, they simply could not be stopped. As the only line playing together consistently, the top three found a way to chip in offensively on a nightly basis.
“There were a lot of ups and downs. All the coaching staff and all the players here kind of guided my game to be a top-six player. It was a great year for me, I learned a lot and got more comfortable as the year went on. But I have a lot more things I can work on and improve on, so I look forward to that.”– Jason Robertson
While Robertson will continue to grow and add to the young core of the Stars, he is up against the possibility of a sophomore slump. As we saw with Denis Gurianov last season, the sophomore slump is very real, so he will need to work hard to avoid it. If he is able to overcome the increased defensive focus from his opponents and high expectation on him, his numbers could be special.
Hintz has been an interesting storyline early in his career. He has battled through severe injuries during the playoffs in two straight seasons and has impressed in every game he plays. After playing through a broken foot for an entire series in 2019 and through multiple ailments during the 2020 Playoffs, he showed his toughness again, pushing through a groin injury for the entirety of the 2020-21 season. A game-time decision every night, he finished with 43 points in 41 games. Throughout the past two seasons, he has not only been a threat offensively, but has developed his defensive game, earning the trust of his coaches and teammates in all situations. He is able to take faceoffs, kill penalties, shows toughness, and is capable of breaking down a defense in the blink of an eye.
Following last season, he underwent surgery to repair his injury and looks to be ready to return to full health to start next season. What exactly does a fully healthy Hintz look like? Opponents beware.
Seguin seems like the obvious choice for MVP candidate every season. However, he has not been fully healthy for a couple of years and his offensive numbers have declined. Although it was only for a few games, his return to the lineup last season went well as he scored two goals in three games.
He admits that he was not yet 100 percent healthy and this summer should offer him the chance to regain full strength. Keep in mind, he has delivered multiple 70-point seasons, scoring over 30 goals, including a 40-goal season in 2017-18. The Stars are a better-built team than they were a few seasons ago and should have the defensive depth to allow Seguin and others to push more offensively.
“It’s a huge season for the whole organization. We all bought into this group, we all love each other, and we have a real tight group. And if you sat down with a pen and a piece of paper and tried to write down all of the things we’ve been through the past two years, it would be quite the list. We all know how important this next year is.”– Tyler Seguin
It should also benefit him that Jamie Benn is likely to start the season at center, where he found success last season. If Seguin plays on the wing, he will have more freedom and less defensive responsibility, which should help his offense. He also brings leadership, experience, and skill in all situations to his game.
If the Stars’ shots-on-goal leader is able to respond to his first full season in years, he will benefit from a healthy Alexander Radulov along with other teammates who should increase his production.
Heiskanen is in a strange spot heading into next season. He impressed in his first two seasons and excelled in the 2020 Playoffs, scoring 26 points in 27 games. However, he struggled to be a consistent threat offensively last season. While his defensive play was solid, he only recorded 27 points in 55 games. This turned into a minus-9 rating after he was a solid plus-14 in 2019-20. None of those drop-offs caused any concern within the organization as the Stars have full confidence in his abilities and potential. To prove this, he was rewarded with a huge eight-year, $67.6 million contract early in the offseason. If he ever had any doubt, he now knows that he is the future of the franchise.
“I think I played really well defensively, but of course I want to do more offensively and be more effective. That’s the one thing I want to be better at. I think I had really good chances during the season where I didn’t score, and I want to be better at that.”– Miro Heiskanen
With all of the injuries Dallas has faced recently, players have been forced to take on more defensive roles as the team tried to win with defense. This produced a lack of scoring that ranged across all players and hurt them in their playoff race last season. Heiskanen knows that he can be better offensively and the team is confident that he will be.
With the addition of Ryan Suter, the top-four defense in Dallas will now be John Klingberg, Esa Lindell, Heiskanen, and Suter. This means that no matter which combinations Rick Bowness chooses, Heiskanen will be playing alongside a shutdown defender, allowing him to roam more on the offensive side of the ice. The sky is still the limit for the 21-year-old and next season, he should be fun to watch.
Hintz is coming off of a huge season as a point-per-game player for the first time in his career. The fact that he was playing through an injury needing offseason surgery shows his potential ceiling is far higher than the player we saw on the ice last season. That is a scary thought for any opponent that inevitably watched him scamper down the middle of the ice only to beat their goaltender on a breakaway. I believe he improves on his game and is eager to prove last season was not a fluke. Expect big things from No. 24 for the Stars in 2021-22.
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!