The reigning Western Conference champions will bring back a plethora of scoring weapons for fantasy owners to keep an eye on in 2020-21 but they will be forced to make adjustments due to the absence of forward Tyler Seguin (hip) and goaltender Ben Bishop (knee).
Despite finishing third-last in goals scored in 2019-20, the Stars’ recent Stanley Cup Final run provided a glimpse into a bright future for players looking for an increased opportunity in the New Year.
While the Stars will be eager to get back both their highest-paid forward and goaltender, fantasy owners shouldn’t shy away from building their team this season with plenty of Victory Green.
EARLY ROUND TARGET
Miro Heiskanen, Defenseman (Average Draft Position [ADP]: 65)
Perhaps the most seasoned 21-year-old in the game, Heiskanen has quickly evolved from ‘prospect’ to ‘elite’ among NHL defensemen and will enter the 2020-21 campaign as the top-ranked fantasy option on the Stars.
The former third-overall pick is fresh off a Cup Final appearance where he played an average of nearly 26 minutes a game, led all NHL defensemen in postseason assists (20), and finished behind only Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point in playoff points (26).
He contributed 35 points (8 goals, 27 assists) in 68 regular-season games, he surpassed John Klingberg as the team’s leader in average ice time (23:46) and quietly ranked 12th in Norris Trophy voting for best NHL defenseman.
After finishing behind only Seguin in even-strength points for the Stars in 2019-20, Heiskanen led all 2020 Playoff defensemen in the same category (18) and should continue to get the green light to join the Stars’ speedy offensive attack.
Without Seguin to start the season, Heiskanen’s offensive versatility will be expanded even more in 2020-21 and he should help carry the load across both power-play units alongside Klingberg. Both defensemen hold strong fantasy value with high offensive upside and shouldn’t fall beyond the first six rounds in most leagues.
Considering the high weekly floor, you can comfortably select Heiskanen within the first 60 picks, with an added priority for 12-14 team leagues that reward for plus/minus or average ice time. Don’t be surprised to see him taken as a top-5 fantasy defenseman by 2022.
I’d take him after: Dougie Hamilton, Alex Pietrangelo, Morgan Rielly
I’d take him before: Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, Zach Werenski
John Klingberg, Defenseman (ADP: 94)
For a player who has been selected within the first five rounds of fantasy drafts for three consecutive seasons, including a near 70-point campaign in 2017-18, Klingberg being drafted within the top 100 players going into 2020-21 seems like a possible league-winning opportunity.
While he produced career-lows in all major scoring categories in 2019-20, the 28-year-old renewed his status as an elite offensive defenseman in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Klingberg’s 21 points (4 goals, 17 assists) and over 23 minutes of ice time trailed only Heiskanen for the team-lead while he continued to be the primary quarterback of the Stars’ top power-play unit.
The emergence of Heiskanen should only raise Klingberg’s fantasy value, as the duo’s 34 combined assists are the third-highest total among defense teammates in Stanley Cup Playoff history.
I’d take him after: Seth Jones, Rasmus Dahlin, Zach Werenski
I’d take him before: Shea Weber, Shea Theodore, Ivan Provorov
Joe Pavelski, Forward (ADP: 196)
Pavelski was on his way to leading most league-wide lists of free agency busts after signing a 3-year, $21-million deal with the Stars, followed up with 31 points in 67 regular-season games. Rightfully so, as he had not recorded less than 20 goals or less than 64 points since 2013, which was a lockout-shortened season.
After an 0-3 start in the preliminary round and amid unprecedented life in the 2020 Playoff bubble, Pavelski provided one of the more historic postseason performances in NHL history.
Starting with a hat trick in Game 4’s OT win in Round 1, an effort that saved the Stars from a 3-1 series deficit against the Calgary Flames, his 13 goals in 27 postseason games led the Stars to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 2000. He also broke the US-born playoff scoring record and became just the fourth NHL player 36 or older to score at least 10 goals in a single postseason.
With the new city jitters out of the way and Seguin unavailable to start the season, Captain America will resume duties as the top-line center with every opportunity to revive the 2020 Postseason heroics that pushed the Stars to within two wins of raising the Stanley Cup.
Just one season removed from tallying 38 goals, fantasy owners shouldn’t let this elite power-play specialist fall too far down draft boards this winter. Consider Pavelski low risk in Rounds 14 or 15 with an added boost if he continues to build chemistry with young forward Denis Gurianov on the second line. Aside from an established role on the number one power-play unit alongside Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov, top-line minutes are almost guaranteed as well, at least to start the season.
I’d take him after: Max Domi, Kevin Hayes, Brandon Saad
I’d take him before: Zach Parise, Jake DeBrusk, Nico Hischier
Denis Gurianov, Forward (ADP: 166)
The Stars re-signed Gurianov to a 2-year extension worth $5.1 million, securing the services of the former 2015 first-round pick through the 2021-22 season.
His rookie campaign consisted of a team-leading 20 regular-season goals, followed by bursting on the national radar in the playoffs. From a 4-goal, 5-point performance in Round 1 to the eventual Game 6 overtime-winner that sent the Stars to the Cup Final, the 23-year-old will enter his second NHL season as a key piece to the Stars’ offensive plans.
Just scratching the surface, Gurianov is poised for an expanded role in 2020-21, one similar to what led to 17 points in 27 postseason games, mostly alongside Pavelski and former Texas Stars linemate Roope Hintz.
For a player who won’t see many bottom-six minutes and will be leaned on to produce heavily early on, expect him to take another leap forward in his development that will warrant 12th or 13th round consideration in most leagues.
I’d take him after: Sean Monahan, Victor Olofsson, Tomas Hertl
I’d take him before: Nick Suzuki, Evgenii Dadonov, Alex Tuch
Roope Hintz, Forward (ADP: 244)
If there was a time for some “post-hype” appeal, it would be now.
Hintz entered 2019-20 as one of the more intriguing assets in the Stars’ top-six forward group after a solid AHL season where he recorded 22 points in 21 games for Texas. He then added electric speed and an offensive spark to the Stars’ attack with 8 points in his first 13 NHL postseason games.
Hintz tallied 33 points, 14 on the power play, to trail only Klingberg and Seguin for the team-lead in his first full NHL season, while racking up 19 goals including two shorthanded and five game-winners across 60 games.
Fresh off a 3-year extension worth $9.45 million, Hintz’s role is destined to increase in 2020-21 after another solid postseason run with 13 points (11 assists) in 25 games.
As Seguin remains sidelined and Radek Faksa mans the third line checking unit, Hintz figures to settle in a guaranteed top-six and power-play role where he will see plenty of scoring opportunities alongside Jamie Benn, Pavelski, Heiskanen, and Klingberg.
Hintz’s chemistry with former Stars teammate Gurianov and his two-way versatility should warrant increased ice time this season across both special teams, making him well worth a late-round flier in deeper leagues.
I’d take him after: Cody Glass, Ryan Getzlaf, Kaapo Kakko
I’d take him before: Phil Kessel, Craig Smith, Martin Necas
Ben Bishop, Goaltender (ADP: 73)
Bishop’s availability in the playoffs, or lack thereof, left most Stars fans and fantasy owners wondering what exactly the future held for the 34-year-old.
Career-long backup Anton Khudobin not only stepped in and contributed in Bishop’s absence, but cemented his place as a prime 2020 Conn Smythe Trophy candidate and fan favorite during an unpredictable postseason run.
So, what now?
Bishop is expected to be out four months after having surgery on his right knee to repair a torn meniscus, revealed shortly after the Game 6 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The timeframe puts Bishop back in the lineup in late-March or even early April as Khudobin is expected to continue carrying the load for the Stars.
While the last we saw of Bishop was not pretty, allowing 12 goals in three 2020 postseason games – he’s still only a season removed from a sparkling .934 save percentage (SV%) and 1.98 goals-against average that led to a second-place finish in Vezina Trophy voting for best NHL goaltender in 2018-19.
Collectively, Bishop and Khudobin finished second in the 2020 Willam M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goalie tandem with the fewest goals allowed, behind only the Boston Bruins’ Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak.
All things considered, a solid .920 SV% from 2019-20 and after handling most of the regular-season duties, Bishop would be the clear starter behind a solid defense corps if injury concerns weren’t lingering.
In what is expected to be a shortened regular season, his 7th-round ADP is probably too rich for most, but he shouldn’t be completely ignored considering how shallow the goaltending market can be. Assuming your league allows IR (injured reserve) slots, the most comfortable price tag for Bishop would be closer to Round 9, and preferably a few rounds later, if possible.
If you plan to take Bishop, be sure you’ve already drafted an established starter (or two) by that point, or be ready to take Khudobin shortly after to lock up the Stars’ elite tandem that will be reunited later in the season.
I’d take him after: Ilya Samsonov, Jacob Marksrom, Braden Holtby
I’d take him before: Joonas Korpisalo, Jaroslav Halak, Henrik Lundqvist
Anton Khudobin, Goaltender (ADP: 106)
“We’re Not Going Home” will be a phrase used amongst Stars fans for the foreseeable future.
To some, Khudobin would be the starter whether Bishop was ailing or not, and his recent postseason heroics makes it a valid argument. Recording at least 30 saves in six of the final nine postseason games, he often singlehandedly kept his team in games that led to a Western Conference championship.
His performance should come as no real surprise, as the one they call ‘Dobby’ quietly led all eligible NHL goaltenders in regular-season save percentage (.930) and finished third in goals-against average (2.22) prior to the league-wide pause. That effort helped the Bishop-Khudobin tandem to the fewest goals allowed in the conference.
After a historic postseason run and Bishop locked into a long-term absence, Khudobin will enter the 2020-21 season as a much hotter fantasy commodity than in any other season as the Stars’ clear No. 1 option come opening night.
His career average in relation to recent performances could hint at a bit of a regression, and the Stars are a prime candidate for a slow start after a long Stanley Cup run in the bubble. However, the continued defensive-minded formula under head coach Rick Bowness and guaranteed multiple weekly starts make Khudobin an intriguing No. 2 goaltender for your fantasy team.
His current 9th round ADP could rise if Bishop doesn’t go to plan.
I’d take him after: Ilya Samsonov, Jacob Markstrom, Phillipp Grubauer
I’d take him before: Ben Bishop, Thatcher Demko, Pavel Francouz
After dropping the interim tag, Bowness will be looking to utilize his highly skilled locker room again in 2020-21 as the Stars climbed nearly to the top of the hockey world.
With the NHL targeting a Jan. 1, 2021, start date, training camp will (hopefully) open in mid-December.
Clayton Bailey covers Fantasy Hockey and the Dallas Stars for The Hockey Writers. The Dallas native previously scouted the Texas Stars for DobberProspects, prior to working in various data, statistics and customer relations roles with Sporting News and DAZN-Canada.