The Dallas Stars have a secret weapon that not many people around the NHL are aware of. That weapon is a group of talented players from Finland known as the “Finnish Mafia.” These players make up a large part of the young core for the Stars and will have a huge impact on the present and future of the franchise. The “Finnish Mafia” is made up of forwards Roope Hintz and Joel Kiviranta, along with defenseman Miro Heiskanen, Esa Lindell, and newcomer Jani Hakanpaa. With three players being under 25 years old and all under 30, the future looks very bright. Here is a look at what makes this group so vital to the organization.
Hintz has been the Stars’ best forward, dating back to the past couple of seasons. During the 2020-21 season, he was a point-per-game player despite battling through an injury all season long. Finishing with 43 points in 41 games, he served as the center on the talented top line along with Jason Robertson and Joe Pavelski. Despite how good Hintz has been, we still may not have seen his best.
Battling through injuries throughout his young career, it is likely that he still has another level in terms of skill. On top of his offensive abilities, he is also excellent at faceoffs, can kill penalties, and has developed his defensive game much further than most at the age of 24. He has given the Stars two options for a top center along with Tyler Seguin, a problem that any team is happy to have. After successful surgery this summer, Hintz should be fully healthy when training camp begins.
The other forward in the group, Kiviranta, still has a lot to prove at the NHL level. His biggest moment came in Game 7 against the Colorado Avalanche in the 2020 playoffs. First, he scored his second career goal to tie the game in the first period. Then, he tallied the tying goal just seconds after Colorado took a late lead in the third period. Finally, he capped off the night with the hat trick goal in overtime to send the Stars to the Western Conference Final. Before this, he had only played in one playoff game in his young career.
Adding two more goals, he finished the playoffs with six points in 14 games. Last season, expectations were high, but unfortunately, he missed most of the season due to injury. In the 26 games he played, he recorded 11 points and finished the season with four points in the final seven games of the season. At just 25 years old, he has plenty of room to grow and is likely going to develop into a top-six scoring option for Dallas.
Lindell is arguably the most underrated defenseman in the NHL. Playing on the same team as John Klingberg and Heiskanen will do that as all eyes naturally fall on those two exciting players. However, Lindell has been a staple on the top pair for years and has developed into their best shutdown defender. At 27 years old, he is able to play huge minutes, kill penalties, block shots, and is among the smartest players on the team.
While his game is nothing exciting and he will not add much offense, he will also not make many mistakes and can compete with the top talent across the league. This season, it is unknown whether he will play alongside his usual partner in Klingberg or if he will be the new pairing for Heiskanen with the addition of Ryan Suter switching things up. Whichever partner he is assigned, Rick Bowness knows what he will get from him and will trust him in every situation of the game.
Heiskanen is no longer a secret. After two solid seasons, he had his coming-out party in the Edmonton playoff bubble during the 2019-20 season. Scoring 26 points in 27 games and helping the Stars to the Stanley Cup Final showed the rest of the league what everyone in Dallas already knew. At only 22 years old, he is already on the watch list for the Norris Trophy given to the league’s top defenseman. Although his offensive production dipped a bit in 2020-21, he was still a dominant player on the defensive end and was rewarded with an eight-year, $67.6 million contract this summer.
“Since joining us, it has been clear that Miro is part of a collection of young, rising stars that are now playing in the National Hockey League,” Stars general manager Jim Nill said in a statement released by the team. “As an organization, we truly feel that Miro has just scratched the surface of his ability and will be in the Norris Trophy discussion for years to come. On behalf of Tom Gagliardi, his family, and our organization, we want to thank Miro for his commitment to the team and we all look forward to watching him as he continues to evolve into one of the elite players of the game.”Stars’ General Manager Jim Nill
To put it simply, he is the most important piece of both the Stars’ present and their future. Similar to Lindell, he rarely makes mistakes, can read the game faster than most, and is solid in his own end. Where he becomes unique is in his ability to move the puck, make quick plays, and use his swift skating and creativity all over the ice. Among the fastest players in the league, he is able to make plays look a lot easier than they truly are and does so on a consistent basis. On top of that, playing with Suter or Lindell will allow him more freedom in his offensive game, which should increase his overall production.
His strength, skill, and confidence will only continue to grow, turning him into one of the leagues’ best defensemen in the coming years.
Last but not least is the newest addition to the group. Hakpanaa was signed this summer to a three-year, $4.5 million contract after finishing the season with the Carolina Hurricanes. Before being traded to Carolina during the 2020-21 season, he played 47 games with the Anaheim Ducks. While his résumé is light for a 29-year-old, he has shown his potential in that short time. At 6-foot-5, 218 pounds, he is a big body on the back end. He has the ability to play physically and is responsible in his own zone.
His size will be key in replacing Jamie Oleksiak, who was drafted by the Seattle Kraken this summer in the expansion draft. Another important factor is that he is a right-handed shot. Before adding Hakpanaa, Klingberg was the only righty on the blue line, causing players to play on their off side. Heiskanen was able to do this effectively, but most defensemen prefer to play on their strong side, and Hakpanaa allows the Stars to have at least two pairs doing so. With the top four in place, he will likely slot in on the third pairing alongside a mixture of Andrej Sekera, Joel Hanley, or even Thomas Harley.
Similar to Heiskanen in the Edmonton Bubble, it is likely that the “Finnish Mafia” will not be much of a secret for long. Each player has started to show their abilities, and some are on their way to top-level skill in the NHL. Heading into the 2021-22 season, it is vital that Dallas receives large contributions from this group in order to be the contender that many believe they are.
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!