With about 14:40 left in the second period, Dallas Stars defensemen Jamie Oleksiak and Miro Heiskanen were battling along the boards with Buffalo Sabres forward Curtis Lazar. Heiskanen began to fall after a bump from Lazar and that’s when Sabres forward Rasmus Asplund came flying in with an unintentional cross-check. The blow went straight to the top of Heiskanen’s head. He eventually got back to his feet and tagged Asplund back with a nasty cross-check to the lower back. Needless to say, Heiskanen was not amused by the hit.
Heiskanen came out of the game with an upper-body injury and would not return to the ice. The Stars ended up falling to the Sabres 4 -1. Stars coach Rick Bowness didn’t provide much of an update on his defenseman after the game. Right now, Heiskanen is listed as day-to-day as the Stars travel to Minnesota. Losing the 20-year-old for an extended time would be a tough pill to swallow for the Stars and the answer will need to be found quickly.
What Heiskanen Provides
Heiskanen is probably the most talked about developing talent for the Stars. This season he has provided the Stars with 23 points and has the third most assists on the team. The Finnish born Star is also the leading goalscorer for defensemen. He has a plus/minus of plus-eight which is also third on the roster.
But Heiskanen is more than stat-sheet filler. “The more he plays, the more confidence he gets, the more experience he gains,” said Stars interim coach Rick Bowness. “He has such natural instincts for the game. He’s a treat to watch play, he’s a treat to coach.”
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This season, Heiskanen has logged an additional 1:21 of time on ice per game compared to his rookie season. The superstar-in-waiting has a beautiful slapshot that gets better with every game. Thursday night, that slapshot set-up a solid rebound opportunity for captain Jamie Benn which provided the only goal of the night for the Stars. He also tightrope walks the blue line, keeping pucks in the offensive zone for the Stars.
Coming into this season, fans in Dallas had Heiskanen’s name circled for Norris trophy contention. Being a defence-first team, the Stars losing a key player like him can easily throw a wrench into the game plan. As of late, he has been tipping more pucks, outmaneuvering forwards, and has swung his stick to break-up pucks on rushes. If he misses extended time, his absence could take away from some of the defense power of the Stars. To get a snapshot, the Sabres scored three additional goals when he left the ice. It was the first time since before Christmas the Stars had allowed more than two goals in a game.
Filling the Void
The Stars aren’t without talent and it should be said that even if Heiskanen misses extended time the sky isn’t falling yet. From a coaching standpoint, Bowness has a strong defensive mind and this where is expertise could quickly come into play. He has a few players on his roster that could ease the blow of this injury.
Andrej Sekera is the only defenseman logging better minutes than Heiskanen. Currently, he has the second-best plus/minus for the Stars. The veteran 33-year-old has also made a small splash on the offensive side, recording seven points and five assists. The downside is he has had a minimal impact over the last few games. If Sekera is to be part of the solution, Bowness needs to find a way to get him hot. Perhaps more minutes and a shot of confidence from the bench boss is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Speaking of doctors, one player that has made headlines across the Dallas- Fort Worth area is defenseman Stephen Johns. The Stars recently recalled Johns from their American Hockey League affiliate in Cedar Park after a conditioning assignment. During his time with the Texas Stars, Johns recorded four points, one goal, and eight shots in two games.
Johns is still technically on long-term injured reserve because of post-traumatic headaches. However, the move back to Dallas might indicate that the Stars believe he is at least close to returning to NHL action. For his career, the 27-year-old has recorded 13 goals and 15 assists over 150 games.
Whoever might have to step into Heiskanen’s role is going to have some big shoes to fill. The Stars are headed north this weekend for a divisional contest and will need to have answers before the puck drops against the Minnesota Wild.