Roope Hintz has had a fairly odd 2020-21 season. He was injured early on and general manager Jim Nill said he would be dealing with the injury for the rest of the season. While that is admirable, it raised questions with fans. It is hard to understand the circumstance where a player would choose to play hurt rather than address the injury itself and how much of an impact he could have playing at half-speed. However, it drew close comparisons to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In the playoffs, players will play through just about anything for a chance to win the Cup. Last season, Dallas revealed a massive list of injuries that players had sustained during their run to the Stanley Cup Final. When they already knew they would be without Ben Bishop and Tyler Seguin, perhaps the team started looking at this season like the playoffs.
If Hintz needs surgery to repair his injury, it is likely that he would miss most of the season. In a 56-game condensed schedule, that could easily be enough to eliminate the Stars from the postseason. Instead, he is playing through the injury and jumping in and out of the lineup on a nightly basis. He is a game-time decision every night and most of the time, his status is unknown until after warm-ups. With all of that being said, he has also been the Stars’ best forward.
Hintz has 28 points in the 27 games he has played this season. He ranks second on the team in nearly every category including goals, points, and power-play points despite playing in just 27 of the teams’ 38 games. It seems that every time he is in the lineup, he makes a difference.
“It’s clear he is such a great impact player for us when he is in the lineup,” Rick Bowness said. “He is such a great player and great skater and when he is not in our lineup, you notice it.”
Hintz also has a solid plus-4 rating on the season, which shows that he is playing the right way on both sides of the ice. He sits right around 50 percent on faceoffs and has shown the responsibility to play in the defensive zone.
“You guys are seeing points and goals like tonight. What we see also is how well he plays without the puck, how reliable he is defensively,” said Bowness. “He’s one of the top two-way centers in the league, and he’ll keep getting better.”
That is a huge remark coming from a veteran coach like Bowness. It is not an uncommon theme around the organization though as many players and coaches have stated that he is not only a good young player but he is “one of the most underrated players, best two-way centers, and best overall players in the league.”
If you have watched Hintz play, you know that his biggest asset is his speed. He has one of the fastest and most fluid strides in the entire NHL. He is a big player at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, which allows him to use his long strides to cover a lot of ice quickly. He arrives on the puck in a hurry and with a lot of force.
Similar to Miro Heiskanen, his fluid skating stride allows him to play more minutes in a game than a player who may need to work harder to skate. He is averaging over 18 minutes of ice time, which is four minutes higher than his previous two seasons. This increase in minutes shows that he is not only becoming a better player, but is gaining the trust and responsibility of his coaches to play in more situations.
“He’s made so many leaps and bounds since he first came into Dallas, and now he is I think one of the most underrated players in the NHL,” said forward Blake Comeau. “The way that he skates, his big body, he can shoot, he’s got great vision, great IQ, he’s very responsible defensively. When he’s out of the lineup, it’s a huge loss for us. When he’s in the lineup, it makes us a better team.”
Looking at how far Hintz has come in the last few seasons, the potential of what he can become is endless. Then, you remember that he is doing all of this through a fairly serious injury that most likely needs surgery to repair in the offseason.
“We can never forget, he’s playing hurt,” Bowness said. “Probably a lot of guys wouldn’t play in the situation that he’s in and what he’s dealing with. Give him 100 percent marks for being gutty and (showing) the character to play. He’s just a dominant player. He shows what he means to our team. He’s our best forward.”
Now imagine what a fully healthy version of Hintz looks like. Using his speed to back off the defense, playing smart two-way hockey in the tough role of a top center, and racing up the middle, creating odd-man rushes and plenty of breakaways for himself. In fact, it has become a running joke around the Stars that he is good for at least one breakaway per game at this point. That is not very surprising considering all of the tools that he possesses.
Playing injured is also nothing new for Hintz as he has done just that in the playoffs the past two seasons. He broke his foot blocking a shot in 2019 and sustained two separate lower-body injuries last season in the Edmonton bubble.
“He’s a tough kid,” said forward Andrew Cogliano. “He’s one of those Finnish kids. They work hard, they play hard, and he’s one of those guys. It’s commendable to him. It speaks to the character and who he is as a person and a player.”
When Hintz is asked about his injury, he responds with “it’s fine.” He is a hockey player.
Room to Grow
As surprising as it is after watching him play a game, Hintz is only 24 years old. He still has plenty to learn and is already one of the league’s elite forwards. His growth adds to the Stars’ young core with most of their key players being under the age of 31. It also pays dividends to their depth as the Stars now have two No. 1 center options in Hintz and Seguin.
Hintz is a versatile player that can fit into any spot and is continuing to prove that he is capable of helping his team in any situation including offense, faceoffs, the defensive zone, and now both sides of special teams. The sky is the limit for the young Finnish forward as he is just getting started.
Sam Nestler is a credentialed 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 Stars, the NHL, and college hockey. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!