After a disappointing start to the 2018-19 season, Roope Hintz really caught stride and solidified a spot in the Dallas Stars’ top-six. He was a major part of the Stars offense in the playoffs tallying 8 points in 13 games and led the team in even strength goals. NHL.com has Hintz listed as one of the top sleeper picks in the league and for good reason. He has more to offer this season and with the Stars’ acquisition of Joe Pavelski, it’s easy to see why Hintz could one of the surprising breakout players in the league.
Hintz Caught Fire in 2019
The Stars’ opening night roster on Oct. 4, 2018 had Hintz skating on the fourth line with Brett Ritchie and Jason Dickinson. He logged just 9:00 of ice time and recorded zero points, one shot attempt and a 22% Corsi. The rest of the 2018 calendar year was much in the same as the young Finnish forward bounced between both the American Hockey League (AHL) and NHL trying to find his mark. By the time Christmas rolled around, he had just three points to show for his time in the NHL.
It wasn’t until February that things finally clicked and Hintz started to catch fire. Up to that point, he had just 5 points in 28 games. In the month of February, however, he exploded for 6 points in 12 games. He finished the season with 22 points in 58 games. By the end of the season, he was skating 16-plus minutes a night and making fans excited for what’s to come.
Scoring Improvement Compared League-Wide
Hintz’s progression in scoring was noticeable to the eye test and was certainly among the team’s most improved players during the playoff push. So I was led to find out how his increase in scoring throughout the season would compare to the rest of the forwards in the entire league. I was pleasantly surprised by the results.
The chart above shows the 22 most-improved forwards with a minimum ice time of 300 minutes. Hintz’s increase in point production definitely played a factor in helping the Stars fend off the Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche, Arizona Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks during the final 30 games of the season. He became a bright spot in what was a very dull second line for the Stars. Thankfully, going into this 2019-20 season, the Stars look poised to ice a much more competitive second line behind Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. If Hintz can continue to improve his game as he did last season and he is able to find chemistry with a revamped top-six, the sky is the limit for him.
Pavelski to Help Hintz Take Next Step
When general manager Jim Nill brought in Pavelski, a lot of Stars fans were questioning if he would be more beneficial for the team over recent trade line acquisition Mats Zuccarello. The Stars opted to sign Pavelski to a three-year, $21-million contract instead of giving Zuccarello the term he was looking for in his current deal. Pavelski is a finisher. He’s able to find the right spots and find the net with a crisp shot or a lethal deflection. Zuccarello is more of a playmaker and set-up guy. Hintz has the assets to open up the ice and create chances for teammates, which could be a great combination for Pavelski’s finishing touches. One of Hintz’s top assets is his speed and from this clip of his preseason goal against the Wild, it seems like he’s ready to fly.
Speed and rushes like this are going to open up opportunities for Pavelski to finish around the net. Hintz has speed on the wing, as shown in the clip, but he is also a big body and can make plays along the boards. He’s an ideal set-up guy for someone like Pavelski who has incredible game sense of where to be whether it’s ghosting to a quiet spot in the slot or being ready for a deflection or rebound. Hintz and Pavelski played a lot in the preseason and will certainly be a pair to watch out for on the Stars’ second line this season. Another thing Pavelski brings is flexibility in the top-six, something the Stars haven’t had in years.
We’ve already seen in the preseason shuffling of the top-six with either Hintz on the top line with Seguin and Alexander Radulov, Hintz on the second line center between Pavelski and Benn and so on. Whether Hintz and Radulov are flying at defenders with aggressive fore-checks or Hintz is setting up space for Seguin and Pavelski, it’s not out of the question for him to surprise his sophomore year and breakout with 50-plus points for the Stars.