On Tuesday night the Texas Stars partook in one of the wildest games in the young franchise's history, skating to a 7-6 overtime victory over state rival Houston Aeros thanks to Alex Chiasson's game's winner 3:17 into the extra frame. The win helps the Stars retain their 1st overall spot in the AHL, with 87 points and only 10 games remaining before the playoffs.
As one would imagine in a game where seven goals were scored by a single team, there was plenty of offensive sharing happening on the scoresheet, most of which came from Texas' top youngsters.
Matt Fraser scored his 32nd goal of the season, tying him for 1st in the AHL. Reilly Smith, on a one-game loan to Texas before being called back up to Dallas today, had a goal and an assist, as did Chiasson. Recently acquired Joe Morrow, playing through all the trade talk and analysis, had a stellar debut with his new team, registering two assists and a +3 rating. Even Scott Glennie, still overcoming his struggles from earlier in the year, had two helpers, bumping his current hot streak up now to four points in his last four games.
But right in the thick of things, as he consistently has been ever since joining the team, was center Justin Dowling, who led the team in points that game with two goals and an assist. It was his pass that set up Chiasson' game-winning overtime goal, helping Dowling earn the honor of 2nd star on the night.
If the name Justin Dowling doesn't ring a bell to you yet, it probably will soon.
Signed to a standard AHL contract (SPC) in early January after scoring a whopping 46 points in 34 games for the ECHL's Idaho Steelheads, Dowling has smoothly handled his transition to the AHL level. After Tuesday's game he now has 12 goals, 21 points and a +9 rating in 28 games since he joined the Stars, and is looking more and more dangerous as he continues to adjust to his new team.
Texas' current second line line of Dowling, Chiasson and Mike Hedden has found incredible chemistry since being put together a couple months ago, with no signs of slowing down, and that chemistry has been a key factor in Chiasson's turnaround after a slow start to his rookie professional season. Texas' lineup has been experiencing a lot of flux lately because of injuries and players coming and going from Dallas, but head coach Willie Desjardins has made sure to keep that second line intact as much as possible.
By now all regular readers of Defending Big D are more than familiar with the success that the Dallas Stars have had when it comes to acquiring undrafted prospects (Fraser, Brenden Dillon, Antoine Roussel, etc), as well as the organization's recent success with players coming from the junior Western Hockey League (Jamie Benn, Cody Eakin, etc).
It should then come as little surprise that Dowling, too, is an undrafted WHL alumni, playing in the past for the league's Swift Current Broncos alongside both Eakin and another undrafted WHL prospect playing for Texas in Taylor Vause.
While Dowling is currently only signed on to a temporary AHL-only deal, and is thus not considered a Dallas prospect like Chiasson and others are, it will be hard to believe if Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk doesn't sign him before next season to a new contract long enough for an extended look.
Going beyond his statistical success so far, his chemistry with Chiasson, and Dallas' familiarity with the WHL, the Stars are thin on AHL centers that are knocking on the NHL's door. Prospects Radek Faksa, Mike Winther and Gemel Smith still have another season left in juniors, veteran Travis Morin is a free agent at the end of the season, and Colton Sceviour and Scott Glennie can play center but are more comfortable on the right wing.
Does Dowling have legitimate NHL potential? At this point it's hard to say. He was good in his WHL days, but never truly excelled. He struggled in his rookie AHL season, scoring only two points and finishing a -7 in 22 games for the Abbotsford Heat. His current season is by far and away the most impressive of his career to this point, but if the meteoric trajectory of Dillon (from unknown WHLer to potential Calder Trophy candidate) is any indication, some guys are simply late bloomers, so there is a chance that Dowling is just now starting to really maximize his abilities.
Even if Dowling never sees time in the NHL, he seems to be an excellent fit for the Texas Stars. It never hurts to have a competitive farm team, and organizational depth creates competition amongst prospects. Either way, Dowling's play so far has earned himself another shot, and he could easily be a key contributor for Texas for the remainder of the regular season and as they gear up for a big playoff run.
Signing Dowling on such a short sample size would be naturally a gamble, but it would certainly be a worthwhile one to make for both Dallas and Texas' futures.
Plus, how could you not love the mustache?