Whether it be drafting a stud with the 129th pick in the entry draft, or signing a late-blooming defender who ends up playing top pairing minutes in the NHL only a couple years later, any team that becomes successful needs some help from hidden gems they have picked up along the way.
In the last couple of years Jamie Benn and Brenden Dillon have become core foundational players for this organization. Now, it looks like the next "diamond in the rough" in the making might be here.
This might sound a bit over-hyped, but there's a lot to get excited about with Justin Dowling. After going undrafted and spending a couple years in the ECHL as well as with the AHL's Abbotsford Heat (Calgary affiliate), Dowling signed a one year contract with the Texas Stars when the end of the NHL lockout deprived the team in Austin of much of its top talent.
While at the time signing a guy who seemed to falter in his transition to the pro game after juniors seemed like a band-aid to hopefully keep the Texas Stars from going under without their star power, Dowling developed into a go-to guy for Willie Desjardins and a big reason the team was able to not only stay afloat for the rest of the season, but finish first in the AHL's western conference.
After signing a standard one year player contract in the AHL, Dowling really flourished, putting up 30 points in 38 games. After injuries to some Texas Stars players had him switching linemates often early on, he settled in on a line with Alex Chiasson and Mike Hedden. He and Chiasson had great chemistry for the rest of the year and part of Chiasson's awakening after a bit of a slow start to his pro career can be attributed to the great chemistry he found with Justin Dowling.
Stephen Meserve at Hundred Degree Hockey has a great quote from Dowling on his chemistry with Chiasson We have really good chemistry. Chiasson is obviously an unbelievable player Doing what he's doing in Dallas now is insane. He's strong on the puck and gets down low and battles back for pucks and gets them out and lets me and Hedden create. Hedden's so fast that he pushes defense back and gets them second guessing their positioning. It opens up space for me.
So, what can the Stars and their fans expect from Dowling in the future and what should be done with him?
It seems like the obvious route to go here would be to sign him to a basic two-way contract and see how he does with it. He's a late bloomer so it's hard to tell if this is a bit of a flash in the pan or if he can sustain this kind of production in the AHL and, more importantly, whether or not that kind of production can keep up at the NHL level.
Dowling has great offensive instincts as a goal scorer. He has 16 goals in the AHL this season - that's more goals than assists. This could fit perfectly with the Stars, who are in need of more scoring up and down the lineup. While he wouldn't fit right into the top six on the NHL roster, there's a chance that he could start the season in the bottom six and work his way up, especially if it turns out that the chemistry he has with Chiasson is real and can be transferred up to the NHL level.
Justin Dowling came out of nowhere this season and impressed with the Texas Stars. I'm sure the Stars are looking at contract options with him and it seems like it would be a good idea to lock him up for the next few seasons to see if he can continue to develop. If he can, he could become one of the solutions to the Stars' offensive woes.