The 2014-2015 Dallas Stars became a beacon of bipolar transgressions that would earn them the sarcastic hashtag, #Starsing. A stacked team of high end offensive talent, they could rarely find rhythm in the middle of an arrhythmic blueline, and goaltending you could stick Sisyphus’ boulder through.
Through the storm Dallas reached a prospect shore, culminating in John Klingberg’s welcome presence. His first NHL goal is probably something Stars fans can remember like it was yesterday. A beautiful toe drag near the point to beat Arizona’s Mike Smith, and off hope sprung.
Fitting then, that 2014 marked the year Jim Nill decided to draft Julius Honka: a player cut from the same puck moving cloth. It’s too early to say I told you so. But I will tell you so.
Honka is validating his worth in more ways than one. His three assists through four games is nice. But production is the tip of his efficiency iceberg through his first four games.
Instead of going through a listacle of fancy stats Honka’s good at, let me just tally the blue ribbons per Stats.HockeyAnalysis. Honka leads the Dallas Stars in the following categories: total shot attempt differential (59 percent: only Roussel comes close at 52 Percent), shot attempts against per 60 minutes of play (good for top 20th in the league), shot attempts for per 60 minutes of play, shot attempt differential relative to teammates, scoring chances against per 60 minutes of play (only Johnny Oduya is closest), and well...you get the point.
I take it back. Let’s keep going anyway.
Honka’s Corsi For percentage is good enough for 7th in the entire NHL among all skaters with at least 50 minutes of ice time. What’s interesting about that number in particular is that everyone else below Honka on that list plays for either LA, Carolina, or Boston; the three best possession teams in the league.
Wondering where Dallas is ranked, because you didn’t feel like scrolling down that far? 26th.
And by the way, he’s 5th in the NHL in shots on goal percentage and his Fenwick For percentage, which weighs unblocked shots for versus unblocked shots against, is good for 1st in the entire NHL (stats via Corsica Hockey).
The inevitable refrain from critics is that this is a “small sample size”. I don’t air quote it to mock it. It’s not false for what should be patently obvious.
But it also understates just how much information stats like Corsi, Fenwick, et cetera seek to expand to begin with. This isn’t a winger with two goals on three shots. This is a blueliner on ice for 116 events (the amount of shot attempts he’s been on ice for), and those events help project, define, and indicate potential trends.
Is Julius Honka the best defensemen in the NHL because his Fenwick percentage is the best? Of course not. Statistics are there to simply quantify events happening at a given point in time. How these events occurred are where observation comes in.
But such numbers, just like goals, are all the more reason to challenge Honka just a little more. It’s curious how automatic it is for a coach to play a forward on a goal scoring streak in Overtime, or the Shootout to ride the so called ‘hot hand’. Only to display such trepidation for a player whose contributions, though not as explicit, coincide with more positive events than negative ones.
That doesn’t mean Honka should be given exponentially more ice time, and be played in all situations. He struggled to identify the real threat on St. Louis’ 3rd goal by David Perron (with little help from the forwards protecting the neutral zone, granted). And he’ll continue to find himself part of Dallas’ general struggle to find consistency.
But his shift on the game tying goal in the 3rd period in the recent Blues game was a real treat to watch. Using his speed to pinch in, with help from Radek Faksa, he kept the puck in the zone with vision, movement, and deft puck handling. It was a team effort that led to Jamie Oleksiak’s second goal of the night, but one that Honka played a critical part in.
Offense in the modern NHL occurs through dynamic transitioning because as the pace of the game increases, static schemes in the offensive zone are harder to capitalize on. Defense now demands that blueliners create chances beginning in the furthest zone from the opponent’s net. Honka embodies this new trend with a classic hockey rye bread smile, and elite talent.
The current, injured incarnation of the Dallas Stars may offer little hope for immediate success. But there remains plenty of hope for Honka’s future.
Edit: This was written before Honka’s game against Detroit. Fear not, small sample size. His shot attempt differential was 76 percent at even strength, and 82 percent in all situations.