One of the few (and I stress few) bright spots of the Dallas Stars last season was the play of Julius Honka.
Honka played in 16 games last season, accumulating 5 points. While a minus-4, Honka displayed the speed, skill and ability to handle himself in his own zone to be a quality NHL defenseman.
Who could forget his overtime winner over Arizona where he, literally, skated circles around the Coyotes? The fact he made the final roster following the preseason is a great sign for Honka’s development into an everyday NHLer.
The concerning part, however, is how he is planned to be used. Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika called the situation “fluid.”
Honka’s career in the AHL spanned three seasons and 191 games. He compiled 106 points and was a minus-13. At just 21 years old, Honka has plenty of time to mature and learn. However, sitting in the press box and watching, isn’t going to get that done.
He is planned to be sat behind both Stephen Johns and Jamie Oleksiak - both of which had their issues last season. Both Johns and Oleksiak have the size and physicality factor over Honka (a combined 446 pounds to Honka’s 186). In bursts, too, Johns and Oleksiak have shown strong skating and puck possession skills.
However, Honka has a Corsi rating of 56.4 when at even-strength, meaning Dallas possessed the puck more often than not when he was on the ice. Johns, last season, had a 51.4 rating and Oleksiak was at 49.4, indicating they were not as effective at driving puck possession as Honka was. Granted, sample sizes and all that play into this, but the trend seems to indicate that Honka would be an asset in the lineup in Dallas when compared to other defensemen.
Long gone are the days of Derian Hatcher patrolling the defensive zone. Boston’s Zdeno Chara is a relic in today’s NHL. Past Norris Trophy winners show where the league is: Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith and PK Subban are all mobile, skilled, puck possession defenders.
Honka, like his teammate John Klingberg, fits that mold.
Honka’s ability, as witnessed in that OT winner against Arizona, is massively superior to what Johns and Oleksiak can offer. At this point in his career, Honka has nothing left to prove at the AHL level. The 14th overall pick in 2014 showed last season he can play and compete in the NHL. Sending him back to Cedar Park would do nothing for his development.
Where he needs to be is in Dallas, with Ken Hitchcock, Rick Wilson, and learning how to be an NHL player. But that learning should be on the ice, not in the press box.