Julius Honka has clearly become a fan favorite since being drafted by Dallas in the 2014 draft. So when operation #FreeHonka went underway, I couldn’t have been happier to see the fans come together in the defense of the young player. With signs in American Airlines sporting the Free Honka slogan, you were either with it or against us that were with it, and well no in between.
It has been a roller coaster for the young defenseman in the past couple of years now, but can we expect that roller coaster to level out? In my opinion (and in many others’ as well), Honka is becoming a key to the Stars’ success as of late. And with the Jamie Oleksiak trade, what does that mean for the operation? Are we done with the movement, and can we celebrate? Or should we all still be wary?
The defensive side of the puck has become an interesting story all season, especially when it comes to Honka. From starting with Dallas at the beginning of the season, to being sent down to the minors and to everything in between, it’s been a bumpy ride for Julius Honka.
But the Jamie Oleksiak trade was a big step in the right direction in terms of boiling down the top seven, and one fewer opponent battling for third-pairing ice time is good news for Honka right now. But even without the trade, Honka was starting to win Hitchcock’s favor. Plus, with the recent string of success the Stars were having with Honka, it made sense to get rid of a defeseman that was going to continually get scratched as we had been seeing.
Right? I mean why have a player on the roster that is taking up just about 1 mil. in cap space—not all that much, sure, but who is a player whose expectations for his career had never really been met? Not only expectations his new coach had for him, but also expectations of a first round defenseman that on average only plays for about half of the season. And only producing on average 3.6 points a season in his six year tenure with Dallas, to boot.
Oleksiak was depth, at least, right? That’s what Jim Nill said he was, while Methot was hurt. I mean sure, but with an already loaded defensive squad that are figuring the little things out, it doesn’t make sense. Also a defense that should be getting Marc Methot back in the (hopefully) near future, and if they hadn’t made any moves, they were going to have to start scratching two defenseman at a time, including at least one player that had promise, but will not and cannot develop when constantly on the bench or in the press box.
So many questions and not enough answers, especially when Hitchcock likes to tinker. Until you look at the records with and without him. The stats show that with Julius Honka the Stars are 9-3-2 and without him they are 9-11-1. And while Honka has only produced two points in those 14 games you have to look deeper, as there is an obvious difference when having Honka on the ice vs not.
I’m not pointing out that Julius Honka is the answer for the Stars, per se, and he will still have to earn more ice time. But in my opinion, it’s time to celebrate the success of this movement. Honka is improving and learning the NHL game, and there is now no forseeable reason for him to leave the NHL. Honka, in my opinion, needs to stay at this level and continually just show improvement in his game which he is showing he can do now. Honka is starting to clean up the little mistakes and move the puck on the ice quicker, hence avoiding those mistakes that can cost him.
As long as he shows that he can stride for these improvements day in and day out, the movement will be complete.