Radek Faksa picked up an assist Sunday night in Colorado, recording his seventh point in four games this past week. In other words, the 23-year old center is on a lights-out, don’t-touch-the-stove, call-your-mother tear. Though it’s almost impossible to believe, Faksa’s recent stretch is exactly that, recent. For much of the start of the season, the young center struggled to make an impact.
In many ways, Faksa is something of a microcosm of the Stars’ overall season. Though Dallas, on the whole, disappointed last season, Faksa scored 12 goals and added 21 assists during the 2016-2017 campaign. He also averaged 16:10 on the ice each game, with 1:57 of that time coming short-handed. He was aggressive, physical (101 hits – 4th on the team), and defensively diligent (62 blocks – 2nd among forwards). More than perhaps any other Star, fans assumed, Faksa was destined to find a big fan in incoming coach Ken Hitchcock.
Only, it didn’t happen. Dallas signed Martin Hanzal during the offseason, and Faksa opened the year playing lower-line minutes. He played 12:31 against Vegas in the opener, then 13:56 against St. Louis. It would be seven full games before Faksa broke the 13-minute mark again. Through the season’s first 20 games, Faksa had as many 13+ minute performances (5) as he did goals (5).
It did not feel entirely like a performance thing. Nine points (5 G / 4 A) was not going to challenge Tyler Seguin for the team lead, but it was the sixth best total on the team. Faksa was even a plus player during that stretch (+4), one of five players to enjoy that distinction. He was not playing poorly, he just wasn’t playing much (12:06 ATOI during that stretch).
Heading into the November 16th game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Faksa had registered five points during a three game stretch in October (October 17, 19, and 21), and another pair November 4th against Buffalo. Outside of those two windows he was bone dry. At the time, a goal in a losing effort against the Bolts seemed inconsequential. Then, he did it again against Edmonton before un-corking the 5-goal, 2-assist explosion of the past week.
The production is nice, but under the hood, something more significant is happening. Faksa played his, to-that-point-usual 12:17 against Tampa Bay, then 13:00 against Edmonton. After that, he hit 16:48 in the Montreal win. Since that point he played 15:20 against Vegas, 16:47 and 15:48 against Chicago, and finally, 16:59 in Colorado. Don’t look now, and don’t read too far into one hot-streak, but it looks an awful lot like Faksa’s role is expanding.
Faksa’s per-game average has jumped nearly a full minute (12:55 after last night), and we’ve already covered his scoring totals (16 points – 5th on the team). Despite a more defensive deployment (29.7% of his shifts start in the offensive zone), Faksa is pushing possession (52.2 CF%), and winning 54.3% of his faceoffs. With Martin Hanzal nursing hamstring troubles, the time is now for Faksa to stake his claim to playing time.
So far, the young Czech center appears to be responding.