I can’t remember a time when one player group for the Dallas Stars has been so decimated by injury that it is conceivable for the team to ice half of an AHL defense corp. It has really gotten that bad and that crowded in the trainers’ room for the Dallas defense.
In the tilt against the San Jose Sharks, bad went to worse and worse to catastrophic.
John Klingberg, the all world Stars defensemen, gone for “at least four weeks,” with an upper body injury. That is a kick in the shorts for a Stars team already missing Stephen Johns, Marc Methot, and Conner Carrick.
Where do we go from here?
Look no farther than rookie sensation Miro Heiskanen.
In his first season in victory green, Miro has come as advertised. He’s supremely talented in all areas of his game. He skates at top speed with such ease that it seems as if he’s coasting up the ice, his passing and vision are unrivaled by anyone not named John Klingberg, and that wrist shot is a weapon when released from the slot. To date, his offensive talents have him sitting at 2 goals, 6 assists, for 8 points. That’s more goals and points than last year’s number one pick and his rookie contemporary Rasmus Dahlin.
We haven’t even mentioned his defending either.
When in his own zone, Miro always seems to make the proper read and then the proper play. He chips the puck off the glass when needed, he regroups back when needed, he steps up when needed. If he does make a mistake, he always seems to recover to take most of the danger away. He simply plays defense like a six-year NHLer, rather than the 19-year-old rookie that we often forget he is.
With all of these injuries making the Stars training room resemble a battlefield medical station, Miro must forget he is a rookie as well. At least for the next month and change, it seems.
Miro Heiskanen will arguably be asked to do what he has done, multiplied by ten. He will see his minutes rise from the usual 22:00 he has logged, (which is near the top for rookie defensemen), into the 27-30 minute variety. He has already logged nearly half of game in ice time in the past two contests against the NHL best Nashville Predators and the Columbus Blue Jackets. He has also seen number one powerplay minutes, number one penalty kill minutes, offensive zone faceoffs, and defensive zone faceoffs. He is also logging a regular shift when not in specialized situations, and late in games, Monty is increasingly reliant on the teenager.
I’m exhausted just typing that, and reading it makes it sound daunting.
It is not common for an NHL team (other than Boston these days) to ice a nearly half AHL defense corp. Any club would have an excuse if they stumble in the next couple of weeks with a unit that looks more like your farm team’s unit. It’s a combination of a lot of hockey and a terrible hand dealt. The Stars currently find themselves smart enough to have 71 man games lost, second to only the Anaheim Ducks. They have 37 games lost to injury on defense, good for forth in the league.
However, hope hasn’t been lost that the Stars can still find ways to hang around .500 or better during this stretch. Which is where we tie it back to Miro Heiskanen.
He is a special player; he is a future number one defenseman in the NHL; he will anchor this defense for the next decade if he keeps trending upward. He is special.
The Stars need him to keep heading towards the future Miro Heiskanen during this stretch. He is now the club’s number one defenseman, and he, combined with Esa Lindell, will be counted on to lead a unit of supposed-to-be healthy scratches and AHL players.
I don’t mean to heap the whole world on the shoulders of a nineteen year-old rookie in the National Hockey League. But perhaps that is exactly what I am doing.