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Taking a Look at the Stars’ Defense

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What blue line pairings will work best in Dallas with the veteran presence of Stephen Johns and the young guns known as Honka and Heiskanen ready to make a mark?

NHL: New York Rangers at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Stars decided not to re-sign with Greg Pateryn’s $800,000 per year contract despite the fact that he had become a bargain for what he has produced. While Pateryn was due for a bit of a raise after the 2017-2018 season, it only made sense to re-sign one defender (Stephen Johns) with the upcoming young core comprised of Miro Heiskanen entering the equation this coming year.

And with Dan Hamhuis’ short tenure in Dallas, the veteran is still looking for a new deal and a new home. It will be interesting to see where Hamuis will land or if the defenseman will call it a career as (of this writing) Dallas hasn’t re-signed with his contract either.

In all honestly, heading into the offseason, I was hoping the Stars would re-sign with Stephen Johns and not with Pateryn, as personally, I see more potential in Dallas with Johns than I do Pateryn. While Pateryn was improving, I think it’s time Dallas experiment with the defense and let Heiskanen and Honka run loose on the blue line with Marc Methot and even Dan Hamhuis (although Hamhuis is now looking for a new home).

Just when I thought I had the blue line for the 2018-2019 season all figured out, they threw fans a curveball as they signed veteran defender Roman Polak. This is a move not many were expecting the Stars to make, but a move that happened nonetheless.

Now that Dallas’ newest addition to their blue line is the veteran Roman Polak, who will provide some depth and assurance on defense and will fill the physical presence left behind by Pateryn? At 6’2” and 235 pounds, Polak is built like a linebacker, and has shown throughout his previous seasons that he can and will lay the boom. Having a big body like Polak on the blue line will intimidate wingers, and every defense could use a player of those skills.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

As for next season and the Stars’ defense, the plan so far has been to go young as Miro Heiskanen has shown he is more than ready to enter into the NHL and compete. The Stars spent a No. 3 pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft to obtain his rights. After a season back in Finland where he competed with his current team HIFK, and with the Finland national team, he has shown plenty of NHL-level talent and that he was fired up and ready to go in the IIHF World Championships.

As for Julius Honka and the #FreeHonka movement so far, it is looking good and as if he might share time in the bottom two lines. Unless that is, of course, the Stars decide to find a deal worthy enough to send Honka elsewhere. (If that is the case, I think I will be really disappointed in Dallas giving up on the young talent.) A pairing of Miro Heiskanen with Julius Honka could be something to watch next year, even though it would surely go through some growing pains. However, that is why the Stars re-signed Stephen Johns and still have Marc Methot to play around with if those expected growing pains get to be too much.

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t forget Dillon Heatherington, who came up from the AHL toward the end of the season and made some decent contributions. With the new coaching roster in Dallas, it remains to be seen whether or not he will see more time in Dallas rather than in Cedar Park with the team’s AHL affiliate. Not only that, but this year’s training camp will be a chance for Heatherington to secure his spot on the roster at the beginning of the 2018-2019 season, whether as a sixth or seventh defenseman. Heatherington and Honka have a lot to prove coming up this preseason and into the first half of next season.

But with the addition of Roman Polak, it seems that the Stars aren’t completely sold on Heatherington and his abilities. It looks as if Dallas will let Heatherington continue to grow in the AHL and will bring him up to help the Stars create a shake0up within their lines.

While the Heiskanen and Honka pairing could be fun, the Stars pairings that I think we might see this upcoming season are:

John Klingberg - Esa Lindell

Miro Heiskanen - Stephen Johns

Marc Methot - Julius Honka

Healthy scratch - Roman Polak

John Klingberg and Esa Lindell’s performances last season prove why nothing should change within the top line and why the decision to use them in the top pairing is short and sweet.

Yet where the conversation now leads for both the organization and the fans is what will Dallas do with the bottom two lines? Personally, I think the two young defenders (Honka and Heiskanen) will grow more with a veteran presence like Johns next to their side, and this will hopefully make the mistakes a little less noticeable. And with Polak as a scratch, it gives Heiskanen and Honka the opportunity to showcase their skills and grow at the NHL level. To me, Polak was an insurance signing and can be ready to go just in case Honka continues to turn the puck over and underperforms. But with Ken Hitchcock out and Jim Montgomery in, Honka could flourish and find his footing this coming season.