For just one moment, let’s put aside the Grandfather Paradox, hop into a handy Tipler Cylinder, and go back to the year of 2012. Once there, tell then-general manager Joe Nieuwendyk that the center he was about to draft would, six years hence, be the Dallas Stars’ fourth-highest scoring forward.
Next, explain that the 2018 version of the Stars would include the likes of Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, and Jamie Benn. That guy sounds like a heck of a player, and you have to imagine GM Joe would have been fairly happy with his pick, right?
Context can be funny sometimes.
In 2012, the Dallas Stars used the 12th overall pick to select Radek Faksa, and before we go any further, fix this in your mind: Faksa is good, and has been very good for the Stars. How good, what type of good, and his goodness relative to the ominous “first round pick” tag are all fair questions to ask, just so long as we keep them in the context of a successful NHL player.
How good? In four years with the big club, the big Czech has given his team 327 games, 124 points (58 goals, 66 assists), and has averaged 15:28 on the ice even factoring in limited usage (12:21 ATOI) in his first year. Eye popping? No, but his totals are not insignificant. To understand the value of those numbers, Faksa’s career 0.38 points-per-game is roughly in line with Andrew Cogliano (0.40). Cogliano, to make the point, is 15 games shy of 1,000 for his career. Crap players do not get into NHL lineups, let alone get there and remain for 1,000 games.
But the Radek Faksa Value Story is not centered on offense. Clearly. The 26-year old Czech has become a pillar of the Stars’ defense, and he got there quickly. To illustrate the speed with which Faksa gained his coaches’ trust, consider the fact that, as a rookie, Faksa averaged 1:19 on the penalty kill. For his career, that number is 1:46. Significant minutes in high-leverage situations from basically the moment he joined the NHL roster.
Offensively, Faksa plays a much different role. The center has averaged a mere 35 seconds on the power play, and only that much after this season’s 1:14 ATOI-PP bender. When Faksa looks to his left and right, he is most likely going to see FCC compatriots Cogliano (5 goals) and Blake Comeau (2 goals). Last season, it was mostly Comeau, Tyler Pitlick, Devin Shore, Mattias Janmark, and a dash of Valeri Nichushkin. With the exception of Nuchushkin (now, apparently) that is not exactly a murderer’s row of offensive talents.
No, Faksa’s role has been defined and refined as the team’s shut-down pivot. His brutal usage suggests as much, at least. Over the course of his career, only 34.9% of Faksa’s shifts have started in the offensive zone. Want a random comparison? Jere Lehtinen started 51.9% of his career shifts in the offensive zone, although caveat, Lehtinen played almost exclusively for categorically stronger teams.
Despite such a severe tilt, Faksa has more-or-less held his ground. A perfectly respectable 49.9% CF over the course of his career indicates that, while not an elite offensive force, it is equally difficult to tilt the ice against Faksa’s lines. He’s even, more or less, plus 30-ish points each full season of his career thus far.
For the most part, Faksa has made the Stars a better squad. In 2014-15, Dallas finished 26th in the NHL in goals against. They were 19th the following year (his first with the team), regressed to 29th again in the wheels-falling-off fun that was 2016-17, jumped to 7th in 2017-18, 2nd in 2018-19, and are currently 1st halfway through 2019-20. The arrival of the Ben Bishop / Anton Khudobin goaltending tandem is a piece of that puzzle, as are the likes of John Klingberg, Esa Lindell, and Miro Heiskanen on the backend, but Faksa deserves his share of the credit too.
There are certainly interesting “what ifs” in the 2012 draft class. Recent Winter Classic participant Fililp Forsberg stands out, and maybe selecting Andrey Vasilevskiy would have freed the resources spent on Bishop and Khudobin (though think of the human tragedy of not having Anton Khudobin in Victory Green for a little while or no more Bish-Ups). Then again, how did Nail Yakupov work out, or Cody Ceci? The point is, would forewarned Joe Nieuwendyk want that particular do-over? Possibly, but poll an NHL coach, any coach, and ask if they’d like a 6’3”, 210 pound shut-down center capable of 20 goals and able to play in all situations.
The answer is probably an emphatic yes.