By Taylor Baird / @taylordbaird
The Stars announced today that they have recalled defenseman Thomas Harley from Texas in the American Hockey League. Harley, the Stars’ first-round pick in 2019, has 10 goals and 34 points in 66 games this season in Texas. By all accounts, he’s rounded out his defensive game, an area of opportunity Dallas had identified to make him a full-time NHL option.
It is Harley’s first recall to the NHL this season after getting 34 games with the big club last year. He had one goal and four points in those outings.
The Stars’ defense has been listless lately. The combinations just aren’t holding down the fort the way they had been earlier in the year. With Nils Lundkvist unable to stay in the lineup consistently, they’ve struggled to have enough puck movers on the back end to get the team out of the defensive zone outside of Miro Heiskanen. It’s led to a number of goals against after the Stars find themselves trapped in their own zone.
The neutral zone turnovers and shots into defender’s skates that turn back the other way have left a number of the defensemen scrambling to get back, and on the whole, the blueline lacks that skating ability to recover from those mistakes easily (again, outside of Heiskanen) on a consistent basis.
After the loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, and facing a win-and-clinch scenario versus the Nashville Predators on Monday night, it’s the perfect time to see if a different skillset gives the team the added juice to make them dangerous in the playoffs.
The question will be: who comes out of the lineup?
Many other leagues do load management down the stretch to ensure that players are fresh come playoff time. Someone could be playing through a minor injury right now as well (the NHL is notoriously not forthcoming about that) and this could give them some rest to heal up for the postseason.
Miro Heiskanen has thrived with big minutes this season, setting a career high in points (66 through 73 games played) and is one goal away from matching his rookie season high mark of 12. It’s safe to assume that Heiskanen is not the one that will sit for Harley, assuming he’s in good health, of course.
Colin Miller has had a few healthy scratches this season. Ditto Lundkvist. Joel Hanley has been the seventh guy all season. Esa Lindell, Ryan Suter, and Jani Hakanpää have appeared in all games for the Stars this season. Could one of them be the candidate for tonight’s game in the name of ‘load management’? If it were me making the choices, I’d maybe sit Hakanpää and go with a blueline that looks like this:
Miro Heiskanen – Colin Miller
Thomas Harley – Esa Lindell
Ryan Suter – Nils Lundkvist
This provides three puck-moving defenseman on a line with veteran defensive help next to each. It’s a fairly balanced set in terms of skillsets, but leaves the primary penalty killers and power play options for DeBoer and his staff. It’ll become clear which way the Stars intend to go after their morning skate at the American Airlines Center, which gets underway at 10 AM CDT.