As we enter the final third of the campaign, the Dallas Stars are wiping away thoughts of last year’s major disappointment and appear peaking at the right time.
Led by Norris candidate John Klingberg, the ultra-dangerous Jamie Benn–Tyler Seguin–Alexander Radulov line, and a now apparently healthy Ben Bishop in net, they sit fourth in the ultra-stacked Central Division holding the top West wild card spot with 64 points at 30-19-4.
Frequently criticized for their defense in recent times, this year they’ve yielded the NHL’s sixth fewest goals per game at 2.58 while reinvigorating a traditionally potent offense that’s landing 3.06 goals per contest, tied for eighth in the league.
Klingberg is tied with Radulov for the team lead in points at 50 heading their blue line in offensive firepower by racking up the assists. He’s registered 44 on the year, leading NHL defensemen with 17 of them on the man advantage, and surpassing his previous career best in points per game (0.76 in 2015-16) while averaging 0.94 thus far. His possession metrics aren’t bad either, boasting a 2.8 CF% rel on the heels of a -0.9 mark in 2016-17. While he’ll never be a hit machine (29 this year), his 67 blocks are a solid contribution for multi-category owners.
It’s impressive how they’ve maintained a solid shutdown presence while missing their assumed linchpin Marc Methot due to a knee injury for all but 16 contests. In his stead Esa Lindell has sustained his momentum from last year, leading Dallas rearguards with a plus-19 and a solid 1.6 CF% rel with an overall 52.8 CF%. He continues to munch minutes, averaging an even 22 in ice time per game.
Lindell’s 86 blocks sits just behind another less than heralded Stars’ blue line performer Steven Johns who has blocked 98 and tops the squad in hits with 126. Greg Pateryn might also be a valuable under the radar defensive component in deep multi-cat leagues with 94 hits and 77 blocks in 44 contests. His 19:43 average TOI proves he should be out there quite a bit and contributing during Dallas’ playoff run.
Lurking behind them all, Julius Honka is sure to bust out one of these days. Tops on the squad with a 6.0 CF% rel in only 27 games, the 22 year-old Finn and 2014 first-round selection seems destined to wait and learn for the foreseeable future, as Coach Ken Hitchcock has attributed frequent bench time to continued gaps in his game. Despite working in their last three contests, Hitchcock’s also mentioned Honka’s need to boost his mental stamina and, at 5-11, 186 pounds, he lacks some of the physicality the coach like to see.
When he has played, Honka’s averaged only 13:58 TOI, and has lost time recently to Calgary native Dillon Heatherington who functions as more of an enforcer than Honka at 6-04, 225 pounds. Also at age 22, Heatherington logged all of his professional time, prior to a four-game NHL call up, in the AHL splitting 167 games between Texas and the Blue Jackets’ affiliate in Cleveland earning 136 penalty minutes. While he’s been scratched for the past few games, Heatherington’s totaled 26 PIM in his short stay with Dallas. For speculators in need of potential future penalty minutes, that works out to 215 minute pace over 82 games.
With Methot’s return projected a few weeks away Honka may be relegated to the bench again soon, but he should impress in time. He’s clearly being sheltered as an upcoming offensive force, with 60 percent of his starts in the offensive zone, but the prospect’s point bonanza might have to wait until 2018-19 at the earliest.
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