Dallas Stars: Dillon Heatherington Filling In For Julius Honka On Thursday

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 13: Julius Honka
DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 13: Julius Honka /

Tonight, the Dallas Stars will give Dillon Heatherington his first career NHL start. He will go up against the team that drafted him and look to adapt to the big leagues quickly. But with his presence, Julius Honka will serve as the healthy scratch. Is that the best move?

The Dallas Stars need consistency, plain and simple. Ever since opening night against Vegas, it’s been a constant but necessary battle for the Stars to fight.

And now that they are 46 games into the season, it seems like they are finally starting to win the fight. It has been a gradual process as the year rolls on, but it’s something that the Stars are finally coming to terms with. They need consistency if they are going to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs, let alone succeed in the NHL.

Over the first few months, Dallas struggled with finding that necessary consistency. The Stars had difficulty with finding depth on offense, keeping a consistently effective lineup on defense, and did not seem to have a confident and reliable goaltender to use on a regular basis.

But then it all started coming together. Now, all four lines are contributing and scoring and both Ben Bishop and Kari Lehtonen are giving the team a chance to win on most occasions.

Dallas Stars
Dallas Stars /

Dallas Stars

And then there’s the defense. Once considered a heavy weak point for the Dallas Stars, the blue line seems revitalized and revamped. They have a significantly young core that is growing and becoming more confident. They have found a balanced structure and seem to have a set lineup of six or seven players that they can use in each game.

Over the past month or so, the Stars’ defense has been made up of the same six defenders: Esa Lindell, John Klingberg, Dan Hamhuis, Greg Pateryn, Stephen Johns, and Julius Honka. These six players have provided the Dallas defense with a consistent presence that seems to be getting stronger and smarter with each passing game.

Over the past few games, they are showing off a nice balance of skill and focus and giving the Stars a chance to win games. So obviously, Ken Hitchcock is going to change things up tonight.

Wait, what?

Yes, the Dallas Stars will scratch Julius Honka from the lineup tonight in favor of rookie Dillon Heatherington. The 22-year-old Heatherington was called up to fill in for Marc Methot who is out with a knee injury and joined the Stars on Saturday night before their game against Colorado.

He has yet to play in an NHL game, and Hitchcock is using tonight as an opportunity to get him in his first game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team that drafted him. The Blue Jackets traded Heatherington to Dallas at the 2017 trade deadline.

Heatherington is a defensive defenseman that is having a stellar first season with the Texas Stars. He is eating up minutes, providing a physical force for the blue line, and has 13 points in 39 games.

He’s a potentially bright piece of the Dallas Stars future that could end up being an NHL regular.

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But is now the right time to put him in the lineup? While he has plenty of solid attributes that could help the Dallas defense (a shutdown presence, left-handed shot, physicality), it’s a bit of an interesting time to be changing the lineup.

Last year, the Dallas Stars had the luxury of calling up young players and implementing them in the lineup because of their standing. With the team doing poorly through the final few months, players like Remi Elie, Jason Dickinson, and Julius Honka all received extended opportunities to play NHL hockey.

This season, however, Dallas is locked in an airtight battle. The Stars are sitting in the first wild card spot at the moment but are dangerously close to falling out of the playoff picture. That’s because of all of the teams just below them that are playing well.

To add on to that, the Stars are performing well with their current defensive lineup. Honka provides an offensive burst that compliments the defensive presence of Stephen Johns on the third pairing and helps further the “balance” of the blue line. So if it ain’t broke and is actually producing, why try and fix it?

At the end of the day, it’s a chance to try something new. Honka has played well over the recent stretch and will likely be in the lineup on Saturday afternoon at Buffalo, but this is a time for change. Hitchcock is an unpredictable coach and knows what he wants in his lineup against Columbus. It may break the current flow of things, but he obviously sees something that he wants in the lineup.

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It will be up to the Dallas defense to adapt properly. They have done a good job at adjusting this season, so it’s another test with the consequences still high.

So we’ll see how Heatherington performs tonight. Maybe the Dallas Stars defense is in store for a treat? Let’s see what the rookie has to offer.