There’s a world of potential and hype surrounding the Dallas Stars as they approach the 2019-20 season. And while the summer additions will take up a good amount of the spotlight, there’s reason to believe that Roope Hintz could end up serving as the team’s biggest wild card in the year ahead.
Rewind back to April 17, 2019 for a moment. The Stars welcomed the Nashville Predators to the American Airlines Center for Game 4 of their first round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and there was a fair dosage of urgency attached to the contest.
After winning Game 1 in Nashville, the Stars had dropped the previous two games and were in danger of falling into a 3-1 hole in the series. Another loss would pin them behind by two games and force them to head back to Nashville in a “win or go home” situation. A win seemed critical if the Stars expected to keep their playoff hopes alive.
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As we now know, they took the urgency to heart and finished the series with three consecutive victories to punch their ticket to the second round. It all started with a dominant performance in Game 4 on April 17.
The Stars started the game at a furious pace, scoring three goals in the first 8:24 of the opening period and adding a fourth thanks to a Mats Zuccarello tally on the power play with 6:15 to go. The power play was rolling, every line was clicking, and the offensive assault chased Nashville starter Pekka Rinne from the net. The Stars took control of home ice advantage as they carried a dominant 4-0 lead into first intermission.
Dallas tacked on another goal in the second period to push the lead to 5-0 and eventually secured a 5-1 victory to even the series at two wins apiece and shift the spotlight back to Nashville.
In the middle of the Stars’ influential win was forward Roope Hintz. After going pointless in his first three NHL postseason games, Hintz took center stage and delivered the first and fifth goals for Dallas, earning himself First Star honors as the Stars evened up the series.
But it wasn’t just the goals that put Hintz in the spotlight. It was the fact that he scored them on just three total shots on the night. It was the fact that he made a sincere impact on the game in just 14:59 of ice time. It was the fact that he went toe-to-toe with Predators defenseman P.K. Subban behind the net when the game was already out of reach and delivered a well-timed hit that was received enthusiastically by the sold-out crowd at the AAC.
That Game 4 performance not only propelled Hintz into a successful finish to the postseason that included three goals and six points in the final nine games, but it also put him at the center of attention in the NHL news world. Analysts and playoff hockey fans alike began referring to him as an X-factor and a secret weapon for the Dallas Stars that could help push them to a berth in the Stanley Cup Final. And while that hope fell two rounds short, the hype around Roope Hintz continued to grow.
That’s a lot of attention being paid to a 22-year-old that spent the first half of the 2018-19 season bouncing back and forth between the NHL and AHL. But he earned the relevance through an impressive finish to the regular season and a surge in his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut.
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And now that the 2019-20 season is quickly approaching, there’s reason to believe that he might be the Dallas Stars’ biggest wild card. In other words, he may have the best chance at helping the Stars excel in one of their most intriguing seasons of the past decade.
That’s because Hintz is by all means a breakout candidate for the Stars in the season ahead.
Now, that may seem like a bit of a stretch to some. After all, his five goals and eight points in 13 postseason games quickly put him on the map as one of the next young talents in the League.
But this is a new stage for Hintz. Unlike in the 2018-19 season when he battled for a roster spot throughout the first half of the year, Hintz will now get a full-season opportunity to prove himself. And that’s where this untapped potential lies.
Hintz proved in a relatively small sample size during the 2018-19 season and postseason that he can be a legitimate scorer and producer in the Dallas lineup. He worked his way into the top six and cemented his spot there for the remainder of the Stars’ run. And with that, he’s expected to receive an extended role in the same position as the 2019-20 season kicks off.
That bodes well for a young skater like Hintz. With the Dallas Stars in need of scoring after a 2018-19 campaign that saw them finish 28th in goals scored, Hintz could provide a big chunk of the needed solution with a breakout season.
Hintz brings a lot of positive elements to the table that can be used not only in the offensive zone, but all across the ice. He’s arguably the fastest skater on the team, which is all the more impressive when you consider he does so with a 6-3, 215 lb. frame. He’s a natural scorer with strong puck handling skills, but also has good vision and can serve as a viable set-up man in the offensive zone. Those skills also translate over to the power play, where Hintz served towards the end of the 2018-19 season.
He’s also a viable threat in the defensive zone. Using his size and reach, Hintz can play a physical and impactful role on defense.
Through the latter half of this past season and postseason, Hintz proved to be more and more valuable. That led to head coach Jim Montgomery trusting the rookie with more responsibilities and in big moments, which only seemed to further bolster Hintz’s confidence and output.
And now, he will have a full 82-game opportunity to continue growing the recognition and hype that surrounded him towards the end of the 2018-19 year. With a consistent presence in the lineup and an opportunity to play a top-six role alongside other playmakers like Joe Pavelski, the stage is set for Hintz to take advantage. And if the recent past tells us anything, it’s that he will take full advantage.
It’s not unlikely to think that the 22-year-old could put together a 20+ goal and 50+ point performance in the 2019-20 campaign after managing nine goals and 22 points in 58 games this past year. The confidence is there, as is the chemistry and determination.
Roope Hintz has an opportunity to not only continue turning heads across the league, but also establish himself as a prime piece of the Dallas Stars’ offensive future in the year ahead.
Can he be the wild card that the Stars need in their offensive mix? We’ll find out in the near future.