Wyatt Johnston living at the Pavelski household has made for elite meme content from the social media laugh factory that Stars fans produce at an outrageous pace, but the often-satirized stay has worked wonders for his professional development. We’re all familiar with the perceived reach the Stars made for him at pick #23 in the ’21 draft after a canceled Covid season, and he somehow remained under the radar after scoring 124 pts at the Junior level that same year.
A year removed from leading the league in rookie goal scoring, Wyatt Johnston has picked up where he left off and averages almost a point per game through just 6 contests. His Pavelski-like play, coupled with uneven output elsewhere, has helped the Stars grab 9 out of 12 available points through 6 games despite an overall team sluggish start.
It’s no coincidence that two of the team’s top performers reside on the same property, as Johnston’s play mimics that of his billet dad. Neither of them is going to burn you with speed, despite huge strides made in Wyatt Johnston’s skating ability, rather they find the areas on the ice left undefended to open up play in the middle of the ice.
The same skills and strategy that Pavelski has utilized to facilitate the success of his young wingmates are the qualities that Johnston has used to revitalize the career of the team’s captain. To put it into philosophical terms, without Johnston, there is no Bennaissance. The duo used these skills in conjunction to formulate a rare Stars OT winner against the Flyers last Saturday, with Pavelski finding himself alone in front of Carter Hart for a soft backhand winner.
While the visual fireworks are always fun, the telling signs of a player’s progression are often detailed in the coach’s deployment. Wyatt is currently 3rd among the forward group in time on ice at 17:21, averages 1:50 of power play time, and is top 4 in forward penalty kill averages (assuming one of Dellandrea & Steel is omitted nightly).
Pete DeBoer is not shying away from using the team’s youngest player in the game’s tightest moments. One of the biggest questions heading into the year was how last year’s penalty killers would be made up for, and Johnston has stepped in seamlessly to the unit that has denied 18 of 19 opportunities to the opposition. “He looks stronger, faster. He looks dangerous when he’s out there,” DeBoer endorsed prior to last week’s tilt with Philly.
It’s important for Wyatt Johnston to replicate the play of his landlord because of the impact that Pavelski has had on the first line for the past 3 years and the transition of power to prolong that success. With Roope & Robo, the Stars’ first line has been the best in hockey. As much as the Stars would like to keep this trio together, Joe Pavelski is much closer to his career expiration than his wingers who are 12 & 15 years younger.
With Wyatt stepping in as a seamless replacement for functionality, skill, and role fit, the Stars would hold the title of the top forward line for over a decade. Maintaining that title and offensive output prolongs the Stars’ cup window, which is the ultimate deciding factor of success at the end of the day.
The games Dallas has won to start the year are ones they would have normally dropped in years past. Close down the wire leaving the game notes littered with missed opportunities to pad or take a lead, desperate for someone to grab hold of the reigns and win it for them.
This year, the one to fill that void has been Wyatt Johnston, and his play across the key phases of special teams and 5-on-5 shows the huge step he’s making this year. Under Pavelski’s tutelage, Wyatt Johnston is quickly transitioning from a flashy phenom to a nightly difference-maker for this year and years to come.