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The Stars’ Series Against Seattle Is Miro Heiskanen’s Time to Shine

The 23-year-old Finn is the best defenseman left standing in the NHL playoffs. A big series could shift the conversation about him accordingly.
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Miro Heiskanen will cause a stir nationally if he shuts down the Kraken. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Unbeknownst at the time, we got a preview of the Stars’ second-round playoff series against the Seattle Kraken back in March. 

The Stars traveled to Seattle for the first of two games on March 11. Joe Pavelski scored a game-tying goal with 70 seconds remaining, and Miro Heiskanen won it in overtime on one of the prettiest goals of the season. Dallas prevailed, 4-3. 

Two nights later, the Stars won again, this time a 5-2 dominant showing in which Heiskenan had three assists. 

With Game 1 looming on Tuesday night, there are so many storylines to love about the Stars-Kraken series. Jamie Oleksiak versus his former club. The rookie showdown between Wyatt Johnston and Matty Beniers. The NHL’s newest franchise reaching the second round in its second season, after knocking off the defending Stanley Cup champion Avalanche in seven games. Pavelski’s likely return for Game 1 and the impact he will have. 

It’s a smorgasbord of stories, a journalist’s dream. But on the ice, no one in this series will be more important than Heiskanen.

And goalies aside, no one will be on the ice more than Heiskanen. In the first round, he averaged a league-high 29 minutes, 3 seconds per game. No one else who advanced to the second round averaged more than 26.

It came with good reason. When Heiskanen was on the ice, the Stars outscored the Wild,16-3. When he wasn’t, the Wild had an 11-5 edge.  

“Simply dominant,” a Western Conference scout texted me this week. “I love what Roope Hintz did, I love what [Jake] Oettinger did. But it was two different series: one when Heiskanen was on the ice, one when Miro wasn’t.”

If the Stars win this series—and they are favored—it’ll be because of Heiskanen’s ability to tilt the ice for half the game. 

Technically and schematically, Heiskanen is one of the best defensemen on the planet. No one who follows the game closely would dispute that. But this series presents an opportunity for the national narrative to shift, to make sure Heiskanen’s name isn’t the one that merely gets thrown into Norris Trophy conversations, but actually leads the debate. 

Because of the way the 2017 NHL Draft unfolded, Heiskanen will always be compared to Cale Makar. Heiskanen went third overall, and the Colorado Avalanche snapped up Makar with the fourth pick. 

Last season Makar won everything that Heiskanen aspires to: the Stanley Cup; the Norris Trophy, which goes to the league’s top defender; and the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP. 

But Makar couldn’t lead the heavily injured Avalanche by the Kraken, and although it wouldn’t completely flip the narrative, Heiskanen would at least turn some heads if he were to lift the Stars over Seattle. 

It would also silence some Stars fans, who I’ve seen on Twitter saying Dallas made a mistake when drafting Heiskenan over Makar. 

Heiskanen had already started to sway some of those doubters this season. If there was a flaw in his game, it was his lack of offensive dominance, that he didn’t take over games from the blue line enough. 

What changed? In the offseason, the Stars let John Klingberg walk so Heiskanen could run. 

“He was let free,” a Stars source said. “Miro is someone who needed that to be put in motion for him offensively. John was blocking that. It was the one space where Miro couldn’t be the best player at his position, because John needed that spot. With John gone, and Miro is a good teammate, he was willing to own everything.” 

Heiskanen’s point total doubled from 36 to 73. In six playoff games, he is averaging a point per game. As Seattle learned back in March, the game now runs through Heiskanen in all three zones.

It’s also fitting that this series pits Heiskanen against Eeli Tolvanen.

Tolvanen and Heiskanen starred together in a 2018 commercial that featured the pair, then still playing in Finland, shooting into an empty net on a frozen pond with the loser having to drive the Zamboni. 

Heiskanen lost the challenge. He drove the Zamboni to a casino to meet up with Tolvanen. The commercial included a four-word slogan: “New Dawn. New Bosses.”

Tolvanen’s NHL career has been on a flatter arc. He struggled to find his footing in Nashville and was waived, then claimed by the Kraken in the middle of the season. It was a move that has paid off handsomely for Seattle. 

For Heiskanen, the slogan mirrors what he proved in the regular season and what he’s trying to prove in this playoff run. He has been the boss on the Stars’ defense from Day 1 in Dallas, but he needed a new dawn, an opportunity to own the entire game. 

The Kraken don’t have a Heiskanen, and that will be the difference in this series. In fact, none of the other remaining seven playoff teams do.

As the second round begins, Heiskanen is in a class of his own. The hockey world is about to find out as much. 


Sean Shapiro

Sean Shapiro

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Sean Shapiro covers the Stars for StrongSide. He is a national NHL reporter and writer who previously covered the Dallas…

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