While their top players like Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov, Miro Heiskanen and especially stalwart goaltender Anton Khudobin (who took over the crease from the injured Ben Bishop), among others, have rightly received much of the accolades, the Stars’ depth players have also excelled at various points throughout the playoffs.
One player who has had a bit of an up and down post-season is left winger Roope Hintz. The 23-year-old native of Tampere, Finland, has enjoyed some impressive moments while toiling primarily on Dallas’ third line, most often lately with veteran Corey Perry and fellow Finn Jiri Kiviranta.
He has taken major steps since last season, but although Hintz is still battling that nemesis of most young players, consistency, he has developed into a reliable contributor at both ends of the ice for the Stars.
After establishing himself as an everyday NHLer late in the 2018/19 season, Hintz was a revelation during the 2019 playoffs, scoring five goals and eight points in 13 games as the Stars advanced to the second round, eventually falling in double overtime of Game 7 to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.
With much more expected of him in his second NHL campaign, Hintz has mostly delivered on the promise he displayed in the playoffs last year, accumulating 19 goals and 33 points in 60 games during the 2019/20 regular season. He was tied for second with Benn, one behind Russian rookie Denis Gurianov, for the team lead in goals and was fifth in points.
In the Edmonton bubble for the 2020 playoffs, Hintz has continued producing at a similar pace, recording two goals and 13 points in 24 games while helping the Stars reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years.
“I think we try to use our speed and then we try to play (a lot of) offence in their zone,” Hintz said of his line. “But I think the biggest key for us is to use our speed, because we can all skate well, so I think that’s the biggest thing for us.”
Skating alongside 35-year-old veteran Perry, who helped the Ducks win the Stanley Cup in 2007 and won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP in 2011, has been an educational experience for Hintz.
“I like to play with him, he’s played so long in this league and he has played really well,” Hintz said of Perry, who joined Dallas as a free agent last summer after 14 years in Anaheim. “It’s nice to look up and see how he’s doing. He gives good tips, too, and obviously, he’s won (the Cup before), so he has some good advice.”
He spent much of the early part of the year on a line with Gurianov and veteran free agent signing Joe Pavelski, with mixed success. Hintz has also skated alongside Jason Dickinson, Radek Faksa and others at times this season, as Stars coach Rick Bowness has shuffled lines often, changing up Hintz’s linemates at regular intervals.
“Roope picked up the start of the year right where he left off,” Bowness said. “He was a dominant player at the end of last year, he was a dominant player in the playoffs. Unfortunately, he had an injury, so that set him back, and it took him a little while to get his legs going again and get his timing and get his confidence back.
“Young players, (consistency is) always an issue. Every young player in this league, it’s an issue, but we’re getting there.”
“I have been trying to grow all the time and be better,” said the 191 cm / 6-foot-3, 100 kg / 220 pound Hintz. “I think the biggest thing is that the team wins. I try to help the team the best that I can every night. We have to stick together as a team and do everything together, that’s the only way we can do everything good. I think we have a really tight group here.”
Hintz also enjoyed his time skating next to the 36-year-old Pavelski, who helped provide guidance and leadership for Hintz over the course of the season, whether the two were on the same line or not.
“I like playing with him, he just hit 1,000 games, so much experience and a leader in this game, so it’s nice to play with him,” Hintz said of Pavelski, who passed that milestone last December. “He can teach me stuff, so it’s good.”
“He’s very important,” Pavelski said of Hintz. “You’ve seen the speed and kind of the presence he can create through that middle of the ice. It’s important, so we’re glad to have him.”
Following a solid rookie season with Ilves Tampere in the Finnish SM-Liiga, Dallas selected Hintz in the second round (49th overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft. He spent another two seasons in the Liiga with Helsinki IFK, helping HIFK reach the league final in 2016. He then scored 19 goals and 30 points in 44 games in 2016-17, adding another three goals and 14 points in 14 Liiga playoff games.
Hintz also represented Finland at both the 2015 and 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships, helping the Finns claim gold on home ice in 2016 in Helsinki.
“That was big, it was unreal,” he said of winning the championship on home ice. “So many friends and family watching every game, it was just a huge thing, it was so nice. One of the (highlights of my career).”
Hintz acknowledged that his time in the AHL was a valuable learning process that helped him adjust to the North American style of play.
“It’s a smaller rink here, that’s the one thing and it’s more of a physical game here, no sitting back, it’s just skating,” he said. “It was good.”
Hintz made the NHL club out of training camp in 2018/19, playing five games in October before he went back down to the AHL squad for a little more development time. He used his time there wisely, scoring nine goals and 22 points in 21 games over a couple of different stints, before getting recalled back to Dallas for good in late December.
After totalling four goals and 11 points over the final 14 regular season contests, Hintz finished his rookie NHL season with nine goals and 22 points in 53 games. He then continued his hot hand in the 2019 playoffs.
As Bowness said, the key to Hintz taking that next step to becoming an offensive star is to improve his consistency, which is something he has had issues with at times this season.
He went five games without a point before scoring a goal in the final regular season contest on 10 March, then had just one assist in the first four games in the bubble during the current playoffs. Then he began hitting the scoresheet a little more frequently, especially in the Stars’ thrilling seven-game victory over Colorado in the second round when he notched two goals and four assists. And while he has gone 11 games without a goal heading into Game 4 of the Final, he has still added five assists over that span, including a big assist on Dickinson’s shorthanded goal in Game 3, while providing energy, speed and forechecking pressure for Dallas.
“He might be quiet some games where you don’t see him, at top speed at all times, but he skates teams into the ground more often than not,” Dickinson said. “It’s impressive how fast and how hard he goes when he gets the puck.”
Even when he’s not producing on the scoresheet, Hintz and his quickness almost always has an impact on the game.
“Roope, he’s confident in himself,” Dickinson said. “He’s taking control out there and he’s trying to change the game and really be a difference-maker for us, that’s the biggest thing I can point out for him. He’s trying to be the guy for us, that’s going to go out there and win the game.”
In the Stanley Cup final series the Stars started with a 4-1 win but the Tampa Bay Lightning came back winning the following games 3-2 and 5-2 for a 2-1 lead. The next games are scheduled for Friday and Saturday.