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NHL Winter Classic

Heiskanen ready to put talents on display for Stars at Winter Classic

20-year-old defenseman has makeup for big stage, set to face Predators at Cotton Bowl Stadium on Jan. 1

by Tracey Myers @Tramyers_NHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

DALLAS -- It's hard to believe Miro Heiskanen is 20 years old.

The Dallas Stars defenseman shows poise on the ice that belies his youth. He's confident, and that confidence comes through in his game, from his smooth skating to his great vision and passing. So how does Heiskanen have such great command of the game?

"Because he has it," Stars general manager Jim Nill said with a laugh. "He's a very well-rounded young man, he never gets rattled, that's his personality. He's never rattled on the ice, either. The skill set and the mind he has, it allows him to be a special player."

 

[RELATED: Full 2020 NHL Winter Classic Coverage]

 

Heiskanen, in his second NHL season, is He's third on the Stars with 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in 38 games, behind forwards Tyler Seguin, who has 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) in 38 games and Alexander Radulov, who has 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 35 games. Playing on the second defensive pair with Jamie Oleksiak, Heiskanen leads the Stars in average ice time at 24:23 per game.

Heiskanen's talents will be on display for a national audience when the Stars host the Nashville Predators at the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Cotton Bowl Stadium on Jan. 1 (2 p.m. ET; NBC, TVAS, SN). 

The No. 3 selection in the 2017 NHL Draft is an unflappable presence.

"I've always been like that," Heiskanen said. "Of course, I think it helped that I played two pro years in Finland, too. That was a big help for me. But I've always been a pretty calm guy."

Video: DAL@WPG: Heiskanen scores in 2nd period

Heiskanen fared well in those two seasons with HIFK of Liiga, Finland's top pro league, where he had 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists) in 67 games. After allowing 2.44 goals per game last season (second in the NHL to the New York Islanders at 2.33), the Stars lead the League, allowing 2.43 goals per game this season. 

"He's an elite player, and he's a very humble elite player. But he also knows, deep down, how good he is, right?" Stars coach Rick Bowness said. "That's a wonderful, quiet confidence that elite players have. You don't see those guys bragging about themselves. All their talk is done on the ice, and Miro's one of those guys. He just lets his play do all the talking for him and he expects us to be smart enough to see how good he is. That's what it comes down to. I love his humility, but more importantly I love his inner confidence. He knows how good he is." 

In 2017-18, his first season with HIFK, Heiskanen had one point (a goal) in five games at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics and two assists in eight games at the 2018 IIHF World Championship. Former Stars forward Jere Lehtinen, general manager of Finland's national team since 2014, said Heiskanen has always handled himself well.

"We picked him in the Olympics and then the World Championships, even though we had a lot of NHL players on that team," Lehtinen said. "He was young, but he could play with the big guys and against big guys, too. You saw what he has and what a good player he is."

Asked what weaknesses Heiskanen has in his game, Lehtinen laughed.

"Oh, that's a tough one," Lehtinen said. "The second season is usually a little tougher on a young player. It's about not getting tired, and other players know him better and play harder against him. But it seems he can be at his best in those tough situations."

Stars forward Andrew Cogliano said one of Heiskanen's best assets is avoiding contact.

"He's all over the ice, he's got the puck through the neutral zone, and what's impressive about him, knock on wood, is he does a good job of protecting himself," he said. "Good players know how to do that. Smart players know how to do that. His talent is on another level but his [hockey] mind, I don't think it's something I don't think you can recreate."

Video: DAL@WPG: Heiskanen tallies after outstanding effort

The ability to avoid physical punishment is reminiscent of former Stars defenseman Sergei Zubov, who played 73 games or more each season from 1996-2007.

"It's a positional game. He plays his position, he uses his body and his skating ability to avoid [contact] and at the same time, do his primary job," said Zubov, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November. "You know how they say, if you can skate and you can move the puck, you can play defense? This young gentleman, he has tremendous talent. He's got it all. Hopefully he just continues at the same pace."

Lehtinen said it will help Heiskanen to get stronger over the years, as will playing in more games. If Heiskanen keeps progressing from the level he's already at, he could reach the Hall of Fame someday.

"I know it's really early to say that, but when you see a player like him, that's what you start thinking about down the line," Cogliano said. "He thinks the game on another level. It just sometimes looks easy for him." 
 

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