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Hintz adjusting game to smaller ice surface

Stars forward prospect says it forces him to make quicker, smarter decisions

by Sean Shapiro / Correspondent

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Roope Hintz has always prided himself on being able to create space.

Whether that's opening a passing lane for a teammate or finding the open space on the ice, the Dallas Stars forward prospect is at his best when he's slowing the game down and finding the angles. It's the approach he took last season when he led Finland's top league in playoff scoring with 14 points in 14 games with HIFK.

Now Hintz needs to figure out how to do that on a smaller ice surface.

A second-round pick (No. 49) in the 2015 NHL Draft, Hintz, 20, is expected to start the season with Texas in the American Hockey League, but will have a chance to win an NHL roster spot in his first North American training camp.

"That would be great," Hintz said. "It's not something I'm thinking about too much, but it's something that would be great if it happens."

That's why the Traverse City Prospects Tournament is part audition and part adjustment for Hintz. He's playing live games in front of the Stars management group and coach Ken Hitchcock, while also adapting his game to an NHL regulation rink after playing on wider surfaces in Europe.

"You have to be faster in every little thing that you do," Hintz said.

Hintz said that isn't a bad thing. It forces him to make quicker, smarter decisions, and he said the ability to shoot from any spot in the offensive zone creates more options whenever he has the puck.

He showed a bit of that growth and understanding over the course of the Stars first game, a 7-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday.

"This tournament is going to be great for him to make the transition into training camp," Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal said. "He'll be used to the North American ice very soon … I thought in the third period there he came across and I thought he was going to get hammered, but he dodged it pretty well. He's on the right track."

It's not the first time Hintz has made an adjustment to a North American rink. Thanks to a suggestion from his agent, Hintz spent most of the 2012-13 season playing with the Tampa Bay Juniors in the Tier III Empire Junior Hockey League.

Only 15, he played 20 games and had 35 points. He also played two games with Bismarck of the North American Hockey League in a late-season call-up.

Hintz said he made that decision for two reasons. He wanted to learn how to speak English and he felt it would help his skating.

"I was there five months and then I came back to Finland," Hintz said. "I didn't speak any English when I went there."

Hintz said his time there proved valuable to his development and when he returned to Finland he started to elevate his game. He made his debut with Ilves Tampere in Finland's top league as a 16-year-old the next season and was a full-time player during the 2014-15 season before Dallas drafted him.

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