DALLAS -- For a fleeting moment, the compelling story that has been Thomas Harley's September with the Stars seemed as if it was about to get another chapter Thursday against the Wild.
Taking a feed at the top of the right circle from Andrew Cogliano in the second period, the rookie defenseman quickly fired home a sizzling wrister that looked like it had found a way through traffic and past Minnesota's Devan Dubnyk for his first preseason goal.
Harley, however, knew better.
[WATCH: All Stars vs. Wild highlights]
"There was no way that was off my stick," he said with a laugh afterward.
He was right. The shot had been clipped by Radek Faksa in front before redirecting in, and Harley instead had to settle for the primary assist on Dallas' lone goal in a 2-1 loss at American Airlines Center.
Video: Harley picks up an assist in preseason action
For the Stars' first-round pick from June's NHL draft, that was more than alright. After all, it's another step forward, and yet another sign that Harley has already gained so much from his first taste with the big club.
"Through each game, you definitely learn more and more, so that each new game, you're better," said Harley, who in all likelihood will be sent back to Mississauga of the OHL instead of making the Stars' opening night roster come Oct. 3.
"You know some of the situations that are coming at you. You know how to play with the players. ... It's just getting comfortable out there."
That poise shown by Harley has not been lost on the Stars or coach Jim Montgomery, who at the start of training camp compared the 18-year-old's abilities to those of All-Star phenom Miro Heiskanen.
On Thursday, Montgomery paired Harley with Heiskanen for the second time this preseason, tasking him with going up against the Wild's top players. Although he was whistled for a minor penalty in the second, Harley continued to show the progress that has followed him from development camp to the Traverse City prospect tournament and, now, through five exhibition games.
Video: MIN@DAL: Faksa deflects Harley's shot past Dubnyk
He excelled in high-pressure situations and finished second in ice time to Heiskanen at 26:30 and 21:42, respectively.
"I love it," Harley said. "To be out there in the final minutes is pretty cool, especially with some of the other older guys that they have to pick from on the back end. So being out there, I'm just trying to reward that faith that the coaches have in me."
That faith is real, and it adds up to what could evolve into a strong Dallas blueline for years to come.
"The future is bright on the back end," Montgomery said. "They're smart, talented and are good hockey players."
"I think if you look at the new-age defenseman, I think Miro Heiskanen is that new-age defenseman," he added, "and it looks like Thomas Harley has a chance to be that as well."
Quiet night for young forwards
Video: Monty sees progress for Stars in Preseason
Despite getting another opportunity to stand out in the battle for the team's last forward spots, Montgomery said he didn't see much from Justin Dowling, Nick Caamano, Jason Robertson or Denis Gurianov, who combined for two total shots on goal against Minnesota.
"I would have liked to have seen a little more spark or energy," Montgomery said. "I think our fourth line was minus-2 tonight."
That line of Gurianov, Dowling and Caamano was on the ice for both Minnesota goals, including Jason Zucker's game-winner that was a result of a bad change toward the end of the second period.
Zuccarello makes return to Dallas
Mats Zuccarello made his first trip back to Dallas since leaving the Stars to sign with Minnesota in the offseason.
The veteran winger had a mostly quiet homecoming. He was called for a hooking minor on Roope Hintz 51 seconds into the game and finished with one shot on net in an even 15 minutes of ice time.
Zuccarello, who was acquired by the Stars at the trade deadline last season and was a key catalyst in their run to the second round of the playoffs, inked a five-year, $30 million deal with the Wild on July 1.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Jeff Odom covers the Stars for DallasStars.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeffodom.