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From rookie sensation to All-Star, Heiskanen has arrived to NHL stardom

The teen defenseman continues to show he's a difference-maker with the potential to carry the Stars for years to come

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

It's so easy as fans to get wrapped up in the day-to-day of sports.

What has Player X done for me today? Where are we in the standings? How are we going to survive this recent injury?

It's all perfectly logical. The focus of pretty much everything in sports is winning the next game, so you kind of get wrapped up in the moment.

But if anything can stop and make you think about the next decade (or two), it's watching Miro Heiskanen. The 19-year-old defenseman was spectacular Wednesday in a 5-4 win over the New Jersey Devils. He had two goals, nine shots on goal, three blocked shots, and was plus-2 in 21:14 of ice time.

It's a great reason why he was selected to represent the Stars at the NHL All-Star Game Jan. 27 in San Jose.

"All-Star," center Tyler Seguin simply said after the game. "We would have liked to hide him in Dallas a little longer, but the world is going to know right away the calmness of him, the confidence of him."

Those revelations are for today, or this season, but the amazing thing about Heiskanen is that his impact really could stretch out over years and years. He is a third overall pick. He is a world-class, puck-possession defenseman. He is a superstar difference-maker.

The Stars in 2017 were scheduled to pick eighth. Instead, they "won" the draft lottery and moved up to third. That was the highest this franchise had picked since taking Mike Modano first overall in 1988, and it's an important point of reference. When you get Heiskanen at third overall instead of someone else at eighth (Casey Mittelstadt went to Buffalo in 2017), it changes everything. Even successful first-round picks for the Stars that have succeeded -- Radek Faksa or Jason Dickinson -- are simply good players. They help you win when they play well.

Heiskanen is the kind of player that can carry your team. Heiskanen is an All-Star.

Video: NJD@DAL: Heiskanen dekes out Blackwood for beauty

Stars coach Jim Montgomery has made several references to Heiskanen as a player who reminds him of Scott Niedermayer. That's right, the same Hockey Hall of Famer who played 1,263 games over 18 seasons and helped his teams win four Stanley Cups. If that's not high enough cotton, Heiskanen also has drawn comparisons to Nicklas Lidstrom, who played 1,564 games over 20 seasons with Detroit. He won four Stanley Cups and seven Norris Trophies.

Now, putting that expectation on a kid who would be a freshman in college is a little weighty, but it's the word on the street, so to speak. People are waxing eloquent on him, and he's only 41 games into his NHL career.

"I don't know what to say about him anymore," Montgomery said. "I'm just glad I get the opportunity to coach him."

When describing Heiskanen's talents earlier, Montgomery didn't mince words.

"The feet and the skating ability and the smarts, at both ends of the ice," Montgomery said of the comparison to Niedermayer. "His stick, he breaks up plays just like Scott did. His ability to jump in and be the fourth guy, and not even look like he's trying to be the fourth guy, and just be separating from forwards backchecking."

Tweet from @Jeremy_Roenick: The @DallasStars have a very special player in rookie Miro Heiskanen. This kid is LEGIT!!!! Future Norris winner.

Heiskanen showed all of that on Wednesday. He took a pass from Tyler Pitlick in open ice during a 4-on-4 situation, shoulder-shimmied goalie Mackenzie Blackwood and calmly lifted the puck into the net for his eighth goal of the season. Then, with the scored tied 4-4 in the third period, Heiskanen took a faceoff win from Roope Hintz, jetted up the left wall, curled into the slot and deftly lifted a backhand over Blackwood for goal No. 9.

He is fourth on the Stars in goal scoring, fourth among all NHL defensemen, and tied for fifth among all rookies. And that was after a relatively slow start. There's no telling where Heiskanen can go from here, but most are predicting up ... way up.

Heiskanen seems to handle that pressure. He has that breezy athletic arrogance that you need to breathe at that altitude. Asked if he was surprised he was named to the All-Star Game, Heiskanen said: "A little bit, yeah, but of course, I've think I've played pretty good."

He has.

Video: Heiskanen on two-goal night, becoming an All-Star

After scoring the two goals, including the key go-ahead goal in a pressure-packed third period, Heiskanen also helped partially block a shot and then sweep the puck off the goal line to preserve the one-goal lead with 2:56 remaining.

Asked what meant more, a goal or a save, he said both felt good. But he added: "I'm a defenseman, so it feels good that I have a defensive play."

And that is part of the twists and turns that snake through the Heiskanen story. He actually is way ahead of the game in his defensive skills and needs to catch up offensively. That's unusual for a rookie.

Of course, it's also unusual for a 19-year-old to be playing in an All-Star Game. Heiskanen becomes just the second rookie in Minnesota/Dallas history to earn this accolade. Danny O'Shea went during the 1968-69 season, but he was 23 at the time.

It's just one more thing that makes you think that 6.4 percent chance in the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery that allowed the Stars to move up six spots might be the most important thing that has happened to this franchise in a decade -- and maybe for a couple of decades going forward.

Tweet from @DallasStars: Miro Heiskanen is heading to the 2019 #NHLAllStar Game in San Jose! #GoStars pic.twitter.com/BJtRDeLJna

Combine Heiskanen with John Klingberg, Esa Lindell and whatever other young defensemen the Stars can develop, and there is a chance this team can own the blueline in most games.

"He seems to always be moving forward. It was probably his most dominant game as far as puck possession. He was outstanding tonight," Montgomery said of Wednesday's game.

"Combine him with Klingberg and Lindell, and we've got a three-headed monster there that is going to make us really good for years."

Which can set the table for more focus on the day-to-day winning that needs to be done in these parts.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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