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Hey Heika: Is Miro Heiskanen the league's best young defenseman?

DallasStars.com senior staff writer Mike Heika answers Twitter questions from fans in his latest mailbag

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

It's been a heck of a month, and there's plenty to talk about, so let's answer your questions in another installment of Hey Heika. You asked on Twitter, and I'll answer them here in one tidy package.

It's great teamwork, if you ask me:

 

How come Esa Lindell gets no love from the fans? IMHO he's a stud D-man. -- @dougie0216

Mike Heika: This is an interesting question and it draws me back to 20 years ago when people were asking the same question about Derian Hatcher. The big defenseman was praised for his fights and physical play, but a lot of people got hot when he would blow a defensive assignment or simply look awkward on the ice.

I think a lot of it comes down to it's tough to be a defensive defenseman. You are mostly noticed when you don't do your job. If a goalie gets a shutout, he typically gets the credit no matter what the shot quality is. If a guy is left alone in front of the net, the defenseman gets the blame. Likewise, because defensive defensemen are out on the ice while protecting a lead while opposing players fire away, their Corsi and SAT (shot attempt differential) get a big hit.

Lindell is minus-42 in SAT this this season (shot attempt differential at even strength). That's worst on the team. He was minus-281 last season, also worst on the team and fourth worst among all NHL defensemen. That will raise some red flags. He also just signed a six-year deal that averages $5.8 million, and there are some who believe that was too much money.

So, there are some legitimate talking points here.

I typically go with the evaluation of the coaches in situations like this. A veteran coach like Rick Bowness loves Lindell and puts him out there in the toughest situations, so he feels Lindell is doing his job. That said, it can be a very tough job, so there will be mistakes and room for criticism.

Video: VGK@DAL: Lindell scores in 1st period

 

Have you had a spinal tap moment getting lost in an opposing barn? -- @WhyteThunder

Heika: I ask for directions, so I usually find my way around. That said, I do forget where the elevators are in the Eastern Conference arenas we visit just once a year, and I do get challenged by some of the new, bigger arenas that are being built.

 

Why are people bagging on Sekera? I've seen solid d-man play all season long. -- @JLinkTX

Heika: We actually had a conversation about this in the pressbox the other day. I understand that fans want to find flaws and want their team to be better, but I don't get the hate for certain players. The fact that Justin Dowling is centering the top line and helping them play better is an amazing story. Think about a 29-year-old who gets that chance in his 35th NHL game or whatever it was. You would think fans would love that story.

Andrej Sekera is coming back from some major injuries and is trying to find his way after playing just 24 games last season. He is trying to fit into a new team and is doing a pretty good job, playing 20 minutes a night during a very hot streak for the Stars.

Add to that the fact he is on a team-friendly contract, and it seems he is bringing good value to the roster.

That said, fans like to debate and I never want to stand in the way of that. We each read a performance a different way, and that's part of the fun of following a team. There are also fans who judge their team on its ability to win the Stanley Cup, and while that can be a hard way to watch, I also understand those have set that high bar.

 

What did you find most impressive about our 14-1-1 run? Which forward stuck out the most and which defensemen shined the most? -- @jthansen67

Heika: That's a good one. I think what I like best is they are moving the puck with confidence. I typically get in trouble with coaches when I talk about risky plays, because they don't like the word risky, but I believe you have to take risks if you want to score in the NHL.

As such, I think they are taking the proper amount of risk right now where they were afraid to take that risk earlier in the season. They are playing fast, they are trying things, and they are often succeeding.

The beauty of this run is that different players have stepped up in different games, and that's sort of how this team was built. Joe Pavelski has had big games and has had quiet games. Jamie Benn has had big games and has had quiet games. Alexander Radulov has had big games and has had quiet games. That allows players who might have the most pressure to better deal with the pressure, because they are not killing themselves after the quiet games.

If I had to pick one forward, it would probably be Mattias Janmark. To come back from his knee situation and have the speed he has is impressive. To pretty much help any line he is on is an incredibly valuable trait, as well. Jim Montgomery likes to roll four lines, and having a player like Janmark (or Jason Dickinson or Denis Gurianov) makes that a lot easier.

On defense, Miro Heiskanen is taking a step to another level. When veteran coaches and great players marvel at his calm, you know the kid is doing something very special.

Video: DAL@EDM: Benn nets backhander for OT winner

 

Do you foresee any future trades to free up the glut of forwards on the team? Also, what's your favorite Thanksgiving dish? -- @Matt_Lawson21

Heika: No, I think they always feel they will need depth. If they have to scratch a good player here and there, that's not the worst thing in the world. There will be injuries, and then the depth will be valued. I actually think they would love to keep this group intact and possibly add a higher-level defenseman on an expiring contract near the trade deadline, but that's just me.

My wife's creamed corn is the bomb at Thanksgiving.

 

Have your predictions for playoffs this year (overall) changed now that the season has started? -- @laabshier

Heika: On one hand, I had the Blues winning the Central, the Stars second, and the Avalanche third, with the Stars and Avalanche meeting in the first round of the playoffs, so I think that's still a realistic possibility. On the other hand, I had Vegas beating Tampa Bay in the Cup final, and I don't think that's going to happen.

The fun thing about today's NHL is that parity is real, and you really have no idea what is going to happen. Last season proved that with the Lightning and the Blues, and this season is carrying that thought through the first quarter.

 

Has our beginning of season expectations of a deep playoff run been restored? -- @sportsidiocracy

Heika: Yes, definitely. I go back to what this team was on paper, and I think there is a chance that vision can become true. The Stars last season mowed down Nashville in the playoffs and gave a very good Blues team a great series. They then basically exchanged Jason Spezza for Joe Pavelski, Valeri Nichushkin for Denis Gurianov and Brett Ritchie for Corey Perry. It took a little while to sort out, but I think that should make this a better team. Add in the fact Jim Montgomery, Miro Heiskanen, Roope Hintz and Jason Dickinson have a year of experience under their belt, and you have to figure this team should be better.

Now, the parity of the league creates all sorts of challenges, and a possible first-round match-up with a healthy Avalanche team would be a huge test, so all of that has to factor into a "long run." But, I do believe what we are seeing on the ice right now indicates they can be one of the better teams in the league.

Video: VGK@DAL: Dickinson pots goal to add to Stars' lead

 

What do you think is going to be the fallout (if any) from the revelations about coaches and abuse from the NHL all the way down to the major juniors? -- @IAmThatDork

Heika: My hope is always that the truth wins out. If this allows players to speak out honestly, I think the league will be better for it. There will be pains in the process, but I really hope that all involved can work together and make the working environment at all levels safe and respectful.

 

How is Peverley doing? -- @bruheuphmoment

Heika: Rich is an amazing person and seems to be doing very well. He doesn't like to talk about himself much, but I asked him how he was doing at the Traverse City Prospect Tournament, and he said he feels great and is living a normal life in terms of exercise and activity.

 

Do you believe Miro is the best young defensemen in the league? -- @seth_lowe_

Heika: I hate to make these proclamations, because I watch Miro Heiskanen every game and I don't watch other players near as much. But I will say that I have never heard people rave about a young player the way the Stars coaches do about Miro. The comment from Jim Montgomery where he said the coaches are like we in the media in saying, "Wow" about a few times a game, that's a pretty strong statement. I laugh at Daryl Reaugh putting him in the Hall of Fame and retiring his number already, but people like Razor, Brent Severyn and Craig Ludwig who have been around the game for 30-plus years, extolling the virtues of a 20-year-old defenseman the way they are…that says he is something very special.

So, short answer, yes, I think he is the best young defenseman in the game right now.

Video: VAN@DAL: Heiskanen buries one-timer off give-and-go

 

Big Rig and Gury are really playing well & I'm loving it. How about a write-up about them and what its meant to team? -- @tmikestephenson

Heika: I'll get right to it. Been a little bogged down with stories on the Hall of Fame and Winter Classic and historic winning streak, but I'm adding these two to the assignment list right now. :)

 

Stuffing or dressing? Cornbread or white bread? Walnuts? Pecans? Sausage? Turkey? Meatless? Oysters? Water Chestnuts? Raisins? Inquiring minds want to know. -- @VerucaSalt41179

Heika: I'm kind of a Midwesterner when it comes to taste buds. I like white bread, I like meatless, I like traditional. I actually don't mind water chestnuts, but I'm not big on oysters or raisins.

 

Hey Heika, how's Honka? -- @terrywelty

Heika: I actually just hope he's happy. He's about to turn 24 (Dec. 3), he's a professional athlete, he's got a chance to do this job for a long time moving forward. Hopefully, all of the NHL stuff works itself out and he finds a place (be it here or overseas) where he can be happy. He earned a lot of respect with how he handled last season, so I know there are many people cheering for him, including me.

 

Chances of Perry and Dobby coming back next year? Any quiet talks on them? -- @AlanBak02846214

Heika: I think they will take their chances on all of their expiring UFA contracts. So much can change down the stretch and in the playoffs, and there still is plenty of time to negotiate with UFAs from the end of the season until July 1. It makes sense to wait on all of this stuff.

Some submissions have been edited for brevity and clarity. Have a question for a future Hey Heika mailbag? Tweet it to @MikeHeika and use #HeyHeika.

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.

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