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Hungry for Tex-Mex and a Stanley Cup: That is the Miro Heiskanen way

The 22-year-old defenseman says he can't wait to dive into the local cuisine for another eight years as he and the Stars set their sights on a Stanley Cup championship

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

To paraphrase the great Wichita Falls band Bowling for Soup, it's tough to get a good Mexican food dish outside of Texas.

That's one of the reasons Miro Heiskanen is glad he signed an eight-year contract extension with the Stars on Saturday that will make him one of the highest paid players on the team. Heiskanen said that his three years in the United States have taught him a great deal -- and one of the main things is they have some pretty good restaurants here.

"There's a lot of good restaurants," Heiskanen said from Finland on a Zoom call Monday. "I like Tex-Mex food a lot. That's a little different, there's not that much Tex-Mex in Finland."

That makes sense.

It also makes sense the Stars were able to get a long-term deal done with the third overall pick in 2017. That's the highest the franchise has drafted a player since Mike Modano went first overall in 1988, and Dallas would love it if Heiskanen can follow a similar iconic path here in the Lone Star State.

Video: "I'm really happy and excited"

"Miro is one of the young elite players in the NHL," said Stars general manager Jim Nill on Saturday when the signing was announced. "We're very excited to know he's going to be a Dallas Star for the next eight years. That's something Miro made very clear in our negotiations. Dallas is his home, and he wants to be a Dallas Star for life."

Heiskanen's average salary for the eight years will be $8.45 million, making him the third-highest paid player on the team behind Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. The Stars will be getting the prime years of his career, as he just turned 22 on Sunday.

"If you look through the careers of Norris Trophy winning defensemen, where his career is at compared to them, he's ahead of many of those people," Nill said. "He's got a lot more room to grow."

Video: Nill on Heiskanen contract extension, Dickinson trade

Heiskanen was the Stars' leading scorer in the 2020 playoffs, tallying 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) in 27 games. He had a drop-off in production last season to 27 points (eight goals, 19 assists) in 55 games, or 0.49 points per game. Stars head coach Rick Bowness said he believes Heiskanen will get back on a higher scoring pace next season.

"He just needs more experience," the veteran bench boss said. "He needs to be pushed and we push him. He has the instincts and the skills, and he just needs to build on that, and he will. He's a great kid, he's smart, and he's just going to keep getting better."

Heiskanen led the Stars in time on ice last season at 24:59 per game. Bowness said that's an indication just how important he is to the team. Heiskanen played most of the season with Jamie Oleksiak, and the defenseman could still get taken in Wednesday's expansion draft or he could sign with another team if he reaches free agency on July 28. Either way, there could be changes for Heiskanen both in who he plays beside and what side he plays.

The left-hander played mostly the right side last season alongside Oleksiak.

Asked if there is a better side for Heiskanen, Bowness said "no."

"We don't worry about that so much," the coach said. "We just want him on the ice in the right situations. We want him to get a lot of minutes."

Bowness said Heiskanen has both physical skills and mental strength, and that's what makes him so good.

"There are a lot of obvious things - the skating, the stick-handling, the passing, the reads," Bowness said. "But, to me, the best thing about Miro's game is the calmness when the game is on the line. He wants to be on the ice when the game is on the line. Whether it's a one-goal lead or we're down a goal, he wants the ball. He has that hunger, and then mix in the calmness, and he's just the perfect player for those situations."

The coach added, "As well as he's played - and there have been flashes of brilliance - I think he's ready to take another step here. The best is yet to come for Miro. He's just going to keep getting better."

Heiskanen said he's focused on improving his game over the summer and next season.

"I want to be a little more stronger and a little more faster," he said of workouts in Finland. "I want to be more effective, try to score some goals and stuff like that."

Still, he almost always mentions team goals first. As much as he understands the pressure of the big dollar contract and the need to produce numbers, Heiskanen said his main focus is winning.

"Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup, and that's my biggest goal too," he said.

That goal will begin when he returns for training camp in September and can get back to the Tex-Mex food. In the meantime, fans can be happy that Heiskanen has plans to "Come Back to Texas" for several more years.

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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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