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With injury scare behind him, Janmark playing best hockey of season

The speedy forward continues to produce for the Stars after overcoming a frightening knee-on-knee hit

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES -- Mattias Janmark had knee surgery and missed an entire season.

When he was 23.

Think about that for a second. Janmark had 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists) as an NHL rookie in 2015-16. He established himself as a vital cog in a Lindy Ruff offense that led the league in scoring and might have been one of the fastest in Stars' history. Then, he developed knee pain issues from a condition known as osteochondritis dissecans. It's a genetic situation where bone loses strength because of a lack of blood flow, and it can be crippling if you're an athlete.

 

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So Janmark had surgery, took a year off, and then tried to play hockey again. He battled through rehab, he battled through practice, he finally battled through games. And for the past two and a half seasons, Janmark has been a warrior playing almost every game, and helping his team with strong defensive play and the odd goal here and there.

And after almost 200 games of this mundane consistency, it's sort of easy to forget all that Janmark has endured since his surgery. But weeks like last do jolt the memory. On Dec. 29, Janmark received a hard knee-to-knee hit from Arizona's Taylor Hall. It was a shocking collision that drove Janmark out of the game, and the gut feeling from looking at it was it might knock him out for a few games.

But the now-27-year-old forward said he was surprised at how well his knee held up.

"First moment, it was pretty bad. I knew it was my bad knee, I knew what had happened and what could happen because of it," Janmark said. "It hurt on the ice, but the more I got off the ice, it felt better and better. I was lucky it wasn't worse."

Video: Bowness stresses consistency in second half of season

He ended up returning to the game and scoring an empty-net goal, and that set him up for two of his best games of the season. On Wednesday, Janmark had a goal and an assist, as well as four shots on goal, in 15:26 of time on ice to help the Stars beat Nashville in the Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl. On Friday, he had three shots on goal and was a catalyst in 15:13 of ice time in a 4-1 win over Detroit.

"This is the best I've seen him play in the year and a half that I've been here," said interim coach Rick Bowness. "He's playing hard, he's always done a great job on our penalty kill, but he's far more confident with the puck. He's getting the puck more. We're trying to get him into position because he's such a great skater to get the puck more. He's getting confidence."

Janmark has been a fine defensive player in his return, but he has struggled to get back to his double-digit scoring ways. That's something Bowness believes is starting to return.

"He's a great skater and he has good hockey sense, so he has great anticipation," Bowness said. "Sometimes, he gets a little too far ahead of the play and then we can't get him the puck. Great skaters, they see and they go … but that doesn't mean the other guy sees. All of the sudden, there's a big gap and you're too far ahead of the play. So sometimes you've got to chill out a little bit, and then you can use your speed."

Janmark said he understands the concept. While he believes he plays his best when he does use his speed and does get to the puck as quickly as possible, he also knows that sometimes the puck cooperates and sometimes it doesn't.

"I've felt good most of the year, but when you play up and down the lineup, it's harder to be consistent," he said of his movement from the second to the fourth line and back. "Some games, the puck seems to find you. Some games, you're never where the puck is. You just have to keep working, I really think that's the best way to look at it."

So what about that knee-on-knee hit? How did he come back and play so well after getting that harsh reminder?

Video: NSH@DAL: Janmark deflects Klingberg's shot for PPG

"I wanted to play in the Winter Classic, so as soon as I knew I could go, I was fired up," he said. "It was a big deal to me, it was a fun game. I didn't need any extra motivation. Then, to score a goal, that was just a memory I'll have forever."

And did the fact Janmark was drafted by the Red Wings in 2013 play a role in his performance against Detroit? He never played an NHL game for the Wings, but he was in the organization for two years.

"Yeah, actually, it did fire me up to play them," he said. "I spent a few camps in the organization and had a little time in Grand Rapids, so I know some of those guys. And, of course, just when you get traded, you wanted to do well."

It was a nice moment for a guy who has had to go through a lot early in his NHL career.

"When it happened and I couldn't play, it was really hard. But I think just going through it made me stronger. I wanted so much to get back and play," Janmark said of his 2016 surgery. "It's amazing that I've even got to this point, and then to have something like that happen, I'm very fortunate.

"I know how lucky I am to be playing hockey and I never take it for granted."

Which means he could get even better going forward.

 

Stars (24-14-4) at Kings (17-23-4)

Tonight, 9 p.m.

Where: STAPLES Center

TV/radio: NBCSN; The Ticket 1310-AM, 96.7-FM

Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Buffalo Sabres when they return home to American Airlines Center on Thursday, Jan. 16 at 7:30 p.m. Get your tickets now!

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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