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'He's a great fit': Dowling's move to top line paying off for Stars

Once a career minor-leaguer, the center hasn't stopped producing since being paired with Benn and Seguin

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

It doesn't make sense, really.

Justin Dowling is a career minor-leaguer. He's been a very good player in the AHL, and that earned him a regular spot on the 2019-20 Stars. That said, the 29-year-old should probably slot in as a third or fourth liner who can kill a penalty or two and maybe log 11 minutes a night.

 

[READ MORE: Stars' transition to 'confident bunch' has been a fun ride]

 

So when Stars coach Jim Montgomery put Dowling between Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin in hopes of sparking his two sputtering superstars, there were a few eyebrows raised. But three games into this eccentric experiment, the results have been downright brilliant.

In a 3-1 win over Calgary last week, Dowling had a goal and the trio combined for nine shots on goal. In a 4-2 win at Vancouver last week, the trio combined for two goals, two assists and 10 shots on goal. And in a 6-1 win over the Canucks at home Tuesday, the line had three goals, four assists and combined for 12 shots on goal.

It has been an impressive combination that makes a lot of sense right now.

Video: VAN@DAL: Dowling chips rebound home from the doorstep

"He's got a great attitude and he obviously earns everything he gets," Benn said of Dowling. "It hasn't been easy for him, but he definitely hasn't given up. He puts in the hard work every day and he's a great two-way player. He does a lot of great things out there, and he's getting rewarded for it."

While Montgomery added that Dowling knows how to play a smart, offensive game.

"I like his brain," Montgomery said. "He understands timing, and time and space. He knows how to get open off of them and knows how to give them the puck when they're in good positions. I can't say that I envisioned that, the credit goes to them."

Montgomery was sort of desperate last week. He had openly criticized Benn and Seguin for their lack of production after an overtime loss to Winnipeg in which Benn was given a season-low 13:03 in ice time. So in moving Seguin from center to right wing and putting Dowling in the pivot, the second-year coach was sort of throwing a few things at the wall.

But there is some strategy there. Dowling is a No. 1 center in the AHL and also a regular on the top power-play unit, so he's been driving play on the Texas Stars for six seasons. It makes sense that he understands the game, and just needs to take the lessons learned and apply them at a higher level.

Video: DAL@CGY: Dowling beats Talbot for first NHL goal

"He's a smart player who has had success playing with offensive players his whole career, so we're hoping that can generate some more offense through all of the lines," Montgomery said when he made the decision.

That's happened, to be sure, but the real change has come in the fact that Benn has taken off. The 30-year-old winger had six points in 18 games before the change, and has six points in four games since.

"He's a great fit," Benn said. "We're finding some chemistry with him."

Dowling has been ecstatic with the development. He scored the first goal of his 37-game NHL career in front of friends and family in Calgary last week and has since added two more. He's finding a way to impact games and with Mattias Janmark and Roope Hintz returning from injury, he's forcing the coaches into some difficult decisions.

The man who was a healthy scratch for three games in early November is probably not coming out of the lineup at this time.

Video: DAL@VAN: Dowling buries Seguin's pass for goal

"You build a lot of confidence when you score your first one," Dowling said of his current outburst. "I mean, I had a lot of chances -- I was hitting posts a lot. It's just one of those things you've just got to keep going with it and hopefully things work out. I've always said if you work hard and do those things right - don't get too down on yourself - things are going to turn around for you.

"I've scored goals before -- obviously not at this level. But once one goes in, that's kind of like it was in Austin, too -- once one goes in, the ball starts rolling a little bit for me. You just gain confidence."

Of course, playing with Benn and Seguin doesn't hurt.

"They're super easy to play with," Dowling said. "They're elite players, and you can see what they can do once they're feeling it and they have some confidence going. I think you could plug anyone in right now and play with them. I'm fortunate enough to be the guy right now that's playing with them, and I'm just going to roll with it as long as I can."

Because right now, that makes a heck of a lot of sense.

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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