The education of Miro Heiskanen has been intriguing.

When he came out of the 2017 draft, the scouting report was that his defense was ahead of his offense. That’s a strange thing to say about a defenseman who was taken third overall, but it proved true. Heiskanen showed great defensive instincts from the start and really had to work his way up to some big scoring numbers, but he broke through last season, finishing sixth in points among defensemen at 73 (11 goals, 62 assists).

That started some Norris Trophy talk and put Heiskanen on the national radar, then chatter dulled a bit this season when he started to slide back into the teens in defenseman scoring. All of a sudden, Heiskanen was just “another guy” in terms of the award spotlight.

On Saturday, Heiskanen had one of his best games of the season and did it on national television – tallying a goal and two assists in a 3-1 win over Seattle. It’s a reminder of just how good the 24-year-old blueliner can be at both ends of the ice, and what he means to the Stars as a whole.

“He was outstanding,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “You take him for granted because you ask him every night to play the minutes he plays against the players he plays, have the puck on his stick all night, and you just get used to it. On the special nights, you realize that he’s special almost every night and just extra special tonight.”

It was an important reminder, and maybe one play capsulized the performance. On one shift, Heiskanen was up around the opposing net trying to create a scoring chance. He was in the face of Seattle’s Philipp Grubauer, and the expectation after a moment like that is that the defenseman might head to the bench and let someone else take over.

Instead, Heiskanen saw the puck going in the other direction and hustled back to break up a two-on-one. It seemed both spectacular and mundane all at the same time. As DeBoer said, you just kind of expect it . . . but at the same time, it was an incredible effort of both talent and will.

“It’s crazy,” said Stars goalie Jake Oettinger. “He’s got that extra step that only God can give you. He has that and he’s special.”

Heiskanen is known as one of the best skaters in the NHL, but he also has the hockey sense to anticipate a play, read a play, and then react.

“He reads the game and he takes a lot of pride in defending,” DeBoer said. “It bothers him more to get scored on than he celebrates scoring. That’s how he’s wired, and that’s music to a coach’s ear.”

Heiskanen has never been among the top defensive scoring leaders. After finishing sixth last season, he has dropped to 12th this year with 54 points (9 goals, 43 assists). That’s after a nice push since March 1 where he has tallied 17 points (2 goals, 15 assists) in 19 games. But, as DeBoer said, he likes keeping the puck out of his net.

One of the interesting challenges for Heiskanen is the fact he is left-handed and is asked to play the right side. Dallas has been short on right-handed defensemen for several seasons, and Heiskanen has shown he is good on his off side. Mix in the fact he has helped young defenseman Thomas Harley along in his development, and the “intangibles” of his performance far outweigh any need for points or trophies.

“He just seems unbothered all of the time, no pulse, it’s impressive,” said veteran forward Craig Smith. “He’s a player who’s just so fun to watch, he moves so well on the ice, he creates so much, he makes it look easy out there.”

And that one shift wasn’t an anomaly, Oettinger said.

“The amount of times when you think you’re going to have a two-on-one coming at you or a big scoring chance, and he just makes a great defensive play,” Oettinger said. “That’s what makes him so good. He can score with anyone, and offensively he’s great, but he’s not trying to play forward. He’s so responsible defensively and so well-rounded, I’m really lucky to have him in front of me.”

As are the Stars. They knew that when they drafted him, and they don’t have any problem with him continuing down his development path.

“It’s the Norris Trophy million dollar question – how much weight do you put on points and offense?” DeBoer said. “I’m a little biased. For me, you have to be able to defend, you have to be the guy the coach is putting out against the best players. I think that’s where Miro comes in. I think he might be better defensively than offensively, and that tells you about his game because he’s a 70-point defenseman.”

For Heiskanen, it just makes sense.

“They want us to get up and do that, so of course I want to get back as quick as I can and help out in our zone,” he said. “It’s part of the system we’re attempting, and as a d-man it’s good if you can get back and help.”

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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