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'No one wants to play against him': Faksa's reputation growing with Stars

Coming off a career year, the two-way center's evolution hasn't gone unnoticed around the league

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

Add center Radek Faksa to the list of Dallas Stars players who are excited about what they have seen in the first week under new head coach Jim Montgomery.

"It's good for sure," said Faksa. "The practices are hard, good pace. Everyone works hard. All the guys are hungry, excited to play. It's nice to be back."

And Faksa is on board with the style of play the new Dallas bench boss is trying to implement.

 

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"I think it is fun," Faksa said. "Talking with the guys we like it so far. It's aggressive, so we should have more puck possession, which is more fun to play with."

As for Montgomery, he loves what he sees in Faksa.

"I like just how hard he is to play against," Montgomery said. "He's just a wonderful teammate. From what I see, everybody loves being around him. Everybody either wants to play with him -- and no one wants to play against him."

The 24-year-old Faksa, who is entering his fourth NHL season, is coming off a strong 2017-18 campaign, scoring a career-high 17 goals, leading the Stars with a plus-21 rating, and winning 51.6 percent of his faceoffs, up from 48.3 percent the season before.

Video: DAL@MIN: Faksa pots a long empty-net goal

"I felt good," Faksa said. "It was great. I played okay, and I just want to get better every year."

The Stars have seen a lot of growth in Faksa since he was selected in the first-round (13th overall) in the 2012 NHL Draft. He made his NHL debut in 2015-16 and has established himself as one of the team's key players.

"He's a great example of having patience with players and their development time," said Stars general manager Jim Nill. "He was a first-round pick; people questioned that at times and didn't think he was coming along fast enough. Now you are seeing the final product, and it's a very good hockey player.

"He's kind of a coach's dream. He does everything right, he's competitive, and he's got size. He can play any game you want to play. And I think he is just coming into his own."

Faksa, who always has been considered a solid two-way player, garnered a lot of attention for his defensive play last season, finishing seventh in the voting for the Selke Trophy, which goes to the NHL's best defensive forward. Faksa often went head-to-head with the opposition's top players.

In one set of back-to-back games last February, Faksa's line matched up against Chicago's Patrick Kane the first night and Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel the next, keeping those players' lines off the scoresheet at even strength in a couple of Dallas victories. Taking on those types of players is a role Faksa relishes.

"It's fun, but it's a big responsibility because it's the best players in the world. You have to be smart. I never dreamed I could play against players like that. I get lots of ice time, and I love it," Faksa said after those two games.

Video: PHI@DAL: Faksa backhands in carom off end boards

"Sometimes they'll make a play, and there is nothing you can do about it. You just have to play your hardest and give them less opportunities to make the plays."

Among NHL forwards who played at least 60 games last season, Faksa was on the ice for 1.51 goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, third-best in the league. Nill said Faksa has earned his reputation as one of the top defensive forwards in the NHL.

"Coaches and other people around the league are starting to understand who he is," Nill said. "You talk to other players and other teams; he's not a fun guy to play against. He's getting the tough matchup.

"He's going against the best players, and the best players know it is not going to be an easy night."

Tyler Pitlick was Faksa's right wing most of last season. When Pitlick arrived in Dallas last season as a free agent he got some advice from his new teammates.

"Talking to players they told me Faksa is a guy you want to play with," Pitlick said.

Despite the steps forward so far in his NHL career, Faksa sees the possibility for more. He takes pride in his defensive game, but he'd like to provide more on the offensive side.

Video: Faksa earns natural hat trick for first career hatty

"I just don't want to play defense; I want to play offense, too. I am a forward, so I want to do both jobs," he said.

The 17 goals last season were a step in the right direction, and Faksa has a plan of attack to push it forward. He ranked 15th on the Stars last season in individual shot attempts per 60 minutes. He did make the most of his shots when he got them on net, ranking second on the team with a shooting percentage of 14.3.

"Last year I wasn't shooting enough. I was thinking pass too much," Faksa said. "So one thing I can try to do this year is shoot the puck more."

But most important to Faksa is team success. He was pleased he took strides last season and was honored to get votes for the Selke Trophy, but missing the playoffs left him with an empty feeling.

"It's always nice if people appreciate your hard work, so I was happy [with the Selke votes], but it doesn't mean anything yet," he said. "I would rather score less goals or be lower in the standings for the Selke and be in the playoffs."

There, of course, is a lot of optimism heading into this season. Faksa knows it takes more than being positive about an upcoming season because he's been there before only to be disappointed in the end. But he likes what he sees so far and has a good feeling about the 2018-19 season.

"Everyone is hungry to play, we have a really good team, and a good system," Faksa said. "But we'll see what happens in the games. I had a good feeling last year and we didn't make the playoffs. But I think we have a good chance to go far this year."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mark Stepneski has covered the Stars for DallasStars.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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