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Hintz proving it could be time to look at things from different lens

Wouldn't it be nice for the Stars to have a homegrown scorer run with the big boys? The rookie may just be that player

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Here's an odd confession: I like watching hockey on television.

The sport is often roasted as something that loses oomph when it is forced into a box, something that must be seen live to really be appreciated. And, when you are in a charged up arena for a really great game, that might be true.

But after spending so many nights watching from the rafters, it was nice to see the game from the couch up close in High Definition. I am convalescing from some sort of illness, so I am not on this road trip. And as it has been a weird couple of days, I allowed my mind to wander to some weird places Tuesday.

So when I packed up a game that was sloppy and frustrating at times, this one thought kept rolling around in my head -- why not cut back on acquiring veterans for the top six and hand a couple of spots to the kids?

I mean, Roope Hintz looks like the real deal. He looks like a player who can run with Tyler Seguin or Alexander Radulov or Jamie Benn ... or Mats Zuccarello even (we'll have to wait and see on that one). Wouldn't it be nice to have a home-grown goal-scorer back in the lineup again?

Video: DAL@BUF: Hintz breaks the ice from sharp angle

The Stars used to do it all of the time.

Remember when Mike Modano needed a steady linemate and 24-year-old Jere Lehtinen got the gig? Or how about when 22-year-old Jamie Langnbrunner was given a chance to form chemistry with Joe Nieuwendyk? Heck, remember that year Lehtinen was hurt and star-struck rookie Brenden Morrow was called up to play next to his hero, Brett Hull?

It happened quite a bit.

There used to be a time when Jussi Jokinen or Niklas Hagman or Loui Eriksson or James Neal got serious shots at playing with the big boys -- and they rewarded the Stars. Neal was 21 and scored 24 goals as a rookie in 2008-09. Eriksson was 23 when he hung 36 that season. Those two and Brad Richards were one of the most dangerous lines in the NHL the next season.

The Stars still had veteran forwards like Modano, Lehtinen, Morrow, Richards, Mike Ribeiro and Steve Ott -- but they weren't afraid of trusting the kids. It was a great rotation, really, where skill taught skill and strong two-way play was still at the center of their identity.

Of course, bankruptcy came and changed everything, and even in restructuring under the new administration, the trust in skilled kids has been hard to find. True, Seguin was just 21 when he arrived, so they trusted him, and Benn is about as good a homegrown forward as you could hope for, so there are stories of success in there.

Video: Monty praises his teams efforts in win over Sabres

But Benn is about to turn 30 and Seguin is playing in his sixth season in Dallas, so maybe the well has gone dry.

Or has it?

Hintz's two-goal night in Buffalo might be sending a message through the Fiber Optics. The hard-angle goal he roofed from an impossible angle showed his hands. The power-play goal showed his release. He definitely has the ability to be a top-six forward.

Now, that's a tough case to make when he has just 13 points in 45 games this year (and that's after scoring four goals in his past seven games), but it's not difficult if you want to force the issue a bit.

"He's given us another option, right?" Stars coach Jim Montgomery said. "He's clearly a top-six forward for us."

You can say they've tried it with Brett Ritchie or Valeri Nichushkin or even Mattias Janmark, but there always seemed to be veteran options who were easier for the coach to select. You can say that young players who want those minutes need to force their way in, the way that Lehtinen and Morrow did back in the day, the way that Esa Lindell and John Klingberg have done on defense more recently.

Video: DAL@BUF: Hintz nets second goal on power play

And I'm right there with you.

But as we try to spend the awaiting cap space that could greet this team in the summer, maybe a little patience is needed. Maybe Roope Hintz could be a top-six winger or center. Maybe Jason Dickinson would flourish with more ice time. Maybe they don't need to have 14 forwards under contract heading into camp and could allow some kids to fight it out and bounce back and forth between the NHL and the AHL.

It seems like they used to do stuff like that.

Or maybe it's just all the medicine I'm taking.

It's true, I'm 1,300 miles from Buffalo, but you could always take the opinion of someone who was sitting a little closer to Roope Hintz.

"The plays he's making tonight, that's big league; that's borderline superstar play," said goalie Ben Bishop. "He's got elite speed, he's got a great shot, I think the more he learns the game, he's just going to get that much better. The future is going to be really bright for him."

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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