The Dallas Morning News

Rookie fulfills promise in strong playoff debut

- MATTHEW DEFRANKS matthew.defranks@dallasnews.com

NASHVILLE — For as long as Miro Heiskanen has been sailing by opponents and speaking modestly, impressing coaching staff and enamoring fan bases, he’s been evaluated. His pristine skating has been noticed. His swift poke checks noted. His hockey IQ tested. His shot observed. His potential fawned over.

Long before he scored one goal and assisted on another Wednesday in the Stars’ 32 win in Game 1 over Nashville in the first round of the playoffs, Heiskanen was penciled in as a prodigy, the next great Dallas

defenseman, the teenage sensation. Now, the rest of the hockey community can take notice.

“Like I’ve said all year,” Stars coach Jim Montgomery said, “I’m

glad we have him.”

In his first NHL playoff game, Heiskanen provided the spark for the Stars’ offense, tying the score in the second period with a powerplay goal that deflected off Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm. In the third period, he put the Stars up with another shot from the point through traffic that tipped off Alexander Radulov.

Heiskanen was initially credited with two goals Wednesday, but the league gave Radulov the goal Thursday morning.

Heiskanen became the fifth teenage rookie defenseman in NHL history with a multipoint game in his playoff debut and the youngest defenseman in Stars history to score in the postseason. Like it’s a surprise to anyone who’s watched the Stars.

“We all know how good he is, and that’s what he showed us tonight,” Stars defenseman John Klingberg said.

Heiskanen has been steady in his rookie season, playing all 82 games and earning the immense trust of the coaching staff. When he showed signs of slowing down — the rare bad shift or even bad game — he rebounded the next day. Montgomery compared Heiskanen to Superman during the season because of his ability to move past the stray piece of Kryptonite. He said he doesn’t worry about his 19yearold because of how talented he is.

Ahead of Heiskanen’s first playoff game, Montgomery was asked about how the phenom would handle the postseason.

“I think it’ll take him one shift to acclimate,” Montgomery said.

“Looks like it’s been 100 [games],” Stars goaltender Ben Bishop said. “I guess I would say I’m not surprised anymore, but it’s truly impressive. He plays like he’s been in the league for 10 years. He just goes about his business quietly and efficientl­y. Like I’ve said before, this guy’s going to be a star in this league for a long time.”

The stage is hardly intimidati­ng for Heiskanen. Last year, as an 18yearold, he played in the World Juniors, the Olympics and the World Championsh­ips all in one season. He was named Liiga’s best defenseman in Finland. The NHL playoffs don’t resemble the overwhelmi­ng spectacle that they would for other players.

To Heiskanen, it’s just another sheet of ice in another city.

“Just play my game and try to do my thing and my best,” Heiskanen said. “Didn’t think about it’s playoff game. Just do my thing and enjoy it.”

Heiskanen will always have high expectatio­ns dumped on him — by virtue of his No. 3 overall draft status and the Stars’ unwillingn­ess to part with him during their pursuit of Erik Karlsson — but he seems immune to them. Heiskanen is the quiet, evenkeel teenager blissfully unaware of how special his everyday feats are. He’s the floppyhair­ed naïve defenseman who may not know his own power.

Skate past a helplessly frozen opponent? Oh, it’s good. Swipe the puck away on a backcheck? Oh, it’s good. Get two points in his playoff debut in a hostile environmen­t to guide the Stars to a series lead over the Predators?

“Just try to shoot it to the net,” Heiskanen said, “and it went in.”

Hockey diehards are familiar with Heiskanen. They know about his speed and his skill and how he should have maybe garnered more chatter for the Calder Trophy this season. They know that if he were in a Canadian market, he would be a superstar. They know what his future could hold.

But the playoffs also draw in casual viewers from around the continent.

They’ll be introduced to Heiskanen’s ability to shoot without handling, to release through traffic and somehow find the back of the net. They’ll discover his penchant for cleaning up after others. They’ll hardly find his flaws. They’ ll find out who Miro is.

“What a game,” Benn said. “The kid comes to play every night, prepares like a true profession­al and approaches the game like a true profession­al. Played a pretty damn good game tonight.”

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 ?? Mark Humphrey/ The Associated Press ?? Alexander Radulov celebrates with Miro Heiskanen (4) after Radulov deflected in Heiskanen’s thirdperio­d shot. It was one of the rookie’s two points.
Mark Humphrey/ The Associated Press Alexander Radulov celebrates with Miro Heiskanen (4) after Radulov deflected in Heiskanen’s thirdperio­d shot. It was one of the rookie’s two points.

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