Hintz continues to prove he belongs with statement game

Hintz continues to prove he belongs with statement game

By: Mike Heika @MikeHeika

Roope Hintz won just one of 14 faceoffs in Game 2 of the Stars’ first-round playoff series with the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

He came back to Dallas, worked with assistant coach Stu Barnes and then went 15-for-29 in his next two games.

“I think I was unlucky in some ways, and not as good in some ways,” Hintz said when asked about the tough night in the circle. “But then you come back and work hard and you fix it. That’s just what you do.”

The actual battle to win a draw in this series has been contested by centers and wingers and defensemen, and there has been a lot of luck involved both ways, so it’s a complicated issue.

But Hintz’s attitude regarding faceoffs gives a glimpse into his entire season.

The 22-year-old forward has worked hard every chance he has gotten and he has fixed a lot of things en route to becoming one of the Stars’ most versatile weapons.

He tallied two goals in a 5-1 win Wednesday at American Airlines Center that ties the best-of-seven series with Nashville at two games apiece, and added to a series where he has been a consistently good player.

“He’s generating chances, and in Game 1, I thought he was the one that dictated our drive play to their net,” Stars coach Jim Montgomery said. “Game 2, he wasn’t as dominant, but last game he was very effective and tonight the puck goes in. It’s good for your confidence, but we know what he brings to our team.

“He’s a legitimate top six (forward) and he’s made our team have two lines.”

The process for Hintz sort of mirrors the process for the Stars this season. He looked great out of training camp, but hit a wall after seven games and was sent to the minors. He was recalled in November, scored two goals in his first three games back in the NHL, and then fizzled and was sent back again to the AHL. After 10 games with the Texas Stars, he was recalled for good and played in the remainder of the Stars’ games.

While he had his ups and down, Hintz finished with four goals and seven assists for 11 points in his final 14 regular-season games. He not only showed the coaches that they had a real top-six option that could help create a very much needed second line presence, he proved to himself he could play in the NHL.

“Maybe getting used to the game and playing like I used to play,” Hintz said when asked what the biggest part of his improved play was. “Like, don’t be scared out there.”

Teammate and good friend Esa Lindell said he has seen Hintz grow in confidence.

“I think it’s like me or anyone, it takes time,” Lindell said. “He had a good first year in the AHL last year like I did and learned the language and learned what the team wanted, and I think that’s helped him a lot. It just becomes easier the more you do it.”

Hintz tallied 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) in his 21 AHL games this season, so he clearly was learning. Montgomery said the work of Derek Laxdal and the Texas Stars coaching staff was a contributing factor to getting Hintz up and running.

“You’ve got to give credit to Derek Laxdal and his staff there,” Montgomery said. “Every time Roope went down, he came back a better player. The last time he came up, he took his game to another level. You didn’t see it in the scoring right away, but he was initiating play and driving play for us, and we felt it was just a matter of time before he broke through, and he did.

“Now, he’s not only driving play, he’s producing.”

Montgomery likes to talk about center drive and speed through the neutral zone and pushing through bodies while taking the right path to the net, and Hintz does all of that. Listed at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, he is a heavy body. One of the fastest skaters on the team, he gets that weight up and running quickly.

“He’s pretty powerful when he gets skating and he’s got such a low stride,” defenseman John Klingbergsaid of trying to defend Hintz in practice. “He’s sitting so low, so powerful and strong on his skates. His vision is very good, too, so he’s one of those modern centermen.”

While Lindell added: “With the speed and size and skill he has, it can make it difficult to defend him. I don’t think we have seen his best yet. Those two goals (Wednesday) will grow his confidence, and now the sky is the limit.”

Hintz is just one of the more interesting parts of this machine. Not unlike Miro Heiskanen or Lindell or Jason Dickinson, he still is being formed. He is showing the potential to be something that can help the Stars be better in the long-term future, and also better in Game 5.

“We’ve got to keep getting better,” Montgomery said. “They’re going to be better, so we’ve got to be better.”

The guess is Hintz will be front and center in that regard.

“We all see how good a player he is and how good he can be,” Klingberg said. “It’s pretty exciting in his first year that he’s already this good. We want him to be comfortable and just be the person he is.”