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Roope Hintz knows that speed sometimes takes the slow road

Even a speedster like Hintz can benefit from a methodical development path to NHL success. But now his time has arrived.

If it’s true that speed kills, left winger Roope Hintz was a stealth assassin in the post-season.

In his rookie NHL campaign, Hintz was a surprise breakout difference-maker for the upstart Dallas Stars. “He was one of the driving forces of our playoff success,” said coach Jim Montgomery. “His speed is what everybody talks about. His compete and his awareness at both ends of the ice allow us to transition pucks and allow us to gain a lot of possession time and create scoring chances.”

The native of Tampere, Finland, turned heads when he scored a pair in Dallas’ series-tying Game 4 win over Nashville in Round 1. And he forced everyone to take notice when he had a three-point effort (two goals and an assist) in Game 2 against St. Louis in the second round. But Hintz sustained a broken foot in that series, which severely hampered his ability to deploy his trademark speed. Even with that limitation for the final few contests, Hintz notched five goals and eight points while playing in all 13 of Dallas’s playoff games. That’s setting expectations quite high for 2019-20.

Hintz, 22, took a relatively long route to NHL success. Dallas GM Jim Nill is famous for his overripe prospect approach, leaving youngsters who may seem like they’re NHL-ready to marinate just a bit longer in Europe or the AHL. It was a tactic he had success with during his days in Detroit. Hintz was a second-round pick (49th overall) in 2015 but didn’t begin his North American career until 2017, when he spent the entire year with the AHL’s Texas Stars. His development has been slow and almost methodical. Hintz was ranked the No. 8 prospect for Dallas in Future Watch 2016, then rose to No. 6 the next year, No. 5 in 2018 and No. 4 (and 85th league-wide) this year. “You have to let them develop,” Montgomery said. “You can’t force it. You’ve got to let them figure it out, and then all of a sudden it clicks. When it clicked with Roope, that was really fun to watch.”

Last season, Hintz went deep in the AHL’s Calder Cup playoffs with the Texas Stars, going to the final but losing to Toronto in seven games. He collected 12 points in 22 games. That experience taught Hintz how to dig deep. Montgomery called him a player who could “change the momentum of the game and lift the whole bench with his effort and skill plays.”

After starting the season on the NHL roster, Hintz bounced back and forth between the Dallas and Texas. He had the physical skills to compete from opening night, but there was a mental gap according to Montgomery. The Dallas bench boss credited Texas coach Derek Laxdal and his staff with ensuring Hintz came back a better player every time he was sent down.

There is also significant credit to be given to the player himself, as many NHL-ready prospects sent down to the minors lose their drive as they pity themselves for the assignment. Hintz never lost his edge, even after multiple AHL demotions. “He had to believe he could do it – to play the right way every night to have success,” Montgomery said. “Once he did that, his game took off.”

Hintz had 22 points in 58 regular season games, but 17 of those came in the last 30 outings, showing a clear upward trajectory that carried him to playoff success.

Along with late-season addition Mats Zuccarello, Hintz gave Dallas a legitimate second-line threat, taking pressure off the top line. The Stars’ first-line trio of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov was a scoring phenomenon, but Dallas’ offense outside that top line was inconsistent, as the Stars couldn’t find effective secondary combinations. Hintz stepped into the role late in the season and looks to be set for high-end duty next year as well. “I expect him to be a driving force on our team – to be in a top-six role,” Montgomery said. “And he’s going to have to earn that again. He should have the confidence and the mental toughness to want and know that he is that for us.”

Hintz’s offensive knack will also give him a shot on the power play, while his speed makes him an effective player on the penalty kill. Montgomery expects Hintz to play in all situations and all zones. After playing through a broken foot to end the playoffs, Hintz headed back to Finland for the summer, keeping a low profile while preparing for the coming season.

More than even the offensive upside, the Stars are excited about the intangible side of his game. “His will is what inspires teammates,” Montgomery said. “We don’t know what his ceiling is as how much he affects the team every night, but we know that it’s a lot. He doesn’t need to score to help the Dallas Stars be dominant.”

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