TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. – As if there wasn’t enough hype surrounding Miro Heiskanen, the young Finnish defenseman had to contend with trade rumors this summer that saw him as the dealbreaker in a potential swap involving Ottawa Senators superstar Erik Karlsson.
“Sure, it was crazy,” Heiskanen said. “I saw some texts, but I didn’t think about it too much.”
Heiskanen, after all, has his own NHL career to start and based on his pedigree, the third overall selection in 2017 is primed for a spot on the Dallas Stars blueline this fall. Starring for HIFK of Helsinki in the Finnish League last year, Heiskanen logged monster minutes and did more than anyone would normally expect for a teenager.
“It’s his maturity,” said Dallas GM Jim Nill. “Who he is off the ice is who he is on the ice. He just turned 19 but he conducts himself like a man. He did that over in Europe last year - Olympics, World Championships, best defenseman in Finland - when you go watch him play, you understand why. He can slow the game down and 99 percent of the time he makes the right play, he doesn’t overdo it. He has a very calming demeanour on the back end.”
Which is great, because the Stars needed help on the blueline. John Klingberg is the No. 1 in town, but Heiskanen can grow into a great defenseman himself. Now, the North American challenge awaits. Heiskanen trained back home in Finland this summer with a number of pros, including Columbus Blue Jackets left winger Markus Hannikainen and Anaheim Ducks center Kalle Kossila. Heiskanen worked on getting stronger, while picking his friends’ brains on what to expect on the other side of the pond.
In all likelihood, Heiskanen will jump straight into an impact role with Dallas, but he’s getting his feet wet right now at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament in Michigan, where the Detroit Red Wings host seven other teams each fall. This year’s tourney is ridiculously stacked, with names like Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina and Robert Thomas all competing against Heiskanen and the Stars kids. For the Dallas D-man, getting used to NHL-sized ice is one goal.
“It will be a good tournament for me and the whole team, of course,” Heiskanen said. “Smaller rink and the speed is so high here, it will be really good.”
Once Heiskanen is finished in Traverse City, he’ll mix it up with the big boys at Stars training camp. For a team that has fallen short of the playoffs the past two seasons, Dallas is facing a crucial year on the ice. The Stars have a new coach in Jim Montgomery, and he made sure to meet face-to-face with European players such as Heiskanen over the summer. Heiskanen said the new bench boss wants Dallas to play a style that sounds tailor-made for the youngster’s talents.
“He wants to play a really fast game and try to keep the puck,” Heiskanen said. “Play with the puck as much as we can.”
If Heiskanen can provide that kind of skill, Dallas will be so much more dangerous. The Stars already have a nice attack based around Klingberg and forwards such as Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, but the depth was lacking last year. Now Heiskanen comes in, ready to compete.
“I’m excited,” he said. “It will be a lot different from Finland and a big step, but I like to be in Texas, it’s a great place.”