The first top ten signing of the 2017 NHL Draft class is in the books, as the Dallas Stars have signed third overall pick Miro Heiskanen to his first pro contract. The team announced that the 17-year-old Finnish defenseman has signed on for the maximum entry-level deal of three years and $925K per.
An entry-level deal does not officially begin to toll until the player skate in 10 NHL games and Heiskanen’s deal does not necessarily imply that he is bound for the big leagues in 2017-18. However, the swiftness with which GM Jim Nill and the Stars got this deal done does seem to imply that the plan is to get Heiskanen started right away. The two-way puck-mover was considered one of the most pro-ready prospects in the draft and was always going to be given the chance to compete for a job in camp. With Heiskanen in town for the Stars’ development camp this week, it was the perfect time to get the deal done and show the youngster that they believe he can make a difference right away.
A quick look at the Dallas depth chart certainly shows an opportunity for Heiskanen to make the team and have a considerable role this season. There are many names with NHL experience on the Stars’ roster, but few that made much of an impact for the team that finished ahead of only the Colorado Avalanche in goals allowed in 2016-17. Defenseman John Klingberg is the leader of the blue line and an elite offensive defenseman, but he is a right-shot. Up-and-coming Julius Honka, a smaller, quicker clone of Klingberg, is also a right-shot. Stephen Johns, who played in the fourth-most games of any Stars defender, is also a right shot. Dallas is solid on the right side, but there are plenty of questions on the left, where Heiskanen plays. Recently-acquired Marc Methot is obviously a lock for the top pair. Esa Lindell had a strong rookie season and will surely play a major role for the Stars. Veteran Dan Hamhuis has a disappointing first season in Dallas; the veteran puck-mover skated in 79 games, recording just one goal, and was scratched for the other three. He’ll likely lose play time and take on a smaller role next season, but his contract would be hard to move, so Hamhuis will likely remain in Dallas nonetheless. That final spot on the left side could belong to Heiskanen. In a puzzling move, Nill traded Jordie Benn, Stars captain Jamie Benn’s older brother, to the Montreal Canadiens at the trade deadline for another right-hander, Greg Pateryn, and a fourth-round pick, leaving a hole on the left side. Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth, both high picks in recent years, are still relatively young at 24 and 25 respectively, but were unable to seize their opportunities last season, struggling to produce points and frequently making mistakes in their own end. With a good showing in camp, Heiskanen could be able to make a case that he is more ready for a starting role than Oleksiak, Nemeth, or the aging Hamhuis. It may cause a logjam on the blue line in Dallas and force a move, but having a 17-year-old push out under-performing veterans is a problem that Nill won’t mind having.