While the 2021 season, as a whole, was a disappointment for the Dallas Stars, there were a few players who were at their highest level giving their team a fighting chance. With the many injury problems Dallas faced before and during the year, any face from superstar to taxi squad member could have been the hero.
Jamie Benn had a resurgence in April, Denis Gurianov regained some confidence after a dreadful start, and Jake Oettinger was spectacular down the stretch. However, there were only a few players who excelled seemingly from start to finish. Let’s look at the candidates for the Stars’ most valuable player in 2021.
Who was the Dallas Stars’ real MVP of 2021?
Roope Hintz was a storyline from day one this season. Early on, it was announced that Hintz had a lower-body injury that he would play through during the entire season. It was assumed that the injury would need offseason surgery and he would miss the full season if he decided to have it repaired during training camp. Instead, Hintz was a game-time decision for every game as he battled through the injury.
Essentially playing “on one leg” as Rick Bowness called it, Hintz was able to produce at a superstar level. He racked up 43 points in 41 games and was the Stars’ best forward every time he touched the ice. The most impressive part of this is that he showed no signs of the ailment when he was in the lineup. The injury was enough to keep him out of 25 games including most back-to-backs, yet it did not slow him down on the ice. After the season ended, Stars’ General Manager Jim Nill gave further detail about the injury.
“Roope was dealing with an avulsion injury of the left adductor tendon,” Nill said.
This was a result of the groin injury that Hintz suffered in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final which never fully healed. He has since had successful surgery on the injury and is expected to be ready for training camp in September.
Jason Robertson was among the biggest surprises of the season, if not the biggest. After he was in and out of the lineup for the first month, Robertson was a regular and offensive contributor for the remainder of the season. He led all rookies in points in March and April, led all rookies in assists on the season (28), and was recently named a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the leagues’ best rookie.
Robertson was constantly impressing, not only making big plays in key moments, but also doing all of the little things right. He was a hound on the puck, especially along the boards where he won battles and retained or gained possession for his team. He excelled on the top line along with Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski which was the Stars’ best line for most of the season. Robertson finished with 45 points in 51 games as he rapidly increased his development beyond his years.
“We came in together last year and I saw what he could do in the AHL, and I knew he was going to be a great player in this league,” Jake Oettinger said. “For him to come out and show that, I’m really happy for him. He’s going to be a huge part of this organization for a long time. He deserves all the attention he’s getting. I think he’s the best rookie in the NHL this season and I hope he gets rewarded with the Calder Trophy. I think he deserves it.”
Joe Pavelski is the obvious third and final candidate here. The 36-year-old forward stormed out to 15 points in the first eight games of the season including a four-point night. He finished with 51 points and was one of only two players (Esa Lindell) to play in each of the 56 games during the season. He was most impressive on the power play where he did a lot of his damage. He racked up 13 power-play goals in 2021, second only to Leon Draisatl of the Edmonton Oilers.
Not only is he possibly the best in the league at deflecting pucks past netminders but Pavelski was also a workhorse for the Stars, playing in just about every situation of the game. He is known for his hands and timely goals as he has shown during his time in Dallas. Showing that his peak is far from over, he seemingly forced Dallas to protect him in the upcoming Seattle Kraken expansion draft this summer. He has one year remaining on his three-year contract and will be a huge part of the dangerous 2021-2022 Dallas Stars roster.
“He doesn’t need lots of chances to score a goal,” Hintz said. “He’s a great goal scorer and he can find the open ice well. Everybody knows how good he is with the stick, high tips and everything like that. That’s the biggest thing. He just knows where to be and when he gets the chance, he’ll score.”
The Dallas Stars MVP
This decision was tough in the end. All three players impressed in their own way while serving on the Stars’ top line. One player stood out more than the rest mostly due to his adversity and success in all areas of the ice. He was also the only player on the team to produce at a point-per-game pace, even while dealing with an injury. Therefore, the Stars’ most valuable player in 2021 is…
“In a normal season, he probably wouldn’t be playing,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said. “We would’ve been able to get it fixed but we haven’t because of the shortened season. It shows you his commitment to the team that he’s playing through it. It’s what the Dallas Stars are all about. We play hard, we play for each other, we play for the team. We’re a family here. We’re all trying to help each other out. That shows his commitment to the family.”
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