Over the last five seasons, the Dallas Stars have established a defense first identity. They have earned that defensive (as well as great goaltending) reputation throughout the NHL. Miro Heiskanen leads the roster on defense, and is at minimum a top ten defenseman. Esa Lindell is the team’s defensive defenseman, and one of the most underrated players in the entire National Hockey League. But there are two other defenseman who have the potential to play bigger roles on the team for the upcoming 2023 season; Jani Hakanpaa, and Thomas Harley.

Jani Hakanpaa

Wearing number two in victory green is a big defenseman in the literal sense. Jani Hakanpaa has been known to use the physical gifts on the ice. Including with hits like this one in the defensive zone. Especially against divisional rivals, and in the playoffs having a defensive defenseman who plays physical is something every team can use.

With a new head coach in Pete DeBoer, and John Klingberg going to the Anaheim Ducks right handed defensemen such as Hakanpaa and newly acquired Colin Miller will be expected to see more ice time. Dallas Stars senior writer Mike Heika also talked about how the big defenseman covered for the loss of Jamie Oleksiak after 2021.

“As one of the really solid moves the Stars made in free agency last summer, Hakanpaa was very serviceable. The big defenseman took up a lot of the slack lost when Jamie Oleksiak went to Seattle and did it at a much cheaper rate than Oleksiak’s $4.6 million AAV with the Kraken.”

“Hakanpaa is a right-handed shot, which is a huge need for this team in terms of defensemen and was a solid addition to the Stars’ third pairing. Like Oleksiak, Hakanpaa isn’t going to score a lot, but he was second in time on ice on the penalty kill (2:16). The guess is his even-strength time will increase this season with the loss of John Klingberg because he definitely can play more than the 16:13 he was averaging last season. Hakanpaa was the team’s clear leader in hits at 248 (Luke Glendening was second at 179) and was second on the team in blocked shots (112).”

Photo credit : dallasmorningnews/Smiley N Pool

Thomas Harley

For Thomas Harley, a bigger role could be in the mix for the upcoming season. With a new head coach in DeBoer, and the losses of John Klingberg and Andrej Sekera to retirement these minutes are going to be filled. Mike Heika relayed his thoughts for his expectations on Harley too.

“He’s a skilled defenseman who had 57 points (18 goals, 39 assists) in 59 games for Mississauga in 2019-20, so he clearly has the ability to contribute if the coaches think he’s ready. Harley played almost no special teams last season, but there’s a very good chance he’ll get time on the power play this year. He also will get a chance under a new system with head coach Pete DeBoer and assistant coach Alain Nasreddine. DeBoer’s teams have a history of puck possession and allowing defensemen to help dictate play, which seems perfect for Harley. He’ll get some competition from right-handed veteran Colin Miller, who also is a skilled defenseman, but it sure seems like Harley is set up for a breakout year.”

Stars head coach Pete DeBoer is known to coach puck possession with past teams. That skill is a strong point for the young defenseman. For the twenty one year old this could be the perfect year for a breakout season. Especially since the young d-man has already played in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Every season is a new opportunity for an NHL. For these two NHL defensemen, the opportunities are there to make a bigger impact on the team. Jani Hakanpaa is a right handed defenseman who can play a physical game, and Thomas Harley is a young left handed defenseman who many in the NHL world are looking to breakthrough.

Featured photo: zimbio.com


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