When quizzed about the Dallas Stars, the first word that pops to mind certainly isn’t “defense.” It’s probably not even the second, or third, or tenth word. If pressed to answer who would be Dallas’s best Selke nomination for outstanding two-way play, the names would likely be Jamie Benn or Cody Eakin, who is now a Vegas Golden Knight.
There is one more player on the Stars that often flies under the radar. Radek Faksa, a 23-year-old Czech center, is making a name for himself as an emerging two-way talent.
Faksa was drafted by the Stars in 2012, but he didn’t make his NHL debut until the 2015-16 season. As an AHL player, he only ever got to show glimpses of his capabilities, with his seasons hampered by injury. In 2014-15, he played in just 32 games for the Texas Stars before needing shoulder surgery that held him out the rest of the year.
He played much of the following season in the AHL again, using his 28 games in Cedar Park to get back up to speed. Fully healthy, he put up 15 goals and 11 assists – almost a point-per-game pace. That performance earned him a roster spot in Dallas.
With the NHL club, Faksa quickly settled into his role as third-line center. His numbers were fine, if uninspiring, through his first games. Toward the end of the 2015-16 season, then-coach Lindy Ruff struck line-combo gold, flanking him with wingers Antoine Roussel and Ales Hemsky.
Together, the trio dominated on-ice shot metrics and on-ice goal metrics, and did it all while mostly being tasked with defensive zone starts. Faksa’s defensive instincts – and strong face-off metrics – were complemented by Hemsky’s speed and shot, and Roussel’s doggedness. As shown above, Faksa scored nearly all his points that year while they played together on the third line.
While 12 points (only five goals) wasn’t anything to write home about, Faksa’s play in his own zone made him stand out among rookies. Among the 19 rookie centers who played more than 40 games that year, Faksa took the fifth-most defensive zone draws. The only players ahead of him were Byron Froese, William Karlsson, Jack Eichel, and Connor McDavid. All four played over Faksa’s 12:20 minutes per night, though Froese was also used in a third- or fourth-line role.
After such an impressive debut, expectations were high for Faksa heading into his sophomore season. Unfortunately, though, the Dallas Stars were cursed by injuries, and Ruff was forced to break up the effective Roussel-Faksa-Hemsky trio. Hemsky sat out all but 15 games, and Roussel spent much of the year next to Tyler Seguin.
Still, Faksa did his best to drive play, even though he never seemed to find the same kind of chemistry with his rotating cast of linemates.
In a full season of play, Faksa nearly tripled his point production, and jumped to over 16 minutes of ice time per night. Still being used as a primarily defensive player, all but two of his assists came at even strength. His faceoff stats did take a dip, winning only 48.3 percent of his draws.
Still, the center’s biggest talent is his ability to get the puck up ice, as shown by his shot metrics. As a rookie, he posted a 53.4 Corsi For percentage and a plus-2.6 relative Corsi at even strength. However, the 2015-16 Stars were one of the best possession teams in the league, and Faksa was on a reliable line with veteran players. It was conceivable that he wouldn’t be able to repeat the same kind of performance.
The 2016-17 Stars were, on the other hand, a disaster.
Still, Faksa managed to keep his head above water. He put up a 51.8 Corsi For percentage, and a plus-2.2 relative Corsi, again at even strength. His offensive zone starts (as indicated by percent of faceoffs in that zone) dropped from 42 percent to 40 percent. All of this suggests that Faksa legitimately can carry play forward, even in the most difficult circumstances.
Recently re-signed to a three-year, $6.6 million contract, Faksa is the future of the Stars’ center depth. While it’s likely he’ll still slot in on the third line behind Tyler Seguin and recent signing Martin Hanzal, those kinds of possession numbers from depth players turn good teams into Cup contenders.
Right now, he may not get the kind of ice time a player needs to make the Selke ballot, but he’s a name voters will want to watch. Radek Faksa’s two-way game is just too good to be ignored.
Statistics from hockey-reference.com as well as NHL.com. Charts courtesy of hockeyviz.com.
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