Patience Paying Off For Julius Honka
From the moment he was drafted by the Stars with the 14th overall pick in the 2014 NHL draft, Julius Honka has been patiently waiting for his opportunity. In a rare case for any player, Honka in the summer following the draft immediately went to play in the American Hockey League with the Texas Stars still aged just 18 years old.
Needless to say Honka was comfortably the youngest member of the squad that season. However, the Finnish defenseman rarely looked out of place as he slotted into the lineup comfortably and scored a respectable 31 points in 68 games during his rookie campaign.
There would be no sophomore slump either as Honka just got better and better during his second year in the league. He scored 11 goals and 44 points in 73 games for the Baby Stars. He appeared to be NHL ready but with the Dallas Stars leading the Western Conference that season with a veteran heavy defensive group and General Manager Jim Nill also being wary of the impending expansion draft decided to let his talented group continue to marinate in Cedar Park.
Honka has had to bide his time in the AHL (GettyImages)
And talented it was! The future of the Dallas Stars as we now know them were playing with Honka in 2015-216. This includes fellow Finn Esa Lindell, Devin Shore, Brett Ritchie, Curtis McKenzie, Stephen Johns and even Radek Faksa for the early portion of the season.
It was thought that maybe this season Honka was now ready for a job in the big leagues. Dallas had let Kris Russell, Jason Demers, and Alex Goligoski depart as free agents so there were spots on the blue line. However, due to his youth and contractual situation Honka began 2016-2017 with Texas as Dallas was almost forced to roll with older prospects such as Johns, Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth.
Perhaps in another year, Honka would have started with Dallas but again the expansion draft was looming and Nill couldn’t risk it. However, with injuries starting to build up Honka did get an early look and as to be expected took to the NHL like a duck to water. It seemed to be widely agreed upon that Honka did not deserve to be the man to return to the AHL but after 10 solid games, he would return to Cedar Park. He had by now fully outgrown the AHL but his time was not yet to be.
Honka won World Junior gold with Finland over fierce rivals Sweden in 2014 (GettyImages)
Honka was unquestionably a victim of circumstances. He shares an awful lot of similarities with current Stars number 1, John Klingberg. They are both right handed, both offensively dazzling, and both Scandinavian. However, they aren’t similar at all in many ways too. Darryl Reaugh pointed it out during the Coyotes game on Tuesday that essentially Klingberg loves slowing the pace of the game down whereas Honka prefers to inject life into the action. It sounds basic but essentially that is what it boils down to.
Honka shares many of the offensive talents are John Klingberg (GettyImages)
Another unfortunate difference between the two is that when Klingberg had his breakthrough in 2014, the Stars were not only crying out for a puck mover but their personnel at the time made it easy to accommodate him. Honka had a similar impact but was not granted the same fortunate fate.
The prospect of having both Honka and Klingberg full time next season though is a wonderful one for the Stars. The onus on Klingberg alone to provide offensive output from the blue line was a struggle at times this season for the still young Swede. Having Klingberg on one power play unit and Honka on the second should only increase the balance and potency of the Stars when a man up.
The overtime winner against the Coyotes (GettyImages)
This week in his 14th (appropriately I thought!) game with the Dallas Stars, Honka scored his first ever NHL goal. It was fitting that it was a goal so typically Honka as well. Now this may sound strange given he has never scored before but in his short time in the league, Honka has already established a very distinctive style.
The overtime period had not started altogether as planned for the Stars. The top 3 v 3 unit of superstars Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Klingberg had been pinned deep in their zone for the best part of 2 minutes. Eventually Klingberg willed the group to safety before making way for Honka. Now one might expect a rookie to be a little phased by what he just saw but Honka almost sauntered with a zen like calmness onto the ice as if to reassure his teammates that all was under control.
The shift in the above video was a thing of beauty as he instigated attack after attack before finally burying a half slap shot in off the cross bar behind Mike Smith to end the contest. This game essentially meant nothing between two teams long out of playoff contention but moments like this make it memorable for all the right reasons.
I think I can say with some assurance that after all his patience, Honka is on track to not just be a permanent member of the NHL club next year, but he is also destined to have a massive impact on a Stars team hoping to bounce immediately back to greatness to prove beyond doubt that this season was an aberration. The wait appears to finally be over.
First ever NHL goal for Honka