Roope Hintz has established himself as a legitimate top center in the NHL. And it couldn’t have happened at a better time for the Dallas Stars.

Roope Hintz was once a complete unknown, absent from pre-game scout briefings and arena marquees alike. When opponents discussed how they planned to stop the Dallas Stars’, well, stars, Hintz was never mentioned.

That is no longer true.

“I’d say last year, he slid under the radar for sure,” said Stars goaltender Scott Wedgewood, who attended the meetings for years before coming in Dallas at the trade deadline last season.

“I believe he has now acquired the respect of the majority of men…

It (the Hintz-led first line) may seem underestimated to some, but you don’t realize how powerful they are until you’re in their presence.”

To be honest, it’s surprising that Hintz remained such a little-known threat even into last season.

The 2015 second-round pick spent the pandemic-shortened 2021 season breaking the point-per-game barrier, tallying 15 goals and 28 assists for 43 points in 41 games. Just months before that, he helped lead the Stars to the Stanley Cup final with a 13-point postseason performance in the 2020 playoffs.

Hintz’s debut was made official in 2021-22. The 25-year-old flirted with 40 goals on an offensively depleted team en route to finishing with 37 goals and 72 points in 80 games – playing more than 18 minutes per game in ice time while shooting near his career average.

That similar pace has been replicated this season, with Hintz currently leading Dallas in scoring with seven points in six games.

This isn’t a fluke or the result of some cheeky puck luck. Hintz is simply a fantastic hockey player. So good, in fact, that teams must now structure their systems around him whenever the Stars appear on their schedule.

“He’s just progressively figured it out,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn, who has supervised Hintz’s whole path in the Stars organization, from second-round pick to the player he is today.

“And that only comes with time and practice. He plays with a lot of confidence and has certainly found two linemates that read off him very well (Jason Robertson and Joe Pavelski). But he’s the one that drives that line. And I believe he is still discovering and capitalizing on his potential.”

Hintz’s quick rise to the top of his organization’s depth chart has not only come at the perfect time for his pocketbook – with the pending restricted free agent likely to cash in big this summer when he hits the market in July – but also for his employer.

The Stars, as they now stand, are a very top-heavy squad. The roster is supported by good cornerstones in each positional group, but there is little depth surrounding them.

In this lineup, it’s evident who takes home the bacon. Last season, the Stars had seven players finish with double-digit goal totals – the same as the 32nd and 31st-placed Arizona Coyotes and Montreal Canadiens – and only six of them reached 45 points. The club’s offense was led by the legendary Pavelski-Robertson-Hintz three, with Miro Heiskanen leading the way on the back end and Jake Oettinger standing on his head in net.

Without Hintz’s sustained development, the Stars’ attack would have fallen to disastrous depths in 2021-22, ranking 21st in the NHL. Benn and Tyler Seguin are no longer the offensive focal points they once were. Someone else had to stand forward.

That someone was Hintz, whose emergence as a legitimate top-line center coincided with the dips of Benn and Seguin. And they are well aware of it.

“I mean, he’s our first-line center,” remarked Benn, who used to play that position.

“That is a crucial task for us, and it is not easy to perform on any team. But he’s taken it with pride and is doing an excellent job.”

Hintz’s development as a dominant player in this league did not come out of nowhere, despite never being a blue-chip prospect or first-round pick. Those who met him at the different levels below the NHL saw hints of his ability. This covers Hintz’s colleagues as well.

“You could just tell,” said Stars forward Mason Marchment, whose Toronto Marlies faced Hintz’s Texas Stars in the 2018 AHL Calder Cup final.

“Even back then, he had all the tools. He has the speed, the vision, and the hands. He has it all. So, you know, he’s an important player for us. Very large.”

Hintz would eventually lose the Calder Cup to Marchment’s Marlies in a seven-game series that year. A few months later, he made his NHL debut, appearing in 58 games for the Dallas Stars and never looked back.

Hintz now represents the present and future of the club that believed in him, as the Stars pull out all the means to give their senior core one last opportunity at a Stanley Cup.

Anyone who knows him would tell you the same thing: he’s ready.

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