Features

Stars rookie defenseman impressive in home debut

Saturday, 10.06.2007 / 12:48 AM / Feature
By Ken Sins


Virginia, Minn., population 7,000, has a few more Stars fans these days. That’s the hometown of rookie defenseman Matt Niskanen, who made a positive impression in his American Airlines Center debut for the Stars on Friday night.

Niskanen was one of the surprises of training camp when he survived the final cut and earned a slot in the opening-night lineup.

The 20-year-old justified that faith in the 4-1 victory over the Boston Bruins when he earned two assists for his first NHL points.

“In camp, I just wanted to have a good showing and set myself up for a call-up later this year,” Niskanen said. “But a couple injuries gave me a window of opportunity and I happened to have a good camp. Now I'm trying to take full advantage.”

Niskanen is by far the youngest member of the Stars’ defensive corps. The 6-0, 194-pounder was the Stars’ first-round pick in the 2005 draft and after two good seasons on the blue line for Minnesota-Duluth, Niskanen signed a three-year contract with the Stars on March 19.

Niskanen is supposed to be holding a place in the top six defensemen until Niklas Grossman is healthy, but Niskanen looked ready for prime time against the Bruins.
He had 12 minutes and 47 seconds of ice time and finished a plus-two with two hits and two blocked shots. Niskanen doesn’t look overwhelmed in the midst of a defensive corps dominated by veterans.

“He was very good again,” coach Dave Tippett said. “He’s got some poise. He has some hiccups here and there that any young defenseman is going to have, but he’s a pretty solid player out there right now.”

Niskanen had only 25 games of pro experience last season for the Iowa Stars, showing his mettle with seven points in 12 playoff games. He raised his status in the organization by several notches with a productive camp, and then turned in a strong NHL debut in Wednesday’s opening-night loss at Colorado.

Paired with veteran Philippe Boucher, Niskanen didn’t seem nervous in his first regular-season game in front of the home crowd.

“He looks like a veteran out there,” Boucher said. “He's making all the good plays, keeping it simple. I'm sure he had a few nerves. First couple of games in the NHL, you'd better be excited, but he handled it very well.”

Niskanen said skating with Boucher has helped his development.

“It's a great situation,” Niskanen said. “He's a great player, so verbal on the ice, and really makes me feel comfortable. He's a great partner.''

Among the hot topics of training camp was the importance of getting scoring from sources other than mainstays like Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen and Brenden Morrow.

On Friday night, Niskanen heeded the call along with Joel Lundqvist and Niklas Hagman, who notched Dallas’ first two goals off Niskanen assists.

Lundqvist’s one-timer from the inner edge of the right circle gave Dallas the lead at 15:19 of the opening period. The goal was set up by Niskanen’s pass from the point.

“The play he made to Lundqvist was just a real good heads-up play,” Tippett said. “He finds the open guy. That’s the poise he has with the puck. That’s just instinct of playing. That’s why he’s a good player.”

Niskanen said he needed a little luck in getting the puck to Lundqvist

“The puck came hard to me along the wall and I managed to keep possession with my foot,’’ Niskanen said. “I saw Lundie going to the net and threw it at him. It was kind of a bad pass, bouncing all over the place, but he got a stick on it. Sometimes they're not always pretty. A lot of people say you make your own luck but those guys deserved to score on that shift.”

On the second goal, Hagman got behind the defense, skated through the crease and backhanded a shot past ex-Star goaltender Manny Fernandez to make it 2-0.  Jussi Jokinen and Niskanen were credited with assists.

Niskanen admitted to a few nerves, but overall, he’s been cool, calm and collected in a high-pressure situation.

“I was more nervous Wednesday night for the first one and I had a few nerves at the start tonight, but I settled down as the game went on,” he said. “I’m trying to improve slowly, trying to get better.”

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 z - ANA 82 54 20 8 266 209 116
2 y - COL 82 52 22 8 250 220 112
3 x - STL 82 52 23 7 248 191 111
4 x - SJS 82 51 22 9 249 200 111
5 x - CHI 82 46 21 15 267 220 107
6 x - LAK 82 46 28 8 206 174 100
7 x - MIN 82 43 27 12 207 206 98
8 x - DAL 82 40 31 11 235 228 91
9 PHX 82 37 30 15 216 231 89
10 NSH 82 38 32 12 216 242 88
11 WPG 82 37 35 10 227 237 84
12 VAN 82 36 35 11 196 223 83
13 CGY 82 35 40 7 209 241 77
14 EDM 82 29 44 9 203 270 67

STATS

2013-2014 PLAYOFFS
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Benn 4 3 1 1 4
S. Horcoff 4 0 4 4 4
C. Sceviour 4 1 2 3 3
C. Eakin 4 1 2 0 3
A. Roussel 4 0 3 2 3
R. Garbutt 4 2 0 2 2
V. Fiddler 4 1 1 0 2
A. Goligoski 4 1 1 4 2
A. Chiasson 4 1 1 -4 2
T. Seguin 4 1 1 3 2
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
K. Lehtonen 2 2 0 .921 2.28
 
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