NHL Playoff Daily: As other eras as end, Wyatt Johnston's just starting in Dallas

Anyone and everyone has written about the Steven Stamkos drama with the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

The Lightning captain is an unrestricted free agent this summer, he’s 34 years old, and in theory could have just played his final game with Tampa Bay. 

Instead of focusing on the utter demolition job by the Florida Panthers, establishing new dominance in the state of Florida, the end of the broadcast for Game 5 – a 6-1 Florida win – focused heavily on Stamkos and his future. 

And it is a storyline, but there was another storyline that I could help but notice watching both games of the doubleheader last night. 

After Florida dismantled Tampa, the Dallas Stars evened up their series with the Vegas Golden Knights with a 4-2 victory in Game 4. 

Wyatt Johnston was again the Stars best player. The 20-year-old, who scored twice – including the overtime winner – in Game 3, was the spark that got Dallas going and in a series with more so-called marquee names, Johnston has been the driving force. 

Stamkos will or won’t re-sign with Tampa Bay, but either way, he’s likely moving into the final contract of his career. Joe Pavelski, Johnston’s landlord still in Dallas, seems to have finally been caught by father time and this past weekend we may have seen the final NHL playoff game of Alexander Ovechkin’s career. 

Eras are ending or coming to a close, while others are beginning. 

And that’s why I want to focus on Johnston. Because I think we need to stop and realize how this Dallas team, effectively led by a 20-year-old, is entering a window and not exiting one. 

There are older veteran players that will be highlighted on broadcasts and fill SEO-pleasing “Old guy without a cup,” stories and slideshows, but the Dallas story is that the core pivoted without much of the rest of the world noticing until it was too late. 

The Stars 2017 draft has always been well-heralded, where Dallas snagged Miro Heiskanen, Jake Oettinger, and Jason Robertson, but Dallas’ work in ensuing years to bring in Johnston, Thomas Harley, and Logan Stankoven without much initial fanfare was kept dreadfully quiet. Even people in Dallas, a market I’m well versed in, complained for years that the Stars struggled to draft and develop – pointing out organizational shortcomings with first-round picks like Riley Tufte and Denis Guryanov

And somehow, like a light switch, the Stars became the darlings of the draft-and-develop crowd. It’s become en vogue for writers to point to what Dallas has done, point out that this is how you build a long-term winner, when really the Stars haven’t done anything differently. 

Jim Nill is still overly patient, sometimes to a fault. Mavrik Bourque just won the AHL MVP award and is still waiting in the wings. The Stars top defensive prospect Lian Bichsel just put together a superlative-laden showing in the SHL playoffs with Rogle, and it’s likely not going to stop the Stars from adding a veteran defender this summer. 

This is how you operate in two windows at once, and it’s why Johnston will be more of a household name but never the name for the Stars. If Johnston was having his success with a bad team, like Columbus or Chicago, he’d be heralded a future league-wide star, instead he’s just part of the Stars. 

And that is the sign of true staying power in Dallas. I don’t know if Dallas will win the Stanley Cup this season, I don’t even know if they get past Vegas this round, but when you look at the Western Conference playoff map and you try to forecast the realistic future, the Stars are the team with the best short and long-term plan at the same time. 

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This article is about:
NHL Dallas Stars Tampa Bay Lightning Lian Bichsel Mavrik Bourque Thomas Harley Miro Heiskanen Wyatt Johnston Jim Nill Jake Oettinger Alexander Ovechkin Joe Pavelski Jason Robertson Steven Stamkos Logan Stankoven Jim Nill
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