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CEDAR PARK, Texas — The NHL trade deadline turned into an unexpected adventure for new Texas Stars defenseman Dillon Heatherington.
The 21-year-old started March 1 as a member of the Cleveland Monsters and when the trade deadline rolled around at 4 p.m. ET, Heatherington was pretty confident he’d spend the rest of the season in Ohio.
“I didn’t think I’d get traded, but you never know, so after the deadline comes you stop checking your phone as much and it gets a bit less stressful,” Heatherington said. “Then about 20 minutes later I got the call.”
Heatherington had gone out to eat with some of his teammates in Cleveland around the time the Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets finalized trade just before the deadline, exchanging veteran winger Lauri Korpikoski for the defensive prospect.
“I was excited about it, I hadn’t been traded before so I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s been great,” Heatherington said. “After I got the call I went home packed some things up and I was on a plane the next morning.”
Heatherington was second-round pick by Columbus in 2013 and won a Calder Cup last season with the then-named Lake Erie Monsters. With a stockpile of young defensemen in the system and a need at forward, Heatherington became the expendable prospect for the Blue Jackets.
“He adds something to our team and I think they both make us a bit more physical,” Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal said. “Whenever you add new players (Heatherington and Mark McNeill) like that at the deadline, you know you are getting motivated players and it’s good for the rest of the group.”
Heatherington also plays a game that the Stars need in their prospect system. According to The Hockey News, he was the eighth-ranked prospect in the Blue Jackets system before the trade and he’s likely going to jump into Dallas Stars Insider Prospect Top-10 rankings before the end of March.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound defenseman already projects as a future NHL player according to multiple scouts. He doesn’t have the puck skills or the offensive mind to be a top-pairing player in today’s NHL, but at his best he’ll be a long-term stay-at-home defender that provides stability on the back end (similar to Johnny Oduya in his prime).
“You feel better as a goalie playing with him,” Stars goalie prospect Landon Bow, who played with Heatherington in the WHL, said. “He’s rarely out of position and he just outworks everyone. He cares so much about the game, he’s the guy that will do anything to block a shot and clear the zone even if you’re down 10-1 or up 10-1 in a game.”
Heatherington has played in five games for Texas since the trade and has been paired with Julius Honka. Honka and Heatherington played junior hockey together during the 2013-14 season with the Swift Current Broncos, and they are trying to re-kindle some of that old chemistry.
“It helps coming in and playing with an old teammate, plus I know a lot of the guys here from the Western (Hockey) League,” Heatherington said.
Heatherington said it’s also a “learn on the fly” experience joining a new team, and he’ll have lots of opportunities with Texas playing 17 games in the next 30 days to close out the regular season.
Adding Heatherington to the prospect system slightly makes up for the Stars botching Mattias Backman’s development.
Backman arguably has been an NHL-ready defenseman for two seasons, but was buried in the AHL and was recently re-assigned to the Hershey Bears (an AHL trade of sorts) that likely signals the end of his time in the Stars organization.
“I never really understood what they did with Backman and why it was handled like that, I always thought he was ready for the NHL,” a scout with ties to the Blue Jackets organization said. “The Stars are getting a younger, similar, but different type of player with Dillon. If they manage it correctly he could be a long-time NHL player.”