It’s very neat and helpful when a charismatic guy off the ice is also a charismatic player when he’s on it. What I mean is—and I will not name names—there are hockey dudes who look cute or dress nice or give great quotes, but on the ice are just solid, dependable hands on say a second or third line. There’s nothing wrong with that per se—the world needs as many cute, stylish, and/or funny men as it can get. But it makes these guys all less cool than Roope Hintz, who not only looks the part, but also plays a more captivating brand of hockey than almost anybody else on earth.
The 25-year-old Hintz is in his fourth year as a forward out of Finland for the Dallas Stars, and this season—both because of his improved health and the restored schedule—is the one where he’s really spread his wings, scoring 28 goals and picking up 27 assists as he’s helped lift the Stars into that last Western Conference wild card slot. I’ve never been very partial to Dallas, but I have been partial to Roope. I love his outfits. I like his tattoos. I like his messy blonde hair. I like that his nickname (from one of the tattoos) is “Ace of Spades” and not, you know, “Hintzy” or something. But even more than that, I frickin’ love the way he scores.
The thing about Hintz on the ice is that he zooms. That’s really the only verb I can think of during most of his goals. He’s not around the net, and then he is, because he zoomed there, like a plane taking off. Hintz’s goals are consistently some of the most fun in the NHL because they appear almost like magic out of total nothing situations, where one little thing breaks Hintz free and sends him into a one-on-one duel with the goalie. He is playing north-south hockey even when the rest of the Dallas offense is not.
He did it again on Thursday night against the Hurricanes, for the second of two goals in a 4-3 win. Joe Pavelski calmly took the puck across the blue line, swung it to the outside for Jason Robertson, who WHOA THERE’S ROOPE ROOPE SCORED! How did he get behind everybody? I didn’t even see him there! But on further review, he just … skated past everyone? Then he took the pass and backhanded it in (the backhand is a common ending to his zoom goals). These goals are euphoric surprises that you’ll miss if you so much as blink, and they put a tremendous amount of pressure on the defense to avoid looking silly.
There’s just a whole bunch of this genre of goals from Hintz’s season. I’ve collected a small handful of them in the video below.
Here is a guide to them, in order:
- The Blues have the puck, attacking on the power play, but after a turnover and a nifty exit by his Stars teammate Michael Raffl, Hintz takes off, zeroing in on the net like a fastball to a catcher’s mitt. Hintz arrives to the pass in stride for an unstoppable end to the 2-on-1.
- The Flyers have the puck in the offensive zone, but an intercepted pass by Robertson springs Hintz, who leaves the defense in the dust as he pulls off an untouched breakaway goal from his own blue line to the opposite red line.
- Hintz pounces on a puck misplayed by Nashville’s Luke Kunin. He almost accelerates too fast without taking over possession, but he reaches back, refocuses on the net, and finishes backhand for the goal.
- The Capitals clear the zone on the penalty kill and try for a line change. Hintz makes them pay. Receiving a pass from the center ice boards, he slices through the middle and backhands it in before anyone can recover.
- Finally, my favorite, from the Stars’ Tuesday win against the Oilers. At the blue line, John Klingberg manipulates the defense with a little move to his left, and Hintz blows away the speed limit taking the pass and skating through the space opened on the right. He finishes for the game-tying goal and then slides into the corner, his arms lifted in celebration.
The Stars are the last team in, if the playoffs began today, which would in theory make them fresh meat for the Colorado Avalanche. They’re in sort of an odd place as a franchise right now—neither old nor young, stuck in the middle without any obvious signs as to whether they’re rising or falling. There are guys like Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, tied to big contracts but not producing like they used to. There are guys like Joe Pavelski and Ryan Suter, defying their late 30s by continuing to play like (lowercase) stars. There are strong defensemen in their 20s, led by the 2017 3rd overall pick Miro Heiskanen. And then there’s the upstart 23-year-old goalie Jake Oettinger providing a decent and hopefully long-term foundation.
I don’t really know what to make of all these pieces. But I do get Roope Hintz. This kid’s awesome, and at $3.15 million for this year and next, he’s a steal, both as a top scorer and as a dude who can bring fans into the arena. He can be prone to streakiness and goalless droughts like a lot of still-developing scorers. But his hot run this past week shows that what he does on the ice can also be done on a larger scale. He comes from out of nowhere to bring everyone to their feet.