Promising Stars prospect Logan Stankoven may be small, but all he does is score
This article was written as part of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and To Hockey With Love Mentorship Program. See the bottom of the article for more on the program.
Won't be able to compete against grown men on a nightly basis.
Those are some of the critiques Logan Stankoven heard on his journey to professional hockey. And they're why the diminutive forward fell to the Dallas Stars at No. 47 in the 2021 NHL Draft.
"There aren't a ton of 5-foot-8 superstars in the NHL, and that's why we see guys like Stankoven slip when they do," said Chris Peters, who analyzes prospects for FloHockey.
Nothing about Stankoven's body of work since the 2021 draft suggests he's been deterred by the bias against small players. Now a game-breaking rookie on the AHL's Texas Stars, Stankoven never takes a shift off, and those who know him best say he's never satisfied - he's always trying to get better. Most importantly, he plays much bigger than his size.
With the COVID-19 pandemic subsided, we can now look at how prospects from the 2021 draft were impacted by the temporary shutdown of the hockey world.
Many are still trying to get back on course after losing developmental time. Fortunately for Stankoven, who played only six games in the WHL's shortened 2020-21 season, his trajectory hasn't changed much.
In fact, Stankoven's production took its biggest leap right after the shortened season.
Then 18, the Kamloops Blazers center exploded for 45 goals and 59 assists in 59 regular-season games, before adding 31 points in 17 playoff games. He dominated, and was named 2021-22 player of the year in the 60-team CHL. He also picked up WHL trophies for top and most sportsmanlike player.
"My strengths would be my hockey IQ and the way I see the ice," Stankoven said when asked to evaluate his own game. "My shot, that's another (strength)."
Stankoven was unstoppable in his final WHL season in 2022-23, recording 97 points in 48 regular-season games, and 30 in 14 playoff games. And in the middle of all those multi-point nights, Stankoven won a second consecutive world juniors gold medal for Canada.
Despite Stankoven's run of individual and team success, some still felt he wouldn't be able to produce at a prolific rate in the AHL, his next stop.
He's proving doubters wrong so far.
Stankoven, officially listed at 5-7 and 170 pounds, broke a Texas Stars franchise rookie record by recording 14 points in his first 10 games. With 14 goals and 26 points in 19 games, the Kamloops native leads all AHLers in goals and is tied for the league lead in points with teammate Mavrik Bourque. Stankoven's essentially been unstoppable for two months.
"It's funny. I'm not surprised at all," Shea Van Olm, Stankoven's old junior teammate, said of his hot start. "He's such a weapon."
Stankoven's tenacious playing style has been key to his dominance. As Peters puts it, he's "not just flash and dash." He's got a "bulldog" mentality and often uses his low center of gravity to fend off larger players.
He competes. He battles. He's unafraid of taking pucks into traffic.
"When you're a smaller guy, tenacity can be your equalizer," Peters said.
"Size isn't an issue for me when you compete and play with pace, when you're hungry and able to win battles," added Texas Stars head coach Neil Graham, who mentioned Tampa Bay Lightning star Brayden Point, who's 5-10 and 178 pounds, as an example of a player who's undersized but has the drive and skill set to contribute in all three zones.
Stankoven's also armed with a lethal shot and high-end hockey sense. The clip below, from a recent game against the Grand Rapids Griffins, is a prime example of those attributes working in concert to turn defense into offense:
As the clip shows, Stankoven (No. 11 in purple) surveys what'll happen next as he backchecks. He then puts his stick in the perfect position to break up the Griffins' attempt to feed the high slot. The steal leads to a three-on-one counter rush where Stankoven shows off his elite shot. He snaps the puck quickly and decisively - the goalie has no chance of saving it.
Counting regular season, playoff, and tournament action at the WHL, AHL, and international levels, Stankoven's scored a whopping 171 goals in 248 games over the past four-plus years. That's seven every 10 games.
But what will take his game to new heights and eventually the NHL?
"I can continue to work on my straightaway speed - being able to get around defenders," Stankoven said. "I think also my wall battles (aren't competitive enough right now). Being a smaller guy in a new league against grown men, I've gotta keep working on winning my walls and becoming a good winger (who) can be relied upon."
Peters echoed Stankoven's sentiments: "He's made some significant strides in his skating ability, and he's getting a better push off of that (as a pro). Part of that comes from improved strength."
Off the ice, the transition hasn't been as smooth for Stankoven, who played for his hometown club in junior. "It’s been hard," said Stankoven, who turns 21 in February. "I lived at home my whole junior career. I had home-cooked meals. I got to sleep in my own bed."
Stankoven's coach hasn't seen any glaring issues, though.
"Stanks has done a really nice job. We've stepped back as a staff and as a team to really address some of the things that occur away from the rink for these young men," Graham said about his squad filled with rookies. "Living in your own place, getting food, furniture, bills. We've tried to do our best to prep them but, in all actuality, you give full credit to these young men for being able to do this in the first couple months of the year while keeping a focus that hockey is a job now. It's fun - don't get me wrong - but it's a job and it's a job that you get paid to do. And he's done a great job acclimating."
As for his initial NHL future, Peters projects Stankoven to be a middle-six forward with power-play utility. The Dallas Stars are in an enviable position as an organization, simultaneously contending for a Stanley Cup and building for the future. Unlike most other clubs, they appear in no hurry to rush a prospect like Stankoven.
Forwards Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, and Wyatt Johnston, defensemen Miro Heiskanen, Nils Lundkvist, and Thomas Harley, and goalie Jake Oettinger are all 27 or younger, and Dallas hopes the following youngsters will soon support that core: forwards Stankoven, Bourque (30th overall in 2020), Antonio Stranges (123rd in 2020), and defenseman Lian Bichsel (18th in 2022)
Stankoven and Bourque have been skating together in the AHL; they'll ideally graduate to the NHL together to help ease the jump. One day, the Stars could have a line of Stankoven-Johnston-Bourque, which would be a throwback to when Stankoven and Johnston played together at the 2021 U-18's (held in Texas, of all places).
The Stars, who made the 2020 Stanley Cup Fiinal and 2023 Western Conference Final, are operating on two exciting timelines: the present and the future.
"The nice thing about when you're a contending team and you land a pick like Stankoven is that you don't have to rush him," Peters said. "You don't have to immediately thrust him into the NHL before he's ready."
Stankoven understands his time will come. And he knows patience is a virtue.
"You gotta earn your opportunity, and nothing comes for free," he said.
This article was written by Michael Pagani, who's part of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and To Hockey With Love Mentorship Program. The program pairs aspiring writers with established members of the association across North America to create opportunities for marginalized people who aren't traditionally published on larger platforms covering hockey. To Hockey With Love is a weekly newsletter covering a range of topics in hockey, from the scandals of the week to critical analysis of the sport.