Players to Watch, 2016-17: Justin Dowling

Jul 1, 2016

Justin Dowling, the person, grew up in Cochrane, Alberta.

Justin Dowling, the hockey player, has grown up in Cedar Park.

Over his first three years with the Texas Stars, Dowling progressively increased his offensive production: 30 points in 2012-13, 47 points in 2013-14 and a career-high 50 points in 2014-15. Last year, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound center finished with 46 points. However, Dowling missed 19 games after a knee-to-knee collision in a February road game at Bakersfield. It is easy to assume the undrafted forward could have set a new career-high in points last season had he not missed those games.

“We missed him,” said Stars’ head coach Derek Laxdal after Dowling’s return in early March. “You miss those key veterans with such a young team, and you miss guys like Travis Morin and Greg Rallo. It was good to get him back in the lineup.”

Dowling is set to enter his fifth season in the Dallas Stars organization. He has graduated from simply a young prospect to a veteran leader in the 259 regular season games and 27 playoff games he has played in the AHL over his career. When the Stars were struck with injuries to their veterans during the regular season, Dowling ended up as an alternate captain for multiple games throughout the year.

Justin Dowling: By the Numbers

Newly engaged to a fiancée who has also spent extended periods in Cedar Park, and an avid golfer who enjoys the mild Texas winters, Dowling has become a recognized face of the Texas Stars franchise with the likes of Morin, Rallo, Colton Sceviour and Maxime Fortunus. Even if that face is routinely covered with a shaggy, tan beard.

He has played the eighth most games in franchise history and last season on March 29, 2016, against the same Bakersfield team where he suffered his injury, Dowling tied a franchise record with four assists in a game. The memorable night pushed him past Fortunus for the fourth-most points in franchise history. After tallying 35 assists last season, he is now fourth in team history with 110 in a Texas sweater.

“The whole point of my game is to contribute and help out offensively,” said Dowling after tallying two assists in his first game back from the injury. “So coming back after two months and being able to contribute and help us win a game is obviously huge for my confidence.”

Dowling_Justin.jpgWhat is most intriguing is Dowling is still just 25 years old. He signed a one-year extension with the Dallas Stars on May 31st. He still carries the “prospect” label despite the time he has spent in Cedar Park. He continues to sit on the bubble and enters this season vying to be one of the first call-ups for Dallas when the need arises. If his growing production continues into the 2016-17 campaign, the playmaking forward could finally make the leap. Always one to provide a few eye-popping plays throughout the season, the knee injury that sidelined him for 19 games was the first real test to the durability which allowed him to play at least 65 games each of the past three years. Any questions to how he would respond were erased almost immediately. He racked up a five-game point streak upon his return to the ice. He recorded 17 points in the final 16 games of the regular season after the injury, and added three points in four playoff games.

“It was great to have him back. On the power play and the penalty kill and taking a lot of key faceoffs,” said Stars’ head coach Derek Laxdal after Dowling’s return. “It looked like he just picked up right where he left off because he was playing some real good hockey for us. Playing at a high pace when he got injured.”

The AHL’s mantra is development. Four consecutive years of progressive production is something to notice at the AHL level. If Dowling makes it five straight years, there won’t be much more maturity for him to achieve. It is what makes him a player to watch in 2016-17.

It is how Justin Dowling, the hockey player, has grown up in Cedar Park.

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