FRISCO, Texas — There’s little doubt that the numbers Jason Dickinson, who the Dallas Stars took with the 29th pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft on June 30, posted in his two seasons with Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League are impressive.
Dickinson, an 18-year-old forward had 35 points (13-22-35) as an OHL rookie two seasons ago but followed up that campaign with the Storm by registering 47 points (18-29-47) in a sophomore season where he appeared in the OHL Top Prospects Game and was front and center for Canada’s Under-18 team that won gold at the IIHF Under-18 World Championship.
But now, the young winger finds himself getting his first taste of life in the NHL as not even a week after being drafted by the Stars, he was in Frisco being put through the paces as part of the club’s annual development camp, which helps the organization’s powers-that-be see where certain prospects are in their development prior to the start of training camp as well as the famed NHL Prospects Tournament, an annual prospect-laden event in Traverse City, Michigan that was scrubbed last year due to the NHL lockout.
“Yeah, it’s a great experience,” Dickinson said of his early experiences at the camp. “We’re here to learn. Learning every day from everyone that’s here, I think it’s going to be vital in my growth as a player. As much as I can absorb, the better as soon as I learn all their systems and learn everything they expect from me, I think it will help better my game.”
A native of Georgetown, Ontario, the book on this young forward is that while he clearly has the two-way game to thrive in the NHL in the near future, one thing that might hold him back is his slim build. He was listed at 179 pounds but despite his slight frame, he is confident that he already has what it takes to play for Dallas’ top minor league affiliate, the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League, as soon as this season.
“Yeah, I think that’s possible. I think my biggest problem right now is just being too lean. As soon as I put on that muscle mass, I think I’ll be up there and doing what I can in the OHL at that level,” Dickinson said.
He feels that bulking up shouldn’t be an issue as the Stars have already talked to him about what he needs to do as far as weight training and his diet in order to make that happen. And while Dallas has planned to keep its top pick in the 2013 draft, Russian forward Valeri Nichushkin in the area for the entire summer in order to help him acclimate quicker both on and off the ice, this fellow first-round pick said there have been no such discussions between him and club brass and that more than likely he’ll be returning home to Ontario once the development camp wraps up later this week.
He even offered his take on his new teammate and fellow first-round draft pick from Russia. “We’re out there on the ice together,” he said. “Great player, watched him in Sochi. Big, dominant forward, he protects the puck fantastically and he has unbelievable hands, great player.”
Dickinson knows making the jump from the OHL to the AHL and eventually to the NHL will definitely require more adjustments, but he feels confident that even after his acclimation process to the OHL took a bit longer than he originally thought it would that he will be able to adapt more quickly this time around.
“I think I’ve learned a lot [from my two years in the OHL},” he said. “It was a big jump, from minor hockey to the OHL and it was a little bit more than I expected. So to get those two years under my belt to really grasp the feeling of it and what it takes to make that adjustment, I think it’ll help me translate my game easier to the NHL rather than taking how long it did in the OHL.”
Of course, like any prospect, he feels the quicker pace of the game in the AHL and NHL will be the major thing he will have to get used to. But he does have an ace in the hole because his experiences in the OHL Playoffs, the league’s top prospect game as well as his international experience with Team Canada taught him some invaluable lessons some young players don’t learn until a bit further along in their development.
“I think that those two experiences made me realize how you have to be on your game at all times. There’s no breaks, there’s no days off, it’s on the ball every day, doing your thing day in and day out, practicing that way,” Dickinson said. “Those are lessons that I’m going to take with me throughout my entire career and throughout my entire life.”
And besides the increased speed of the game, there is another concept often associated with prospects in any sport, inconsistency. Like every young player, he realizes he’s going to have his ups and downs but again, he can draw on his experiences in the OHL as well as in international play to help remember exactly what it takes to contribute each and every time he steps over the boards for his next shift.
“Yeah, I think going through those experiences, it’s going to help me better my consistency. It opened up my eyes and made me really appreciate the fact that I have to do this. It’s not I want to do this anymore. It’s this is expected, this is what is needed of me,” Dickinson said.
Some have already compared him to Vancouver center Ryan Kesler, who won the Selke Trophy in 2011 for his strong defensive game. Kesler was a finalist for that award in the two seasons prior and has been a big part of the Canucks’ recent success.
And given what a big name Kesler is not just among his NHL contemporaries, fans and media who cover the league as well as across Canada, it’s not a shock to hear Dickinson say that being compared to the talented Canuck centerman is a huge honor for him.
“Yeah, that’s an honor. He’s a great two-way forward. He plays fantastic on both ends. To be up there compared to that stature is just unbelievable,” he said.
While much of his focus during the development camp and in his downtime leading up to the start of preseason will be on bulking up and adding some pounds to his wiry frame, there is something else this Stars draftee would like to work on going forward. “I’d like quicker feet,” Dickinson admitted. “I feel my first three strides are maybe a little bit too long and they’re not as quick as they should be.”
While Jason Dickinson might not contribute for the Dallas Stars at the NHL level for at least a year or two, there isn’t any reason to think that this young talent can’t get his feet wet in the AHL this year and maybe even make some noise down in Cedar Park.
Of course, if he does succeed in adding some mass to his frame, that timetable could speed up considerably but no matter when he arrives, Dickinson is going to be a fun player to see progress as a Star. There’s no doubt about it.