Catching Up With Brenden Dillon: Dallas Stars Defenseman Talks About His Rookie Season & the Bright Future Ahead

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Angus catches up to Brenden Dillon to talk about his rookie season with the Dallas Stars, his plans for the summer, the changes made by Jim Nill and the season ahead.

[Editor's note: Jeff Angus brings us another great interview with Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon, who took the NHL by storm with a tremendous rookie season in 2013. An undrafted free agent out of Vancouver, Dillon earned consideration for the Calder Trophy and quickly moved up the ranks to become a legitimate option for the young, top pairing defensemen the Stars have needed for quite some time.]

I caught up with Brenden earlier this week as he is back in Vancouver (Surrey, to be precise). He trains each summer at Impact Hockey in Langley, BC, run by Tim Preston.

We talked about his impressive rookie season, the new jerseys, the Tyler Seguin trade, the new regime in Dallas, and much more.

Angus: Dallas really is a team on the rise right now. A committed owner, a new GM who has made some huge moves, and new jerseys, too.

Dillon: Just from having spent part of the summer down there. It's been so exciting. The jerseys, the new GM, the new coach.

Have you met Lindy Ruff? He coached you with Canada, right?

Yeah he did. Let's just say that he knows what he is doing.

Ruff will be a good fit for you guys down in Dallas.

Yeah, and I think he [GM Jim Nill] has brought in some great veterans, too. Horcoff, Peverley... veteran guys to join Whitney and Robidas, giving us a core group of guys who have been in the league for a while. And Gonchar too.

And it sounds like - I'm not sure if you have any inside knowledge - but the team may be moving Jamie Benn back to the wing?

That's what he was drafted as [a winger]. But it as good for him playing center, too, he was able to gain some speed and handle the puck more.

And play more defensive minutes.

Yeah, exactly.

And then you bring in guys like Horcoff and Peverley who can win some faceoffs.

Yeah. It will be good to have the puck more with those guys around.

Did you get an early look at the jersey at all? I like the logo, but love the color - especially the green.

I think they said it is the only jersey in pro sports with that shade of green.

So many teams are going to generic black and white with their color schemes - it is nice to have something you can think of. When you think of purple you think of the Minnesota Vikings. Hopefully when you think of green, it's...

The Dallas Stars.

In our room we had the logo on our helmets and pants but I didn't see the actual jersey until a couple of days before with a magazine photo shoot. I think it has gotten pretty good feedback from my six weeks spent in Dallas.

And it's probably a good time for the Stars right now with the struggles in NBA and NFL in Big D. Did you get to any games last year? Cowboys?

I did. I went to their home opener. It was unbelievable. It was myself and Cody Eakin. He had been to a Redskins game when he was with Washington and I had been to a Seahawks game when I was in Seattle, so it was nice to get to a game in Dallas. When you think of football you think of the Cowboys. That is the game down there.

Its definitely an experience. When I was in Austin my first year I went to a UT [University of Texas] Longhorns game and that was pretty sweet.

Do you get recognized around Surrey or Vancouver yet?

A little bit.

I guess the flow helps.

I was thinking about cutting it, because when I work out it gets in the way. I went swimming recently and I went to breathe and ended up with a clump of hair in my face.

But I'm almost more superstitious about it. My first two years of junior I had like short hair and it worked, but then my last year I grew it out and played better.

Hockey is one of the rare jobs where you are allowed - or even expected - to have long hair. So you might as well take advantage of that.

So let's talk about the homecoming game (against Vancouver). How were the pregame nerves? Don't tell me it was "just another game."

It definitely was not just another game.

Just flying in [to Vancouver] and driving by all of these places you used to eat at or whatever... the coolest thing was just getting there, the pregame skate that morning, just looking around to see places I had sat in at the stands before [at Rogers Arena]. But to actually get in the game. Warm ups were crazy, I don't think I have ever skated that fast.

And the game itself. I think my first shift I got a penalty from hitting Kesler.

Knowing Kesler, it may have been a bit of an embellishment.

Well the ref didn't think so. To have that go the way it did, I was freaking a bit in the penalty box, hoping I'd at least get another shift! Thankfully the penalty was killed off.

And the goal...

I kind of surprised myself.

No one was covering you there.

Yeah, I think it was supposed to be Kassian or Higgins.

Kassian.

I snuck back door and Benny put it right on my tape and I kind of blacked out and shot it.

It was nicer than your one against Edmonton, that is for sure.

I know Nugent-Hopkins from skating around here [in Vancouver] and after I scored that goal I didn't know whether to celebrate or not. And at the next draw, I saw him and he's like, "Dills... please tell me that wasn't your first goal."

Yeah, you wouldn't have wanted that one as your first goal.

Definitely not. And Dubnyk was our goalie at the World Championships. So the first thing when I got there was we looked at each other and had a chuckle over it.

That was my first experience with Hockey Canada, and it was unbelievable the way they treat you. And it was great getting to meet a lot of the guys you play against all season.

A lot of talent on that team too.

And with those guys, the high skill guys like Duchene, it seemed like their skill was just magnified at that tournament.

The bigger ice?

Yeah.

The big ice probably helped you in some ways, as a good skater, but I imagine the physical game was a lot harder.

You would look at the stat sheet after the game and the hits would be 3-2. I love being able to skate up with the puck, and there was so much more ice and so much more time. It was fun.

Did you find after you had established yourself on the Stars that people started treating you differently?

Players on the team?

Anyone. Fans, media, players. You went pretty quickly from a roster hopeful with upside to a mainstay on the back end.

I think so, yeah. You would get invites out to dinner with some of the guys. It gives you more confidence when you feel comfortable as one of the guys. At the NHL level guys have kids and wives, and I lived with Stephane Robidas so I got to see that side of things.

Are you back at the Robidas household next year?

I think I am going to go back for the first bit and then probably look for a place on my own once I get town.

It must have been an added bonus to live with not only your teammate but defensive partner, too.

I think that helped to establish some of that chemistry too. He's a physical guy and someone I want to mirror with his work ethic and toughness.

You guys seemed to find great chemistry right out of the gate.

He was so easy to play with. I think we complemented each other really well. He's an aggressive, physical guy, so every time there was a 2-on-2 I knew he was jumping up, or in a 1-on-1 in the corner I knew he was going to the man.

He was also so easy to talk to. The Ray Whitneys, the Brenden Morrows, those kind of guys were so easy to talk to.

And you played a bit with Alex Goligoski near the end of the year too.

He finished the season off really strong.

I think it was hard for him to live up to the expectations of the new contract, as well as seeing Neal's success in Pittsburgh.

He quietly had around 30 points [27]. People just see the tough parts of it.

Let's talk about the Seguin trade. I imagine you were good friends with some of the outgoing guys. And losing Eriksson will hurt. But in terms of value... I'd say Dallas made the right move.

What was [Seguin] drafted... second overall three years ago? I think it was a pretty even trade for both sides. Boston has guys like Rask, Bergeron, and Lucic that are all now making $6+ million, and Loui makes just over $4 million with a few years left.

How did you find living in Dallas as a rookie?

What an awesome city. It has to be one of the most underrated places to play in the league. It has the big downtown feel, but it is also really laid back and has some nice suburb areas. It has football, baseball, basketball, and tons of shows that come in.

So I see you started working with DefendingBigD a little bit?

Yeah. It's been great to interact with the fans in the Dallas market. I really like the direction of the organization, both on the ice and from a business standpoint. And it gave me an excuse to watch you guys play quite a bit.

Yeah, it's funny how things work. I remember when we talked last summer after you wrote about me, I had just played one game [in the NHL]. And halfway through the year, Mike Heika came to me and said, that interview you did with Jeff Angus last summer, its crazy how that kind of [foreshadowed]' things.

I was like, yeah, we planned that.

And next year should be even better with all of the additions.

I was talking at the Worlds with Hall and Eberle, and they had heard the rumblings that Horcoff was going to get traded. They said he's an unbelievable guy. He works his butt off.

And the only issue with him in Edmonton was his cap hit. Fans just look at the number and often ignore the actual contributions.

It's a business, but you can't hate a guy for making a lot of money.

Who are a few of the underrated guys you played against?

David Perron was one. He's physical. When you go to hit him in the corner, he does the reverse hit. He's not an easy guy to move. TJ Oshie is a really good player. Marian Hossa, Anze Kopitar, you look at these guys and they are really skilled, and they are also huge. You cant get them off the puck.

And that Josi that Nashville just locked up too. He's really good. When I went to Texas after my last year in Seattle, we played Milwaukee in the first round. I remember being really impressed with Josi's game.

Nashville as a team, too. You look at their roster and they don't have any superstars.

They basically have three third lines.

But they are so hard to play against. They play the same every year. And when they call guys up from the minors, those guys play the same, too.

Did you have an exit meeting with Dallas?

When I got back from Sweden I had a really good meeting with Les Jackson and Jim Nill. Just on my focuses for this year. I want to build on things, maybe help out more offensively.

With playing with Robi this year, we were more of a shut-down pairing.

You don't want to be rushing the puck or pinching up too much with Kane and Toews or Getzlaf and Perry on the ice.

Exactly. First and foremost is that defensive game, so it was good to focus on that.

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It is hard to peg where Brenden ends up in a few years. As he told me, five years ago he was a borderline WHL prospect hoping to earn a regular spot with the Seattle Thunderbirds. His rookie season in the NHL surpassed even the wildest expectations, and the Stars have high hopes for him entering year two. Just as they should. He's humble and well-spoken, and an absolute monster in the defensive zone. He sees the ice really well and is a great skater. Not many 6-3, 220 pound defensemen can skate like he does - one benefit of a very late growth spurt.

The Stars should be sending a few thank you baskets to their WHL scouts. It isn't every day (or any day) that you land a top pairing defenseman with considerable upside and intangibles galore for nothing more than a rookie contract.

We also talked some more about growing up in Vancouver, fitness, and nutrition. I posted that part of the interview over at my blog.

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