The future of the Dallas Stars blue line has been redefined over the past two summers. It started with Patrick Nemeth and John Klingberg, who continue to impress out of Sweden. It continued with the addition of 25 year old Alex Goligoski in mid-season who will be an RFA and under Stars control for some time. Jamieson Oleksiak and Troy Vance joined the fold just weeks ago in the 2011 draft, and let us not forget about the talented Mr. Philip Larsen who is developing his talents in Cedar Park with the Texas Stars.
Yet despite all of that, the prospect that might have the Defending Big D writers drooling the most is the 20 year old, undrafted Brenden Dillon from the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL.
To our everlasting shame DBD did not even opine on the subject in early March when he signed. He seemed another long term project. Fabian Brunnstrom might have permanently removed the shine from the phrase "late bloomer" and Mr. Dillon was lost in the shuffle of a busy finish to the season.
Fast forward nearly five months and the tune has changed significantly. It's not only a surprise to us, however. I asked Brenden if this is where he thought he'd be a year ago, which elicited quite a smile from the young man.
"No. Definitely not," he said grinning. "It's definitely been a whirlwind of a year. It was March 1st I ended up signing and the next thing you know I was down in Austin at the end of the year. I finished off pretty strong down there but unfortunately we lost in the first round."
Notice the first place his minds drifts is to the team and it's fate when being asked about himself; A team he barely had time to become a part of once he left the WHL and finished his year in the AHL. It's surely an attitude valued by this front office and coaching staff.
"I was just kind of seeing where I'd fit in," he says of his stint in Austin. "I got down there and I was one of those guys who was bright eyed and wanting to learn as much as I could. I was fortunate enough where I was able to go in and play some games and kind of just did what I could to show how well I could play and I think I did a good job there and got rewarded with some more ice time. I was lucky enough to get put into some of those [playoff] positions so it was awesome."
At a development camp where the Oleksiak's and Klingberg's of the world are getting the majority of the fan attention, it's Dillon who looks the most NHL ready. With four seasons of juniors under his belt and a physical maturity to match, it is not outside the realm of possibility that he could see NHL action next season under the right set of circumstances.
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It's tough to compare him to any one defenseman currently on the Stars roster. If you add two parts Nick Grossman, one part Trevor Daley and one part Mark Fistric I think you might come out to something close. I asked him how he views himself...
"I kind of think of myself as an all around defenseman who can join the play and be offensive but at the same time play a physical game. I'm a pretty big guy, 6-3 and a quarter. I think I move pretty well for a big man and I think my skating is probably my best attribute."
At the NHL level his game probably translates to a physical, defensive defenseman. A possible penalty killer with a little bit of offensive upside, though that part must be proven at the AHL level first. In juniors his point totals were 11, 10, 14, and then the explosion came with 59 points(!) in his last season with the Thunderbirds, where he served as team captain.
He's humble about the new found offense. "I gained more confidence throughout the year and was able to make some plays with the puck, but also didn't shy away from a physical game." He steers the conversation back that physical game often. We like that.
Like his cohorts (Tyler Beskorowany for one, who came up and gave Dillon a hard time while we talked...) he's just enjoying his summer and relishing this chance to become a part of an NHL system, including the recent development camp.
"You get to see some new faces and meet everybody in the organization and you get to see the other prospects. It's really good. The sort of stuff they've got us doing on the ice...It's everything from stick-handling stuff you may not get a chance to do during the season and stuff you definitely want to work on over the course of the summer."
With four years of juniors under his belt and at the ripe old age of 20, he's eligible to play in the AHL full time next year and should see regular duty on the Texas Stars blue line. Still, he's eying a possible Dallas Stars training camp in September. "My goal is to do the best I can to make it hard on the coaching staff and grow and go from there."
If he continues his recent skyward trajectory there's no telling how quickly he could knock on the NHL door, but he'll likely be given a season or two in the AHL to play against some more intense competition. In the mean time, the well-spoken, humble young man seems happy to just be where he is, considering where he was last summer.
"It's good being at camp and seeing where I was a year ago when I couldn't even get a tryout with anybody, to now being signed and seeing where I am...it's pretty special."