Training Camp Battles: Can Jason Dickinson begin his Dallas Stars career this season?
Jason Dickinson already made a successful NHL debut to compliment his successful AHL season. How quickly can he turn that AHL success into an NHL career is the question he must now answer.
Jason Dickinson probably already has a Dallas Stars letterman jacket to go along with his own parking space. But that's all the more reason for him to stay focused and not take anything for granted.
He began his career in the improbably named South Central Triple A Minor Midget league where he tallied 79 points in 59 games while drinking his juice in the hood. From there he'd spend the next four seasons in the OHL with the Guelph Storm.
Dickinson's time with Guelph is usually characterized as 'steady': a paragon of the 'five tools' player. Surrounded by talents like Scott Kosmachuk, Robby Fabbri, and Tyler Bertuzzi, Dickinson was never the team's premiere scorer, but that didn't mean his role was any less relevant. His two way play eventually earned him the role of captain his final year with Guelph.
His season with the Texas Stars for 2015-2016 started out a bit slow. Dickinson didn't figure into the scoresheet much, but hadn't yet assumed the role he'd take as the season wore on. When that happened, the end result was 53 points in 73 games: good for 7th in AHL rookie scoring (34th in overall scoring).
So you're saying there's a chance?
By now you're all familiar with the scouting reports going all the way back to when Dallas drafted him. He's a versatile forward who typically plays center, but is flexible at wing. He's fast, agile, more rugged than his boy scout version of Tyler Seguin looks would indicate, and can finish plays in addition to being able to set them up. Well, more or less. But not so fast.
Well yes, sooo fast. He doesn't have elite speed per se, but there's so much more to quality skating than just how much ice you can cover before the egg timer runs out. This gif is a good example because it highlights the skating element we call 'stride power'. Dickinson only needs a few effortless strides to reach maximum speed. However, none of this would matter much if he didn't make quick, and clever use of his winger (an unseen Matej Stransky).
While his production is obviously welcome, the following gif is a good example of the five tools skillset he offers. Here he is on the PK after goalie Jack Campbell received a deserved penalty for tripping.
I know you guys and gals want gifs to be action packed, which this one isn't, but it reinforces Dickinson's solid positional game on the PK. He understands the value of economy: he's never inert, but he's not moving so much that opponents can easily catch him out of position (which is Eakin's problem when it comes to defense). He's a big fan of Garbutt's classic chip-to-self against the boards for the shorthanded chance; which explains why he was tied for 4th in AHL shorthanded goal scoring (with 3).
At his best, Dickinson contributes in all three zones: able to support the defensemen down low, fast enough to beat forwards clogging the neutral, and with enough physicality and vision to cycle the puck or create plays in the opponent's zone.
There's no shortage of highlights of Dickinson doing yeoman's work for Texas. Between this slick footwork in the slot, and this fury road moment on the rush, he has as varied a highlight reel as any Dallas prospect.
Depth chart victim or depth chart valedictorian?
When Dallas let Vernon Fiddler walk, Nill and Ruff understood why. It was a tough to say goodbye to 'ole Fids (for reasons that sometimes did and didn't have to do with hockey), but Dallas now has a glut of capable centers who can fill his spot. Dickinson is at the top of the list.
At minimum, Dickinson will be one of the first injury callups. The only way I see Dickinson spending most of his time in Cedar Park is if Eakin is correctly given 4C duties. Even then it would open up room for Dickinson to play left wing. The other roadblock is Devin Shore. Shore was on a blistering path before getting injuried, at and hanging on near the top of AHL goal scoring for weeks after his season had already ended due to injury. Might some friendly competition hinder his chances of breaking through this season?
If Dickinson doesn't crack the lineup this season, he certainly will next season. If there are any legitimate criticisms against him, it's typically related to consistency. However, 'consistency' is such a nebulous term for a player who plays a legitimate two game. Perhaps the concern beneath the vague language is Dickinson's offensive ceiling, and that's a reasonable one. But anyone expecting Dickinson to replace Jason Spezza in two years is bound to be disappointed. What Dickinson lacks in offensive flair he makes up for in versatility with and without the puck.
Dickinson being a part of Dallas' future isn't a matter of if, but when.