Players to Watch, 2016-17: Jason DickinsonJun 16, 2016
April 7, 2016 was the day everything came together for Jason Dickinson.
After scoring 231 points for the Ontario Hockey League’s Guelph Storm during his junior career, being tabbed as a first-round selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, and skyrocketing up the AHL lineup in Cedar Park, Dickinson made his NHL debut for the Dallas Stars.
At 15:13 of the first period, he scored his first career NHL goal to give Dallas a 1-0 lead. He scored the goal against Colorado’s Calvin Pickard, a player he had beaten earlier in the season when the Texas Stars hosted San Antonio. In each game, Dickinson was the spark to lead his team to a win.
|Jason Dickinson: By the Numbers
“I thought he played well for his first NHL game,” added Dallas head coach Lindy Ruff.
“I think I blacked out there when the puck landed on my stick and I saw the empty net,” said the Georgetown, Ontario native after his first NHL game. “I just shoveled it on net. I didn’t think too much of it. I was just praying that it went in and, thankfully enough, it did.”
Hockey fans in Cedar Park had grown accustomed to seeing Dickinson produce at key moments throughout his first full season of pro hockey. After tasting things with a handful of AHL games at the conclusion of his OHL career in 2014-15, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound forward entered his rookie campaign with high expectations and did not disappoint.
Despite a somewhat slow start with just four points in his first nine games of the season, Dickinson turned up the production with 11 points in 11 November games. Then in January, he cemented himself in the conversation as one of the AHL’s top rookies with 16 points in 11 games. He scored nine goals over a nine-game stretch during that month, including three straight games with the deciding goal.
“Once you get in the groove you just keep playing, you just keep shooting,” said Dickinson last February. “Everything’s feeling great. You got a great handle on the puck. Everything you want to come out off of your stick is coming off right.”
The Stars’ Curtis McKenzie was the AHL’s Rookie of the Year after the 2013-14 season. By comparison, McKenzie never scored more than 12 points in a month during his rookie campaign.
Last season, the Texas Stars endured extended injuries to captain Travis Morin, Greg Rallo, Devin Shore and Justin Dowling, which opened the door for Dickinson. His 53 points were fourth on the team and seventh among AHL rookies. His 22 goals were tied for third on the team and fifth among AHL rookies. But while the offensive numbers are what make headlines, the 21-year-old’s defensive play is what rounds him out as an impact player. At one point in his junior career, the normally-positioned forward had to line up as a defenseman for a game – against the NHL’s 2015 first overall pick, Connor McDavid.
“They just really challenge you and really push you,” said Dickinson on playing against elite players. “You got to learn at a young age at 16. Like, in Guelph I was thrown right into the fire at 16. You’re a young team so it took a lot of responsibility then, and you’ve got to learn right from there.”
Those early defensive lessons made him a fixture on the penalty kill for the majority of the 2015-16 campaign. By the end of the season, Dickinson was running the power play and taking defensive zone faceoffs. He finished tied for the team lead with four game-winning goals last year, and was tied for fourth in the league overall with three shorthanded tallies.
The five game-deciding goals Dickinson scored in 2015-16 were a microcosm of his season in Texas overall: one shorthanded, one on the power-play, two even-strength and one to win a shootout. He contributed to every facet of a hockey game and on April 7th Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill had seen enough for that memorable first call-up and NHL debut.
It’s only a matter of time before Jason Dickinson is a fixture in the Dallas Stars lineup, especially on the penalty kill. But for the time being, he is a player to watch in Texas for the 2016-17 season.