Brenden Dillon is a late bloomer. And in some ways it is no surprise. He got a bit of a late start on his junior hockey career.
He was passed over in the Western Hockey League’s Bantam draft, which Dillon was eligible for the year he would turn fifteen. The reason he was overlooked? He was too small.
“I remember the whole thing. I was sitting with my dad, we were watching it on the computer screen, 15 rounds went by and I had been passed over,” Dillon said of the WHL draft. “It was one of those things where everyone was over six feet tall and I was there at 5-2.”
And about 105 pounds or so, Dillon said. Two years later, however, things had changed.
“At 17, I came into the Seattle (WHL) camp at 5-10 or 5-11 and ended up making the team,” said Dillon. “Here I am now at 6-3.”
And it's 209 pounds these days. His next camp will be in Charlottetown, Prince Edward this September and he'll be attending as one of the top defense prospects of the Dallas Stars.
“He’s come into his own, he’s a late bloomer,” said Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk.
But his path to landing a spot with an NHL team was a familiar one. Dillon was passed over in the NHL Entry Draft, although he was ranked 91st among North American skaters in 2009.
“He was passed over in the draft and our guys have kept an eye on him,” said Nieuwendyk.
Dillon did get a lot of attention last season as he had a breakout campaign with Seattle. He finished fifth in scoring among WHL defensemen with 59 points (8 goals, 51 assists) in 72 games. Several NHL teams were interested in signing him as a free agent, and he agreed to an entry-level deal with Dallas in the spring.
Dillon showed why the interest was so high when he joined the Texas Stars on an amateur tryout contract late last season after his junior career came to an end. Texas was shorthanded on the blue line due to injuries and call ups, forcing Dillon to get pushed into the mix right away. He was impressive in how quickly he made the adjustment to the pro game from juniors.
“For the first couple games I was just trying to keep it simple and just try to play to my strengths – my speed and my physical play. I think as I got more comfortable I started to hop into the rush some more, which is what I like to do,” Dillon said. “I ended up getting a couple points towards the end and I actually got into a fight in the playoffs, which is something I won’t shy away from but at the same time don’t really go looking for.”
In the Calder Cup Playoffs, he had two assists in six games, logged big minutes and played in all key situations for Texas. That fight Dillon mentioned was against Milwaukee's Kelsey Wilson, a tough customer who has racked up some big penalty minute numbers during his pro career. Dillon's performance during the playoffs drew favorable reviews.
“He’s an amazing player. He’s big, he skates well, and he sees the ice,” veteran defenseman Brad Lukowich said back in April. “You see the minutes that he’s logging and he’s just fresh out of juniors. He’s one of those guys that he is supposed to make mistakes once in a while, but we’re still waiting for him to do it. He’s just a smart hockey player.”
The 20-year-old will begin his pro career full time this season. It won’t be easy to crack the Dallas lineup based on the roster right now, but he should get a pretty good look in training camp and he doesn’t appear to be too far away from seeing some NHL action. A lot will depend on how he fares at training camp.
“I’m excited,” Dillon said. “Going into camp you want to make goals for yourself and as a prospect your goal is to make the Dallas Stars as soon as you can. That’s mine as well. I just want to go in and do my best to make the decision hard for the coaches and that’s all I can control.”
Being in that kind of position isn’t bad for a guy who six years ago got passed over in the WHL’s Bantam Draft for being too small.
“It’s one of those stories where maybe those guys that are shrimps or on the smaller end,” Dillon said, “you have to just keep battling.”
And a growth spurt can help too.