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Dickinson offers teams the complete package in NHL draft


Sam Dickinson celebrated his 18th birthday at the NHL scouting combine in Buffalo earlier this month.

"It's a little bit funny," the London Knights defenceman said. "I got a cake from Central Scouting there. It was like a chocolate and vanilla mix. It was pretty good. I got to enjoy a cake there with my roommate Jared Woolley. I guess that was my birthday for the year. A little touch that I wasn't expecting."

A bigger celebration will take place on June 28 in Las Vegas where Dickinson is expected to be among the first names called in the draft at the Sphere. 

Dickinson produced 70 points in 68 regular-season games this season before adding 13 points in 18 playoff games as the Knights won the Ontario Hockey League championship. And he kept on impressing at the combine. Despite devouring the birthday cake – "It went down pretty quick" – Dickinson's body fat was only 3.64 per cent in the fitness testing, which tied for the best mark. 

"A little surprising," the 6-foot-3, 203 pounder said. "But I understand the importance of taking care of my body in terms of the diet that I keep. I keep making sure that I'm eating the right foods and at the right time and also, you know, getting the right sleep and working out whenever I get the chance. So, I think it's a combination of a lot of things that I've put a lot of work into."

There's not a lot of fat in Dickinson's game either. He's lean and mean at both ends of the rink. 

"The big thing for me is just the completeness of my game," the Toronto native said. "A lot of really special defencemen in this draft, but I don't think there's a guy that kind of has everything that I have from the offence, the defence, my size and my skating ability. I think that's kind of the thing that sets me apart is how well I do everything all over the ice and not just, you know, one certain side of the puck or anything like that."

Dickinson's stock is on the rise. He moved up one spot to No. 6 on Bob McKenzie's latest list of top prospects, which is based on a sampling of scouts. TSN director of scouting Craig Button has Dickinson going to the Anaheim Ducks at No. 3 in his latest mock draft, which was released Monday.

During a conversation with TSN, Dickinson reflected on his season and explained why he was able to elevate in the big moments, including in the Memorial Cup championship game. He also spoke about what it would be like to stay close to home with the Senators and why he had to contemplate a fight with Arber Xhekaj during a meeting with the Montreal Canadiens.

The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
TSN: What's the toughest question you faced during your 20 interviews at the combine? 

Dickinson: Everybody heard that Utah was asking about our Uber ratings and that kind of stuff, but for me it was the meeting with Montreal. There were a couple interesting questions and some hypotheticals. It was kind of fun and a different experience from the rest.

TSN: What's one hypothetical they asked about? 

Dickinson: If you got into a [conditioning] skate race with Xhekaj and you were beating him a good amount of times, but then he told you that you were going to have to let him win the last race, what do you do? I said that I'd win the race. And then they asked, if we were scrimmaging the next day and he asked me to fight, how would that go down? So, definitely an interesting one. 

TSN: And?

Dickinson: Well, I had to say, you know, at that point I'd have to fight him. I don't know how it would go down for me but, you know, I think I would get a little bit of respect for just having a fight with him. 

TSN: Do you have any fights on your resume? 

Dickinson: I don't, so I don't know how exactly it would go, but something I'd have to get into at that point. 

TSN: What was the interview like with Ottawa?

Dickinson: Another one of the interesting ones. They kind of tried to grill you a little bit more and kind of get the truth out. That one was a little more intense, especially knowing that there's been some talk about me heading to Ottawa. Definitely one that I kind of was looking forward to and wanted to show my best in and impress. And I think, at the end of the day, it went really well.

TSN: What do you think about the possibility of staying close to home and being drafted by the Senators? 

Dickinson: That would be really cool. It's the closest team to my hometown in Toronto other than Toronto. That kind of dynamic of being able to stay pretty close to home would be obviously a nice thing. It's a Canadian market with unbelievable fans. You see the front office at the combine and it's obviously a very well-run organization. It would be an absolute honour if I was to go there. 

TSN: Were you a Leafs fan growing up? 

Dickinson: I'm actually a Montreal Canadiens fan, so a little bit different than everybody else in Toronto. 

TSN: How did that happen? 

Dickinson: My dad was a Montreal fan, so I was kind of was forced to be a Montreal fan, I guess. We had a bunch of Montreal Canadiens stuff, jerseys and memorabilia, down in our basement and didn't have any Toronto stuff. He hates the Leafs. He said [that] me and my brother have to hate the Leafs as well and be Montreal fans. We just went along with it. 

TSN: You had a goal and a primary assist during the Memorial Cup final. Despite the loss to Saginaw, how did you feel about your performance in that spotlight game?

Dickinson: Probably one of my better games of the year and shows the growth that I've had in my game through the year. When you look from the beginning of the year to the end, probably a lot of my better games came in that final part of the year, especially the Memorial Cup and the OHL finals. In that game, specifically, just kind of sparking that comeback [from 3-0 down] a little bit. Our whole team wanted to win. I got to play a part in the comeback and have that goal to tie it up. In the end, it didn't really mean much, but I think it just kind of shows my play style and how, when we get down and things are needed, I'm a guy that steps up.

TSN: Why do you think you are able to elevate in those big moments? 

Dickinson: It's just kind of the person that I am. I live to play in the biggest games and on the biggest stage. I want the lights on me and that kind of stuff. I think I've earned that through the year with how I've played. Being in London and on such an incredible team, we've had the opportunity to have the spotlight on us.

TSN: You doubled your goal total this season going from nine to 18. What worked well offensively? 

Dickinson: A big thing for me this year was more confidence. I had a full year under my belt in the OHL and also had the trust from the coaches to take the reins to the offence a little bit. That was huge for my confidence early in the year. To see the trust that they had in me meant a lot. And I think I really took that and kind of ran with it and showed what my offensive capabilities are. 

TSN: You finished plus-56, which was second overall in the OHL. You were a minus player in only five of the 68 games. What did you like about your defensive game?

Dickinson: It's another thing tied to confidence. You can look at the production change from last year, but I think more important than that is the minute increase from last year to this year. I was playing a lot of big minutes and against the top teams, against the top guys in the league. The plus-minus stat kind of speaks to our team and how good we were there. Luckily for me, I was on the ice at the right times and creating plays offensively, but at the same time defensively not really giving up much. I was just being a pest all over the ice. I think the defensive side of my game is even stronger than my offensive side and I showed that a lot throughout the year. 

TSN: You move very well for a 6-foot-3 guy. How did you develop that skating skill? 

Dickinson: A little bit of it just kind of came naturally to me. From a young age, I've always been a pretty good skater. At the same time, I've put a lot of effort and work into it. I put a lot of time in with my skating coach. I put in all the reps to, not perfect it, but make it a really big, strong suit of my game and something that has helped me all over the ice and kind of made me the player that I am today. 

TSN: In terms of style of play, who is your NHL role model? 

Dickinson: A big one for me this year has been Miro Heiskanen on Dallas with the way that he kind of controls the game with his skating ability. A pretty big guy that skates so well and is a factor offensively, defensively and plays the big minutes and in important situations. He's one the best defencemen on one of the best teams in the league. 

TSN: What stood out to you about the season teammate Easton Cowan put together en route to being named OHL MVP? 

Dickinson: You look at the point streak and the point total and all of those kind of things, he's such a special player. The best player in the league this year for sure. But I think the thing with him is just how hard he works. There are things that we get to see away from the rink that you don't get to see during the games. We get to see how hard he works in practice and in the gym and what he's like in the dressing room. That kind of stuff is the stuff that I really take away from him this year. He pushes a lot of guys on our team to be better with how hard he works. He's always doing the right thing, on and off the ice. Just a guy that, as a leader on our team, is pretty easy to look up to and follow when you need to know what to do. 

TSN: Cowan was a first-round pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs last year. Did he give you any advice on the draft year?

Dickinson: Yeah, definitely. I was lucky in London to have a lot of guys that have gone through this process before with Easton and Denver [Barkey] and Oliver [Bonk] last year and then obviously a lot of guys the year before as well. I like to pick their brains a little bit and kind of get perspective from them on what they went through and be ready for whatever curveballs come. A big thing from all of them was just to soak it all in. It's a once in a lifetime year. We're never going to really go through all this stuff again. So, you know, 'Go do your best, but at the same time enjoy all of it and remember all of it as well.'