Early this evening, Dillon Simpson played in his first NHL game. It marked another hurdle cleared for a young defenseman who has made consistent progress over the 5+ seasons since his draft day. From a pre-draft scouting report that pointed out he was a ‘sluggish’ skater through today, Dillon Simpson has never been a sure bet for advancement. On the occasion of his first NHL game, it is fitting to have a look back to see all the things he overcame—and the players passed along the way.
- Chosen No. 92 overall
- Red Line Report: Stay at home defencemen with savvy and size. Son of former longtime
NHL’er Craig Simpson has very good hockey sense and understands game
situations instinctively. Had trouble getting qualilty icetime as a
17-year-old true freshman on deep, veteran defence corps of top
collegiate program, but did show steady progress adjusting to the pace
of play against older, stronger opponents. Rarely saw the ice on either
special teams units. Sluggish skater with a short stride, but shows good
gap control and lateral mobility. Tentative to do anything offensively
and always has one foot back on defence. Doesn’t see the ice well and
hurries to get the puck off his stick. Makes sharp defensive reads and
is rarely out of position. Struggled 1-on-1 in the corners and down log
against more physically developed forwards.
One of my favorite draft observers is Kirk Luedeke, who is now part of Red Line Report but at the time was an independent operator. His assessment of Simpson is frank, fair, and informs the reader why this is a promising prospect. Luedeke’s report perfectly reflects a 17-year old playing against men, some of whom are five or more years older.
- Kirk Luedeke: The son of former
NHL forward and HNIC analyst Craig Simpson (and nephew of television
reporter Christine Simpson) has decent size at 6-1, 195. He scored 2
goals and 10 points in 30 games as a freshman and wasn’t overly involved
in the offensive scheme/didn’t get a lot of ice time. He’s a work in
progress who has some soft hands and hockey sense, but isn’t a great
skater. He’s slow out of the blocks and needs to work on his stride to
get the most out of his movement. Scouts see intriguing elements of his
game, but after 12 goals and 41 points last year with Spruce Grove of
the AJHL, more of an impact was expected from him- he did not deliver.
This is not to say Simpson isn’t a legitimate NHL prospect- he is. He
grew up around the game and has the natural athleticism to be a player,
but this season showed that it is going to take time and he’d require a
leap of faith for a team to draft him in the first two rounds.
This was summer 2011. From that day forward, Simpson made progress—it is rare, because prospects rarely if ever develop in a straight line. Without fail, every year saw Simpson take on more responsibility, improve across the board, and prove himself to be an integral part of his team. It was uncanny, and for someone who looks for patterns I checked in often, looking for signs of a downturn or failure.
Never came. Part of his impressive development may be due to his self awareness. An interview with Alan Hull of Copper & Blue in Jan/2013 is a great scouting report on a player 18 months after his draft.
- Simpson: Well, for anyone who has
followed me since before I was drafted, the draft notes likely all said
that footspeed was something I need to improve, and so it’s something
that I’ve really been working on over the last couple of years with my
coaches and with the strength and conditioning coach. We’ve really tried
to put a lot of emphasis on that part of my game and I think that so
far this year it has been showing. I feel like I’m able to get myself up
into the play a lot more. I feel much more confident in my foot speed in
terms of being able to keep up with plays and close gaps. It’s
certainly something I feel is improving and I’m going to continue
working on it, so it’s definitely getting better.
- Coach Dave Hakstol October 2013:
“He’s only 20 years old, we have freshmen older than him. But it’s
really not about the date on your birth certificate, it’s about your
level of maturity and your life experiences, your mindset and your
ability to be consistent and accountable and do things the right way. I
think Dillon is at the highest level of those areas.”
His college career featured all kinds of articles like that one, anecdotal information suggesting Simpson had moved up the depth chart, taken on more of the load, succeeded at that level, and kept going. Here is a game report from his final college game.
- Dillon Simpson’s final game for North Dakota was one for the ages.
He was huge, and I’m not just talking about the two back door plays he
broke up. He also blocked two shots, played a ton of minutes, and
assisted on Connor Gaarder’s game-tying goal.
At the pro level, Dillon Simpson has progressed as you might expect: Nothing spectacular, but slow and steady progress up the depth chart. His coach, Gerry Fleming, paid him a massive compliment in regard to his 2015-16 performance:
- Gerry Fleming: “Overall, I think Dillon Simpson was our most consistent d-man all year long.” Source
On recent editions of the Lowdown, I have invited prospect insider Simon Boisvert to express his opinion on Oilers kids. Boisvert, like Red Line, is frank and honest in his assessments, and had this to say about Simpson.
- On Dillon Simpson: He has been there
for awhile now, he is 23. He always makes the safe play, I think if it
weren’t for his lack of foot speed he would be in the NHL as a sixth or
seventh defenseman. He will never generate much offense but he doesn’t
make too many mistakes.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
I have long since given up on predicting Dillon Simpson’s future based on critical scouting reports and humble boxcars. If I had to guess? A few games this year in the NHL, increasing over the next year or two and peaking out with a few full seasons in the show.
He has established this: Normal prospect tracking doesn’t apply. Dillon Simpson is writing his own story, we are just going to have to watch and see.
Photos by Mark Williams, all rights reserved.