CEDAR PARK, Texas -- Defenseman Brenden Dillon has been with the Texas Stars about one month and he’s already making an impression. He’s really made an impression on veteran defenseman Brad Lukowich, who has been around since the Calder Cup Playoffs began.
“I haven’t been here very long, but I don’t think he’s going to be here very long either playing the way he is,” quipped Lukowich, who was with the Dallas Stars when Dillon joined Texas in late March. “He’s an amazing player. He’s big, he skates well, he sees the ice.”
And Dillon is making an impact for Texas as well, playing a key role on the blue line in the playoffs.
“You see the minutes that he’s logging and he’s just fresh out of juniors,” said Lukowich. “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 Dillon played ten regular season games with Texas and has played five in the playoffs, registering two assists and a plus-one rating while playing big minutes and in key situations, including the penalty kill.
“Coming in from junior I didn’t want to try and do too much,” Dillon said. “I wanted to keep my game as simple as possible and tried to use my strengths— skate when I get chances, join the play when I can and be physical.”
Dillon, an undrafted free agent, impressed a lot of people this season, his final year of junior hockey with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League. He had 59 points (8 goals, 51 assists) in 72 games, finishing fifth among WHL defensemen in scoring.
“He was passed over in the draft and our guys have kept an eye on him,” said Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. “He’s come into his own, he’s a late bloomer. Our guys spoke very highly of him, we spent a lot of time watching him, talking to his agent and we’re glad that he came to us.”
There were several teams interested in signing Dillon and in early March he signed a three-year entry-level with Dallas.
“I don’t know exactly how many, but off the top of my head I would say there were eight to ten teams that I talked to and went on interviews with them,” Dillon said. “When it came down to things with my agent, my family and myself, just looking for the best opportunity and the best team available, Dallas was it. I talked with them from day one and they seemed really interested. I really look forward to being part of this organization.”
Dillon wasn’t taken in the WHL’s Bantam Draft either. He was too small back then. But he went through a growth spurt (he’s now listed at 6-3, 209 pounds). He kept plugging away and caught the attention of the Thunderbirds, who brought him on board. He played four seasons in Seattle, and had a breakout campaign in 2010-11. He was named the team’s co-MVP, top defenseman and most improved player.
“He’s big. I like the size, the range,” said Nieuwendyk. “He’s got a good long stick. He’s got a good swivel head on d-zone coverage. He reads the game really well and he can skate really well for a big man, too. He’s not afraid to join the rush and with those legs he can get back and not get himself in any trouble.”
Dillon joined Texas after the WHL regular season ended since Seattle missed the playoffs, and he was thrown into the mix right away. Lukowich was in Dallas due to injuries up there and Texas had its own injuries issues on the blue line.
“The first game they kind of threw me into the fire and it was good,” said Dillon. “Everyone is on the same page here and I was just doing my best to come in and contribute where I could. I think coming in here and getting the invaluable experience of playing the last couple games for the team and now the playoffs, I’m getting used to the physicality and the guys being bigger. It’s good to get settled in here and I think I’m playing my game, using my skating and playing physical.
“I am getting more comfortable.”
Most of the people who have seen Dillon play with Texas notice how comfortable he looks despite being in the AHL for only one month, and that includes Nieuwendyk.
“He’s been impressive because he hasn’t been here that long,” the Stars GM said. “He looks like he’s been here all year.”
West Division Semifinals
The Texas Stars and Milwaukee Admirals play Game 6 of the West Division Semifinals Monday night in Milwaukee. The Admirals lead the best-of-seven series 3-2.
Series schedule (Milwaukee leads 3-2)
Game 1 – Milwaukee 5, Texas 2
Game 2 – Texas 3, Milwaukee 1
Game 3 – Texas 3, Milwaukee 2 (OT)
Game 4 – Wed., Apr. 20 – Milwaukee 3, Texas 2
Game 5 – Fri., Apr. 22 – Milwaukee 2, Texas 1 (OT)
Game 6 – Mon., Apr. 25 – Texas at Milwaukee, 7:00
Game 7 – Tue., Apr. 26 – Texas at Milwaukee, 7:00*