Many of the names and faces comprising the pro group at Blackhawks Prospect Camp this year are familiar to fans, and their daily training sessions have created excitement and anticipation for the future of the club. Amidst the Rockford IceHogs mainstays, former first-round draft picks and blue-chip free-agent signings, one player looking to add his name to the list of marquee prospects is 20-year-old Dillon Fournier, the newest defenseman added to the pro system after spending four seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Fournier, the Blackhawks' second-round selection in 2012, arrives with considerably less fanfare than the top pick from his draft class (Teravainen), but with ample upside of his own. Although he cites retired Detroit Red Wing Nicklas Lidstrom as his inspiration, on the ice Fournier is more of a shifty, mobile defenseman who's apt to join the rush. Senior Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Kelley views him as a player who will complement others on his team: "He has the ability to play with smart, skilled players; his strength is his mobility and his puck decisions."
The Montreal native traces his hockey roots back to his father, who never played professionally but bestowed his love of the sport to his three sons: Stefan, Dillon and Ty. Family ties have always been strong, and they eased Fournier's entry into the QMJHL after he was drafted first overall by the Lewiston MAINEiacs in 2010, where Stefan, two years older and a forward, was already playing.
"Getting a chance to play with my brother for the first [year]—it was a special time for us, and it was an awesome memory, getting to play with him at an older age," Fournier said. He recorded 14 points in 60 regular-season games that season and added a couple of assists in 11 playoff appearances, helping Lewiston reach the semifinals.
When Lewiston folded following the 2010-11 season, the QMJHL held a dispersal draft, and there, too, Fournier was the first name called, this time by Rouyn-Noranda. He rewarded them by logging 29 assists and 38 points in just 52 regular-season contests, fourth-most on the team and second among blueliners. Fournier's point totals dropped the following season, but he broke out in the playoffs, putting up 12 points (4G, 8A) in 14 games as the Huskies made the semifinals, falling to eventual QMJHL and Memorial Cup champion Halifax.
The 2013-14 season was due to be Fournier's breakout campaign, and it began according to plan, as Fournier stepped into a bigger role for the Huskies. "I was getting a lot of ice time, a lot of chances offensively," he said. "My role increased with guys [from the previous season] leaving, so I got a lot of opportunities up front."
Fournier was nearly a point-per-game defenseman from September through December, tallying a career-high 13 goals and posting 32 points in 36 games before losing the rest of the season to shoulder surgery. But while the injury derailed Fournier's quest for a QMJHL title, it did come with a silver lining—a pro contract with the Blackhawks, marking the beginning of a new chapter in his career.
The blue line happens to be a particular area of strength for the organization, with the depth chart headlined by AHL First-Team All-Star Adam Clendening, steady Swede Klas Dahlbeck and bruising physical specimen Stephen Johns. Watching and learning from them is all part of the appeal for Fournier, both at camp this week and looking ahead to next season.
"At this stage in your career, a big part of a defenseman’s game is development, so having that competition and the group of guys we have is going to push everyone to be a lot better in the future," he said. "You see the intensity in the practices, and the competitiveness of the guys, so keeping up with them is something you can take from [camp.]"
One face Fournier is especially glad to see this week at camp is former defensive partner Mathieu Brisebois, who was acquired in a trade with the Phoenix Coyotes a month before Fournier signed his own contract.
"We played pretty much our entire two years together [in Rouyn-Noranda] as partners," Fournier said. "It was awesome to hear when he got traded over here."
His excitement over the reunion is warranted: Brisebois and Fournier racked up points as a duo, totaling 94 points in 120 combined regular-season games in 2011-12, then compiling 97 in 123 the following campaign. Should a similar pattern emerge in the AHL, it would create a pleasant dilemma for the Blackhawks' decision-makers over the next few years.
There will be an adjustment period, of course, as Fournier tests out his rehabbed shoulder and tries to establish himself in the pro game. "Everything happens a little bit faster [in the AHL] and there’s a little bit less space," Kelley said. "For him it’s going to be more of an acclimation—finding a comfort level out there."
Off the ice, Fournier knows there's more of a personal responsibility to be shouldered. But he's gotten some good advice along the way: "Be professional, and don’t take any shifts off." With steady improvements in his game and expert guidance awaiting him in the AHL, Fournier aims to do just that.