In hockey, as in life, patience can be a great virtue. Some prospects take longer than others to develop, and not everybody progresses at the same pace.
This was certainly the case for 2014 sixth-round pick Dylan Sikura, who arrived at his first Blackhawks prospect camp four years ago as an undersized 19-year-old. He had just completed three seasons in the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL) and had plans to matriculate at Northeastern that fall.
"I struggled my first year when I got there," Sikura said. "I was definitely smaller, and it took a little bit of time to adjust, coming from a smaller junior league."
His freshman year yielded just five goals and two assists in 25 games, but he grew into his game the following season, picking up 28 points (10G, 18A) in 39 games as a sophomore to help the Huskies claim the Hockey East title and make the Frozen Four tournament.
The growth between years one and two was promising, but in 2016-17 the self-professed "late bloomer" truly flourished, finding another level to his game. Another year in college hockey meant more trust from the coach, more confidence in his game and -- crucially -- consistent execution in front of the net. Sikura's 21 goals were his highest total dating back to Triple A, showing off an improved shooting mentality, and he finished sixth in the nation with 57 points.
"You get a little bit of confidence and you get to know the guys in the locker room, all the coaches, the systems, stuff like that," Sikura explained. "With confidence, obviously you need some opportunity, and I think I had a really good opportunity there, got a lot of ice time, got put in positions where I was able to produce."
Goalscoring has added another dimension to Sikura's game, which is defined by his acute vision and slick playmaking abilities. He grew up playing wing exclusively until age 16, when his coach moved him to center. In college, Sikura returned to the wing, and that's where the Blackhawks project him to have the most success.
"Being on the wing, I can fly up and down the boards and I'm first on the rush, so it's a good position for me to be able to create offensively," he said.
Sikura's eye-opening junior season clearly impressed the Blackhawks' talent evaluators, who deemed him ready to turn pro in the spring. But Sikura decided to be patient with himself, declaring his return to Northeastern to finish his collegiate career as well as a degree in criminal justice.
He explained that getting his diploma would allow him to focus even more squarely on hockey in the future. And returning for a fourth year could only help his game, much like it had helped fellow Blackhawks prospects John Hayden and Anthony Louis, who completed their tours at Yale and Miami of Ohio, respectively, before signing their pro contracts.
"The first three years you kind of work your way to have the ability to sign, so now that it's on the table, the pressure's off my back and I can just go out there and play my game," Sikura said.
After gaining the confidence of the team that drafted him, Sikura's attention is focused on making the most of his senior campaign before potentially joining the pro ranks in the spring.
"We're going to have a good team at Northeastern," he said. "I know we've won Hockey East but I think [the goal is] maybe a national championship or the Beanpot."