"If you watch him, you'd never know he's 19-years-old."
It's an observation Isles Head Coach Barry Trotz has stated on multiple accounts and one that follows the broader narrative surrounding the Islanders rookie defenseman - and newest addition - Noah Dobson.
Dobson, the Isles' 2018 first-round (12th overall), cracked the team's 23-man roster to start the season after a head-turning training camp. After sitting out the first two games of the season, he could make his NHL debut as soon as Tuesday night against the Edmonton Oilers.
"It would be a huge dream come true, something you work towards all your life," Dobson said. "I'm just going to stay ready and if I get the opportunity I'll just enjoy the moment and have a good game."
Dobson's play is both captivating and appears effortless. His style isn't loud or flashy, but rather, the young blueliner plays with an inherent poise and quiet confidence showcased with each of his smooth strides.
Video: The game itself doesn't overwhelm him
Combine his immaculate timing, precise shot, deceptive hands, vigilant awareness and sharp hockey IQ; he can make plays no matter what zone he's in. Despite all of his spectacular assets as a budding NHLer with an accomplished junior resume, Dobson radiates humility.
"He's humble, in terms of what he does," Trotz explained. "He tries to get better all of the time, his poise and his vision, he's a really easy skater when it comes to getting around the pond and his hockey sense and hockey IQ are off the charts. The only thing is that he's still a young man. Once you get that man strength, you're going to see no different than that."
Due to American Hockey League restrictions that prevent teenagers from entering the AHL if they were drafted out of the Canadian juniors, a technicality that Trotz has advocated to change since 1993, Dobson is ineligible to play for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers this season. The Islanders were forced to evaluate what solution would benefit both the individual development of Dobson and the current team. Trotz called it a 'risk-reward' decision, in which the organization ultimately opted to keep Dobson on the 23-man roster and in turn, assigned veteran Thomas Hickey to Bridgeport. The Islanders do reserve the right to send Dobson back to junior if they see fit, though the first year of his entry-level contract is activated if he plays 10 games with the team.
"With [Dobson] and I think organizationally, it's not where he is right now. It's where is he going to be six months from now or a year from now?" Trotz said. "I think the vision for him is pretty clear in terms of what we think of him. He's had an excellent training camp. He's had maybe one bad game where he could have been a little bit better, but for the most part he's been one of the better guys. He's given us no reason to think that he can't handle the workload."
Given the circumstances of Dobson's achievements in juniors; back-to-back Memorial Cup titles with Acadie-Bathurst and Rouyn-Noranda, a QMJHL Playoff MVP, representing Team Canada at World Juniors, there was little left for him to achieve at that level. Add in his pronounced maturity and keeping him in the NHL was a calculated risk the Islanders were willing to take.
"One thing that you find of a young player of his caliber is the game itself doesn't overwhelm him," Trotz noted. "He's got the skill set, he's got the hockey IQ, he has his skating, all of that. More than anything, it's just strength and endurance at this level. I thought he was one of our best defensemen in the second or third game [of preseason]. That showed us a lot."
Internally, the Islanders have constructed a detailed development plan for their newly assigned No. 8 to prompt a smooth and eventual transition. He played alongside Nick Leddy in preseason games vs Detroit and at the Rangers and practiced with veterans in camp.
"He's a really good veteran guy. He's always talking so it makes it easy to play with him. I have a big comfort level with him He's really good to play with. He talks and is a really nice guy. We've gone out for dinner a couple of times too."
The jump from juniors to the NHL alone is a major adjustment for any player, let alone a teenager, but it's a testament to Dobson's character and maturity that the Islanders personnel have faith he'll do just fine.
As for Dobson's beyond-his-years maturity, he attributes it and his easy-going personality to a decision he made for his own development when he was just 15 years old. Before joining the QMJHL in 2016-19, Dobson spent the prior year playing in Salzburg, Austria at the Red Bull Akademie. Living overseas without parents provided lots of life experience at an early age.
Video: Mini Camp: Noah Dobson
"I feel like moving away from home at a young age and especially going overseas to a different continent where you're not really familiar with anything definitely helps you grow as a person," Dobson recalled. "That was one of the things I took into account when I made the decision that I did to become a better hockey player and a better person as well. When you get to the junior hockey level, I had already moved away from home, so it helped make the move more comfortable and made the transition a lot smoother."
While the cadence of Dobson' in the nightly lineup is to be determined, his current status is all in favor of grooming Dobson to become the polished and prosperous NHLer that he has potential to become.
"All the other things are there for him to be a National Leaguer and he'll be a really good one," Trotz said. "He's special in so many ways. He's humble. He works at it and he's a sponge. All that being said, can he play? Absolutely. The bottom line for me is; Noah is a winner. He's a winner. No matter what he does he seems to win."