When discussing Saskatoon Blades defenseman Dalton Thrower, the 2012 Home Hardware NHL/CHL Top Prospects Game seems as good a place to start as any.
At first, that may seem counter-intuitive. After all, Thrower was a late addition to the game -- an injury replacement, in fact -- and he failed to score in the exhibition. But there was one moment that left everyone talking. Late in the second period, rugged forward Thomas Wilson of the Plymouth Whalers laid a thunderous hit on Thrower's Saskatoon teammate, Lukas Sutter. Thrower, sensing injustice, was over the boards almost before the defensemen he was replacing could make it to the bench. Seconds later, Thrower and Wilson were trading blows, despite the latter's four-inch height advantage.
"As soon as I saw that hit, I felt like it was a dirty hit," the 5-foot-11, 189-pound Thrower told NHL.com. “I’d do what I did for any one of my teammates, at any time. It doesn't matter the size of the guy for me -- if he's 6-4, 6-5 -- if it has to happen, it'll happen."
That fearlessness is no act. Thrower says his aggressive, sometimes confrontational style always has been a part of his game.
"Dalton was right there to answer the bell," Saskatoon coach Lorne Molleken said. "I think he took full advantage of that opportunity and showed what he was able to do and what he was willing to do. He's a character kid who is very determined."
If the scrap with Wilson in February showed the type of player Thrower is, an offensive outburst a month earlier was an insight into the type of player he one day could be.
Over his first 2.5 seasons in Saskatoon, Thrower honed his gritty style and developed physically but struggled to score, notching just 10 goals in that span. That all changed Dec. 30, when Thrower had two goals and four assists in a 9-4 win against the Prince Albert Raiders. That week he scored 11 points in four games, earning CHL Player of the Week honors. The outburst proved a catalyst, as 14 of his 18 goals in the 2011-12 season came in his final 34 games.
"I played a more defensive role during the first half of the year, and I knew if I wanted to make it up in the rankings and get noticed I would have to bring some offensive game," Thrower said. "That's my game, I'm a two-way defenseman. I was really happy to be putting up good numbers the second half of the year."
He ended the season with 54 points, eighth among Western Hockey League defensemen. While Molleken said Thrower's gap control still needs work, his puck control, two-way movement and physicality have drawn comparisons with Vancouver's Kevin Bieksa, one of Thrower's favorite players on his favorite NHL team.
Arguably his greatest contribution came in the consistency he brought to the Blades' top defense pairing, especially as the team's blue line was waylaid by injuries late in the season. Along with Duncan Siemens, a Colorado Avalanche 2011 first-round pick, Thrower regularly matched up against the WHL's top lines and contributed on the penalty kill and power play.
"I think (Thrower and Siemens) complement each other well," Molleken said. "Duncan is a player that stays at home much more, a big body, and certainly Dalton sees the ice very well and makes good plays. Those two guys were paired this year right from day one and did a real good job for us."
Added Thrower: "(Playing with Siemens) helps me, it brings more confidence towards my game. It helped me get into the offense a lot more because I knew he, as a more defensive defenseman, that I would always have someone back there supporting me."
Scouts took notice of his offensive surge, ranking Thrower No. 26 among North American skaters in their final rankings of prospects for the 2012 NHL Draft. One scout told NHL.com that "there wasn't anything I didn't think he was good at." Others went as far as to say he outplayed Siemens, the 11th pick last year, down the stretch.
"Players are aware of his skill set, that he is tough to play against," NHL Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan said, "and also the, 'Do I have to challenge him in a fight?' aspect helps. Playing as much as he has this year, and outplaying Siemens, his stock should rise."
Don't expect Thrower to echo those sentiments -- at least not openly. While he is a fiery presence on the ice, a conversation with Thrower reveals a maturity beyond his 18 years. It's a maturity Thrower honed at home in Squamish, B.C., where both of his parents are cancer survivors.
They're also his biggest fans.
"My brother and sister were both young when my mother had cancer and I had to look after them. I was the big brother, and it helped me mature at a young age," Thrower said.
"People look at this and they say, 'Oh, poor you,' but the only thing I think about is how lucky I am to still have both my parents. For that, I am very grateful."
Author: Davis Harper | NHL.com Staff Writer