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Dickinson hopes deep AHL playoff run helps growth to full-time Stars spot

Forward can help Texas extend Calder Cup Finals against Toronto to seventh game

by Patrick Williams / Correspondent

CEDAR PARK, Texas -- Jason Dickinson and his fellow Dallas Stars prospects will be able to carry their experiences with Texas reaching the Calder Cup Finals with them no matter what happens as they move forward in their hockey careers.

Texas plays at Toronto (Toronto Maple Leafs) in Game 6 of the American Hockey League championship series on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN2). Texas is down 3-2 in the best-of-7 series after a 6-2 home loss in Game 5 on Saturday.

If Texas can win Game 6, it would force Game 7 in Toronto on Thursday, and be the first Game 7 in the Calder Cup Finals since 2003.

"It's not going to stop us," Dickinson said of facing an opponent that had an AHL-high 112 points during the regular season. "We're going to fight every inch of the way."

The first four games of the series were one-goal games and featured constant pace amid unrelenting physical play.

"It's definitely an NHL-caliber game out there," said Dickinson, who had two assists in 27 games for the Stars this season, his most extensive NHL action.

Dickinson, 22, has packed a lot into his career already. He was selected by the Stars with the No. 29 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, went to the Memorial Cup final with Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League in 2014, recovered from hip surgery after the 2015-16 season, his first as a pro, and has played 38 NHL games the past three seasons.

And now there's a trip to the Calder Cup Finals.

"He is a heart-and-soul guy," Texas coach Derek Laxdal said of Dickinson. "He is a character guy. He is a guy in the NHL who could [be an alternate captain] one day. He has leadership skill, and his play is defined by his character."

Said Dickinson, "I've grown a lot since my draft year. Every year it has been a different challenge. Every year it has been a different challenge for me to face, and it's something that is going to help my career in the long run wherever it takes me."

Dickinson (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) was recalled by the Stars eight times this season, but spent enough time in the AHL to have 28 points (18 goals, 10 assists) in 42 games. That's an improvement on the 30 points (nine goals, 21 assists) he had in 58 games last season.

While Dickinson has two goals in his 38 NHL games, Laxdal believes he will be able to produce offensively for Dallas.

"He plays hard, he's hard on pucks, he finishes hits," Laxdal said. "He'll push on pucks.

"Everybody wants him to be a goal-scorer, but I think that once he perfects his defensive game and the character part of who he is in his game, the goals will come. That's just a process at this level and the NHL."

Laxdal has played Dickinson alongside speedy rookie center Sheldon Dries to create an effective second line. Dickinson has eight points (two goals, six assists) in 20 playoff games, and Dries has nine playoff goals, second in the AHL after teammate Curtis McKenzie (10).

"[Dickinson] is a guy who is another driver of our hockey club," Laxdal said. "[Dickinson and Dries] are character guys who can push the game."

Though Dickinson has 30-goal potential at the AHL level, he does not need any reminders about a commitment to defensive play.

"You can cheat, you can get goals, you can get points and look back at your game and say, 'I really didn't play well,'" he said. "For me, I'm going to sit here every game and I'm going to critique my defensive-zone [play], and I'm going to look at that first. The big thing that really bugs me is when I play poorly defensively."

The lessons needed for this playoff run were put in place as Texas battled for a playoff spot. Once in, Texas had to go through Ontario (Los Angeles Kings), Western Conference regular-season champion Tucson (Arizona Coyotes), and Rockford (Chicago Blackhawks).

"Once we got that grind [of the playoff run] out of the way, I think everybody just dug in," Dickinson said. "They knew their role. Everybody knew what was at stake and what we could do. … It builds you as a player. It helps you to understand that you really have to play every single game here. There are no nights off. There are ways to contribute other than on the scoresheet, and you have to be willing to do that every night."

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