VANCOUVER -- If he was being completely honest, Dalton Thrower probably would admit that he'd prefer to be somewhere else this season.
Ideally, the 19-year-old defenseman would be starting his professional career with the Montreal Canadiens, the organization that selected him in the second round (No. 51) of the 2012 NHL Draft. But Thrower already had done the math, and the numbers just didn't add up to him sticking in the NHL.
Instead, he's back in the Western Hockey League for another season, playing with the Vancouver Giants, who acquired him from the Saskatoon Blades in an offseason trade. Thrower grew up in Squamish, British Columbia, about an hour north of Vancouver.
"Being back here is a win-win for me. I'm back home, I’m with a great organization, I'm taking on a role as captain here, and I'm just going to roll with it."
-- Canadiens prospect Dalton Thrower on returning to the WHL
"Being back here is a win-win for me," Thrower told NHL.com soon after being returned to junior hockey and immediately being named Giants captain. "I'm back home, I’m with a great organization, I'm taking on a role as captain here, and I'm just going to roll with it."
Thrower, who turns 20 on Dec. 20, returns to junior with a to-do list that includes rediscovering the two-way form that saw him total 18 goals, 54 points and 103 penalty minutes in 66 games in 2011-12, rather than the six goals and 27 points he had in 54 games last season.
"Right now they [the Canadiens] have a long list of defensemen, so it's going to be tough for me to come in as the youngest guy and play there," he said. "But they said come back here, get the confidence back in my game and be a leader, and next year there is going to be a spot open for me."
That confidence slipped along with his numbers last season, which was interrupted for a month and a half by a concussion from a fight in practice.
"It was a rollercoaster season," said Thrower, a right-shot who models his game after, and has been compared to, Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa. He pointed to less time on the power play and with offensive forwards, and more on a shutdown unit as the reason for his offensive downturn. "But no excuses, I need to be better and I am back here in junior for a reason. I am here to show that I am a better player than I was last year."
Thrower said he is confident that will happen in Vancouver, where he is cast as something of a savior for a young team coming off its worst season since joining the WHL in 2001-02. With one win and a couple of lopsided losses in four games before he was assigned to Vancouver, it’s a big ask, but one coach Don Hay thinks Thrower can handle.
"We want our captain to be a guy that will stand in there and take hits for the team both on and off the ice," Hay said. "He is a second-round [NHL] pick, so he has a really good skill set. He can shoot the puck well and pass, but people can forget he also plays the game with a physicality and toughness that is important. He reminds me of an old-school guy that enjoys playing the game and doesn't take any [nonsense] from anybody."
Montreal selected Thrower with its second-round pick, the 51st choice overall, at the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh. (Getty Images)
Physical play always has been there for Thrower. Even last season he finished with 89 penalty minutes, and he was suspended during the Memorial Cup for a hit that knocked out Portland Winterhawks forward Taylor Leier.
In Vancouver, he will be counted on to continue playing with an edge while also contributing offensively and running the power play.
Hay said that adding an official leadership role will help prepare Thrower for the pro game.
"Not very often in your playing career do you get to be a captain, so I think when you get that opportunity it's important for the coaches to teach guys about leadership," he said. "Not everyone is born to lead, so I think we can teach him to be a leader, to make good decisions, not only hockey but life decisions that will stick with him a long time. We try to help them become a pro as much as possible, and making decisions and looking after yourself is first and foremost."
That includes improving his conditioning, a task that falls in part to Giants strength and conditioning coach Ian Gallagher, whose son Brendan is a second-year forward with the Canadiens.
Thrower worked with the elder Gallagher in his draft year, but travel kept them apart last offseason. They reunited after the trade this summer, and both Thrower and the Canadiens already see improvement.
"I still have lots of training to do," Thrower said, "But even Montreal saw a difference. My [fitness] testing scores went way up, and to have him all year will definitely benefit me."
So will living so close to his family again, including parents who both have overcome battles with cancer, and a younger sibling.
"Playing a couple provinces away was definitely hard, not seeing my family for months at a time, but I am going to be seeing them a lot more here, probably weekly," Thrower said. "And I have a little sister who gets to see her older brother once in a while, so it's going to be good to be back home and close to friends and family again."
So maybe being back in junior and Vancouver isn't so bad after all.
Even if Thrower would probably rather be in Montreal.