It’s amazing what can happen in such short order. Nine days ago, Dillon Simpson
was sitting anxiously inside Xcel Energy Center, hoping to get the call from an NHL team. 91 players before him were selected, but when Dillon’s name was announced by General Manager Steve Tambellini, everything had properly fallen into place.
The Oilers' orange and blue colours are synonymous with childhood dreams, but only a select few are given the real-life opportunity. Simpson got his chance with family by his side, slipping on the sweater he worshipped as a young fan so many years ago.
"It took probably a week to sink in," he said of his fourth round selection. "It was a great feeling last week, and now being part of the organization and getting to skate with this group of guys is a great feeling. It will be a lot of fun this week."
With beads of sweat dribbling down as coaches pushed the pace with heart-pumping skating and conditioning drills, Simpson needed no reminder that his career had taken a giant leap forward.
It’s appropriate, then, to consider the guidance that’s helped lead his exceptionally promising career. His father Craig played six NHL seasons in Edmonton, winning two Stanley Cups and emerging as one of the club’s leading post-season scorers in those championship runs.
He embraced the Oilers culture and learned what it took to become a winner in Edmonton.
Craig sat on the edge of his seat in Minnesota, praying the Oilers would select his son. Having won and endured the tough times as well, Dillon’s father knew exactly what Edmonton and the Oilers organization was all about. In the end, it was a special place to land and begin a dream career.
That experience and fatherly leadership is, in Dillon’s mind, irreplaceable.
"He's always been my mentor," he said of his dad. "He's the one that put me on defence; I always played forward. He's always wanted me to do my own thing, make my own choices and become responsible for my own game.
"He also wants me to keep pushing myself to get better and better."
Craig now works for CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada as a colour analyst, but his far more important role as Dillon’s father is always at the forefront. Like any hockey dad who drives to an early-morning practice, Craig was in attendance at Development Camp, Tim Hortons in hand as he watched his son at Millennium Place.
The two share a bond that goes well beyond on-ice ability, too. After playing Junior ‘A’ hockey with the AJHL’s Spruce Grove Saints, Dillon elected to follow the college path. He recently completed his rookie campaign at the University of North Dakota, where he scored two goals and 10 points in 30 games. Craig also chose the scholarly route, but spent only two years at Michigan State before bridging a regular role with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The circumstances were not identical, mind you. Craig was a second overall pick in 1985, meaning expectations were high, and so too was the pressure to perform at a young age.
At the moment, Dillon is focused on a career that begins with a degree at UND.
"I want to go to school," he explained. "I like it a lot at North Dakota, but at this point I'm going back next year and I'm going to have a good year. I'd like to stay in school for as long as it takes.
"The coaches they have [at UND] really help you grow a lot as a player. The training and the kind of guys we had this year to help out were unbelievable for me. Hopefully next year I make even bigger steps toward my career."
Family, friends and coaches have all played a vital role in Simpson’s development. Edmonton Oil Kings defenceman Keegan Lowe has been a buddy to Dillon for as long as he can remember. The pair met at a young age, growing up in a hockey-mad environment that saw their fathers compete with the Oilers in the early-nineties.
Since then, their relationship has continued to blossom, putting the spotlight on the camaraderie that makes the game, particularly in Edmonton, so amazing.
"We're friends and we went to school together," Simpson said. "We work out at the same place with the same trainer. I see him a lot–almost every day. He’s a great guy and I'm happy for him in Carolina. He's going to have a great career there."
While both are poised to develop tremendous careers in their respective NHL towns, Simpson remains focused on the task at hand. This week, Oilers Development Camp takes precedence as he aims to take each challenge one step at a time.
"I need to show [Edmonton] what I can do. At the same time, you've got to have fun. There's a good group of guys here, a lot of fun guys, so it will be a great week." Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com