BOSTON -- We hear so much about "the process" in pro sports, and it can apply to daily practice routines or game plans or even just how you want to run your franchise.
But the individual definitely has to go through a process, and Stars forward Jason Dickinson is a prime example of just how important that is. At age 24 and 164 games into his NHL career, Dickinson has taken massive strides forward and become one of the team's dependable regulars. That's a huge difference from where he was even last season.
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"For the last couple of months, he's been a very important part of this team, very important part -- killing penalties, checking guys," Stars interim coach Rick Bowness said. "He's a character guy, he's a leader on this team in his own right, he's a potential captain down the road. He's a great kid and a great competitor."
Dickinson is averaging 14:52 in ice time per game and has seen those numbers jump up to 16 and 17 minutes in recent games. He has 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists), including a goal and an assist Tuesday in a 4-1 win over Carolina, and he's plus-6 on the season. Bottom line, he is becoming somebody who helps the Stars win on a regular basis.
"He's one of those guys who can do it all," said captain Jamie Benn. "He's a great centerman, he can play wing, he can PK, he can play power play if we need him to. He's kind of an unsung hero for us."
Video: DAL@CAR: Dickinson nets ninth goal in win over 'Canes
Dickinson said getting to where he is now truly has been a process.
The 29th overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft worked his way through two AHL seasons and had a couple of cups of coffee in the NHL when he was given the chance to try to earn a full-time position in 2017-18. He was called up and sent down on numerous occasions and finally settled in the AHL, where he helped the Texas Stars get to the Calder Cup Final.
It was both exasperating and invigorating, and in 2018-19, Dickinson was ready to earn a spot in the NHL.
Dickinson is helping Roope Hintz and Dennis Gurianov go through similar transitions, and he said Wednesday it definitely brings back memories for him.
"What Guri and Roope are going through in growing their defensive game, that was the same for me," he said. "You try to do the right thing, but you're always worried if you're doing what the coaches want. Well last year, by the end of the year, I was being trusted with bigger roles defensively. That's always been my game, but getting that opportunity and knowing they wanted me to play that role, it just helped solidify that feeling of, `OK, I can do this, I belong.' "
Video: DAL@CAR: Dickinson wires home wrist shot
It was more taxing mentally than physically, Dickinson said, but he added that he knew he had to go through the trials and tribulations to get to where he wanted to go. Dickinson said that earning the trust of the coaches was a challenge, but that when he had taken steps forward, the game became a lot simpler.
"You can talk about it all you want, but until you're thrown into it, you really don't know what it all entails," Dickinson said. "It's such a cliché to say it, but it's true: Once you get feel the trust, you grow from there and your game just changes. I think a great example is that if I have to make a decision now, I might consider hanging onto the puck instead of just chipping it in, because I know that I can do it, one, but I also know that if it doesn't work that I'm not coming right out of the game."
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That confidence is a huge part of maturing, Benn said.
"I think second or third year for myself, I realized I'm going to be around here for a little while, and I think that helped a lot," Benn said. "Time builds confidence, and we're seeing that with him. When you have confidence, you feel like you can't be stopped."
And how does that affect your game?
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"You definitely think less," Benn said. "You go out there and play and have fun with it, and know you can get the job done. It really makes hockey easier."
Dickinson said he doesn't ever want to feel like he has a permanent place in the lineup, adding that he believes the drive to earn that spot helps keep him on top of his game. But he also said that having confidence creates a feeling where he can play his best.
"It's a process for sure," he said. "You have to chisel away and chisel away until you get that level of respect. Then, once you do, you can't get comfortable with it. You still have to work hard to do the right thing every shift so that you keep the respect. It's finding that balance."
Right now, Dickinson is balancing himself in a pretty darn important role and giving the coaching staff a lot of options when it comes to his deployment. There have been times he plays wing on a grinding line, or times when he jumps up to center the checking line in place of Radek Faksa, or times he gets to skate with the speedy duo of Hintz and Gurianov. That variety, he said, helps push the process along even further.
"This year, it's not so much a question of if I can do it or not, it's dealing with the assignment," he said. "If Radek is hurt or tired, then I can do that job. Or if we need me to play with Guri and Roope, I can do that too. I mean it takes a coach trusting you, but once it happens, it really is a good feeling."
Don't miss your chance to see the Stars battle the Edmonton Oilers when they return home to American Airlines Center on Tuesday, March 3. The first 5,000 fans receive a limited-edition poster presented by Dr Pepper. Get your tickets now!
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.