At least for now, Brenden Dillon
’s NHL debut will have to wait. The 21-year-old blue liner was recalled on Monday from the AHL’s Texas Stars so that Dallas head coach Glen Gulutzan would have seven healthy defensemen for Tuesday’s game with Detroit.
The British Columbia native was a healthy scratch for that 5-4 loss to the Red Wings and with Wednesday’s announcement that Stephane Robidas
had been activated off injured reserve the Stars had to send someone back to Cedar Park, so Dillon returned to the AHL, where he will see regular ice time as one of their top d-men.
Still, even though he was only with the big club for a matter of a few days, it was still an experience he’ll never forget.
“It’s pretty exciting when you get that call and know that you’re going up,” Dillon said after Tuesday’s morning skate. “I didn’t have a chance to get into a game or anything but this is definitely a step forward. I was really excited to be up here and skating with the guys.”
In 31 games before his promotion, the 6-foot-2 defenseman had posted solid numbers in the AHL (2-11-13), especially impressive considering this is his first full season of professional hockey after spending the last four seasons with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League before the Stars inked him to a three-year, entry-level contract last March.
First-year Dallas head coach Glen Gulutzan coached him in the AHL for 10 regular-season games and for six more contests in the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs. And like many who have watched him operate at the blue line, he sees a bright future for the young prospect.
“Yeah, he’s a big guy and his game’s really taken off,” Gulutzan said. “He’s a great skater. He’s got some toughness to his game. He’s got skill to his game. He’s going to be a real good defenseman in the future. It’s a big step and a big jump for a guy that wasn’t drafted. We were fortunate to get him.”
And while on one hand, it might be disappointing for him to be heading back to the AHL, the silver lining is that he returns to a place he feels very comfortable.
“It’s gone really well. We’ve got a great coaching staff down there, getting a chance last year to play a couple of games under Gully was great just to get that experience of just learning the pro ranks. I think this year that’s been good,” Dillon said. “We’ve played about 30 games so far and it’s good getting used to the travel, to how big and strong guys are and how fast the game was up there [in the NHL].”
Considering he hasn’t even been in the Stars organization for a full calendar year, the young blueliner has done pretty well. While he’s happy with how things have gone in the AHL, he knows he can always improve. Still, it’s hard to not to take some pride in how far he’s come, especially since it wasn’t long ago that he went undrafted and was an NHL afterthought.
“Yeah, three years ago I wasn’t even on the NHL radar. It’s pretty nice to see that hard work does pay off,” Dillon said. “You’ve just got to go to the rink, work, focus as hard as you can every day and in the end, you know it’ll pay off for you.”
While it remains to be seen exactly when or if he will return to the NHL this season, should he make another trip up Interstate 35 for his league debut, he knows he will see at least a few familiar faces in the Stars room, former AHL teammates like current Dallas backup goaltender Richard Bachman
and fellow d-man Philip Larsen
“Yeah, it’s really nice to see those guys and just see how the AHL makes guys get that much better and how the minor leagues really help season guys and get them ready for this level,” Dillon said. “You look at a guy like Lars. He’s done really well up here and Bachs now being in net. I’m really happy for those guys. They’ve done really well and worked really hard to get up here.”
During his short time in Big D, like most rookies, the talented, young Canadian admitted it was a dream come true to even be a member of an NHL club. Now that he’s already had a taste, albeit a brief one of what life in the league is truly like, he will definitely know what to expect during his next stint with the Stars, when his league debut will definitely occur.
But while he’s skating in the AHL, he can always keep that in the back of his mind. Now that he’s gotten an inkling of what life in the big time is truly like, he’s going to do everything he can to get back to the NHL as soon as possible.
“You always have goals for yourself and it’s always in the back of your head that you want to be in the NHL as quick as you can,” Dillon said. “That’s my goal. Obviously I want to be ready and I want to be an impact player up here and help the team win. That’s not really up for me to decide. I was very happy and excited to be up there, be with the guys. It’s just another experience for me that’s going to help.”