Photo by Lisa McRitchie, all rights reserved.
Dillon Simpson was the second "family" pick by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2011 NHL draft, and while rival fans laughed and some Oilers' fans yelped at the Oilers' predilection towards legacy players, Simpson is a legitimate prospect, not a favor to a friend. Though our loyal readership didn't give Simpson much respect in our "Not Quite Top 25" poll - he garnered only 6% of your vote as a possible Top 25 member - he was certainly in the range, and maybe a bit of a steal when the experts' rankings are considered.
Simpson was drafted in the 4th round (#92), prompting Twitter to explode in cries of "Reach!" because NHL De-Centralized Scouting ranked Simpson #157 among domestic skaters. But further investigation shows that some scouts liked what they saw. He didn't crack the top 60 in TSN's rankings, but he was in their top 85 as an "Honourable Mention" candidate. The Scouting Report ranked Simpson #87 overall, noting:
"In hindsight, Simpson’s draft stock was likely hurt by playing in the NCAA as a 17-year-old.... He will have some time to develop over the next few years and should be well worth a 3rd round pick to see if he can improve on those deficiencies."
The Hockey News liked him even more, ranking him 69th overall. What about our Copper and Blue panelists?
Previous Rank: N/A
I've got the young defender rated higher than any of my colleagues, and in fact, I have Simpson ranked higher than the Oilers' second round pick, David Musil. But you'll notice that all of us have Simpson ranked in the top 25, the first time that's happened so far. Simpson was one of the more difficult players to rank because comparables are difficult to come by: he was playing defense in the NCAA at the age of 17, not an easy task for any 17-year old, especially a defender. He didn't catch on at a second-rate school, either. North Dakota is one of the premier programs in the NCAA, and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association is the best conference in college hockey. Most 17-year old players are red-shirted, but Simpson isn't just another 17-year old player. I spoke with Jayson Hajdu, Director or Athletic Media Relations at The University of North Dakota about Simpson. I asked him about the rarity of such a young defenseman on the Fighting Sioux roster:
"We’ve had a couple of defensemen come in as 17-year olds: Joe Finley and Mike Commodore come to mind, although they were both a few months older than Dillon," said Hajdu. "However, I can tell you – and you may have already known this – Dillon was the youngest player in NCAA Division I hockey last season."
Commodore was drafted in the 2nd round (#42) in 1999 by the New Jersey Devils and has 454 career games to his credit. Joe Finley was drafted in the 1st round (#27) by the Washington Capitals in 2005, but has struggled to adjust to the professional game. Comparing Commodore, Finley and Simpson's rookie seasons is interesting:
Clearly, Simpson is a different type of defender. Commodore stood 6'4", and weighed 210 lbs., while Finley was 6'7" and 240 lbs. Both were rough and tumble players, even as freshman, and their penalty minutes show that. Simpson is 6'1" and 195 lbs., and has more offense in his game than the other two combined.
From Redline report:
Stay at home defencemen with savvy and size... has very good hockey sense and understands game situations instinctively. Sluggish skater with a short stride, but shows good gap control and lateral mobility. Tentative to do anything offensively and always has one foot back on defence. Doesn't see the ice well and hurries to get the puck off his stick. Makes sharp defensive reads and is rarely out of position. Struggled 1-on-1 in the corners and down low against more physically developed forwards.
He's a great positional defenseman with a high level of intelligence but struggled with game speed and physical play against 22 and 23 year-olds. He brings more offense compared to the previous 17 year-old defensemen in the program, and he was the youngest player in the NCAA. Simpson has two or three years to fine-tune his game before he starts his professional career. When that happens, he'll still be relatively young, especially for an NCAA prospect. If he gets a couple of breaks and stays healthy, the description of his game sure sounds like Tom Gilbert to me.