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A Conversation With Dillon Simpson

Oiler defensive prospect Dillon Simpson recently spoke to Copper & Blue to let our readers know more about his game and how his development is progressing during his time with the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux.

Nick Laham

We here at Copper & Blue like to keep our readers informed regarding the prospects in the Oilers’ system. After the team’s performance in recent years, prospect watching has become a consistent part of the Oiler fan experience.

Every time we do a "25 Under 25" update, as we did just recently, there are a couple of prospects that really tend to get people talking, one of those players is Dillon Simpson.

Simpson was drafted in the 4th round of the 2011 NHL Draft. Despite that being only two drafts ago, he is already part way through his third season at the University of North Dakota.

So, in an ongoing effort to inform our readers about some of the prospects in the Oiler system, I was recently able to have a conversation with Simpson so he could shed a little light on his progression at the NCAA level and his NHL aspirations.

Here now, for your reading pleasure, is my conversation with Dillon Simpson:

(Author’s Note: Quickly, I’d like to take a moment to personally thank Dillon for answering all of my questions. We spoke while he was on a road trip with the Fighting Sioux and he had just finished a practice, but he was very accommodating and more than willing to give his time to let our readers know more about him.)

Copper & Blue: Before getting into your hockey career Dillon, how is school going?

Dillon Simpson: It’s going pretty well, the second semester just got going and so far it’s going pretty well. I’m studying Managerial Finance and Accounting so it’s a bit of a combined major and it can get a little nuts sometimes but it’s been good to me so far.

C&B: You’re already into your third year at North Dakota. Have you begun to find yourself taking on any of the responsibilities of a veteran player this season?

DS: Yeah, it’s been pretty interesting, especially considering I’m still the third youngest player on my team, but, considering the position I’m in and how long I’ve been here, it’s been nice to start to assume a bit more of a leadership role. You get to know the guys who have been here with you for a while and you get to see the freshmen coming in and Sophomores coming up, and you start to feel more comfortable being one of the leaders on the team and you have to carry that responsibility well and set a good example for everyone else.

C&B: Among the writers here at Copper & Blue we often talk about your age and just how young you’ll still be when you get in to pro hockey…

DS: Ha, yeah it’s pretty surreal sometimes to think about it, and I still get bugged about it sometimes, but’s all in fun and it’s pretty nice actually.

C&B: Looking ahead to your senior year, is the plan right now to come back and finish your studies at North Dakota and then go from there?

DS: Y’know, for me right now I’m just taking things week by week. This year we have a really solid team and we’ve been building really well throughout the year, so as of right now I’m pretty focused on this year. But, as for next season, I definitely see myself staying for my senior season and finishing up school and developing as much as I can as a player before I try to make that jump to the next level.

C&B: On the ice, now that you’ve gained some experience over the last couple of seasons, do you find the coaches are starting to put you out there in tougher situations and facing the oppositions top guys?

DS: I think so for sure. I feel like the coaches have a little bit more confidence in me and between me and my defensive partner Joe Gleeson have been play a lot and feeding off of each other and getting some of the tougher minutes plus a lot of powerplay time, which has been really nice. We have a new defensemen coach, Brad Berry, who has been unbelievable to work with. He’s really been great for all of the Dmen. He puts a lot of faith and trust in us, but he expects a lot out of as at the same time. If you get your game going, he’ll play you, and that makes for a really nice situation to play in.

C&B: You mentioned you time on the PP, so far this season 9 of your 13 points have come with the man advantage, which is pretty consistent with your point production last year (in terms of where your points are coming from) What do you attribute that to?

DS: Well this season has been really nice being on the top on the powerplay. Together with Dan Kristo who plays the half-wall, we’ve been able to run the PP quite a bit and we’ve been trusted to run a lot of plays off of us, which has been working really well. With guys like Corban Knight and Joe Gleeson who I’ve been playing with lately, we’ve been pretty dynamic as a group and shots have really started to go in for us. We had a rough start with our powerplay but we’ve really started to click. When you get to play on the top of the powerplay with guys like that, the points eventually start to come. Personally, I just need to keep executing, as well as I can and hopefully the points keep coming.

C&B: What about at even strength? Are you being used a lot in particular situations? Do you find you’re out there more for draws in your own zone or in the offensive zone?

DS: Well, like I said before, I certainly feel like the coaches have a lot more faith in me this year and I’ve started getting some of the tougher assignments. I’ve been used in more situations including time against the oppositions top lines and others as well, but for me I certainly feel a lot for comfortable and a lot more confident going out there, particularly in my own zone. My skating is something that I’m always working on, so I think that I’m improving in that area and I’ve been able to put on some muscle too and those things have really helped out in my own zone I think. Me and my partner Joe try to put just as much emphasis on our work in the Defensive zone even while both trying to be offensive defensemen. So far this year things are working really well in that area. We’ve played with a lot of confidence and have been really solid in our own end.

C&B: You mentioned your footspeed. How would you evaluate your progress in that area?

DS: Well, for anyone who has followed me since before I was drafted, the draft notes likely all said that footspeed was something I need to improve, and so it’s something that I’ve really been working on over the last couple of years with my coaches and with the strength and conditioning coach. We’ve really tried to put a lot of emphasis on that part of my game and I think that so far this year it has been showing. I feel like I’m able to get myself up into the play a lot more. I feel much more confident in my footspeed in terms of being able to keep up with plays and close gaps. It’s certainly something I feel is improving and I’m going to continue working on it, so it’s definitely getting better.

C&B: Have you talked about that with the Oilers as well during your time at their development camps?

DS: I’ve been with (Oilers Strength and Conditioning Coach) Steve Serdachny…I started skating with him when I was really young…at first I was probably one of the worst skaters he had in his group. I’ve been getting to work with him over the years and he’s been great. Skating is certainly something they put a lot of emphasis on with most of the guys, but for me specifically, I’ve worked with them as well as everyone here at UND and we’ve developed a pretty good regimen to try and keep improving in that area, and again, I think so far it’s really starting to show.

C&B: Looking at your stat lines for those that don’t get to see you play regularly, one thing of note is that you don’t seem to take a lot of penalties. As a defenseman that can sometimes be difficult. What has allowed you to stay out of the box while defending your zone?

DS: Well positioning is a big thing. For me, a big part of that is my ability to read the play and anticipate where guys are going to go and how the play is going to develop. I try my best not to let myself get out of position and put myself in a position to take penalties. Growing up without the best footspeed like we talked about, positioning is something I knew I would have to rely on and something I have developed pretty well. I consider that one of my biggest strengths…being effective while staying on the ice and out of the box. As for my hitting game, it hasn’t been a big part of my game over the years, but this year I’m a bit bigger and so I’ve put some more emphasis on being more intense in puck battles and stuff, but really I rely on my discipline in my positioning to keep me out of the box.

C&B: Well that was Nik Lidstrom’s claim to fame. Being able to separate guys from the puck using his skill instead of force…

DS: It’s really funny you mention Nik Lidstrom. That style is exactly how I try to model my game. I try to model my defensive game after him as much as I can, or as much as anyone can try to be like him.

C&B: I can’t imagine a defenseman who wouldn’t want to model their game after Lidstrom’s. On that note, for our readers who are trying to get a visual image of how you play on the ice, is there a guy in the NHL that you would compare yourself to stylistically?

DS: Well it would be really hard to ever compare myself to someone as elite as Niklas Lidstrom, but in terms of the way I play and the way I try to play, I certainly try to model myself and my game after his example. He did such a great job or reading the play and he seemed like he was just always in the right position, not to mention he was always able to chip in offensively over the years.

C&B: Getting back to your communications with the Oilers, have they given you any indication of what their timelines are for you, and where do you see yourself in terms of your development?

DS: As far as the Oilers’ organization, I think they do a really good job of taking things year by year and then talking about the future as the year winds down. I certainly want to be prepared as I can by the time I make the jump to the pros, so for me, taking that extra year next year to hopefully continue developing my game the way I have been will be big for me. As for what happens once I go pro, who knows, right? There’s a lot of young defensemen that have a hard time making it early in the league. For me I try to keep a day-by-day look on things and I don’t want to look too far ahead. The best thing I can do right now is just to keep on improving and finish off this year really strong and then have a good senior year and go from there.

C&B: One more question about your current season in North Dakota. You’re a left-handed shooting defenseman. Do you get to play at all on your off-side or do you play predominantly on the left-side of a D-pairing?

DS: We actually have a lot of guys at UND who like to play the right side, so in my time here, I’ve mostly played on the left side. As for me, I actually like playing the right side more, but I can certainly play both sides, I enjoy being able to play both sides, and for me it doesn’t make too much of a difference once I’m out there. I play a lot of the right-side on the powerplay or up top in the middle, but at 5-on-5, I play the left side predominantly.

C&B: Being a young defenseman, I assume both your UND coaches and the Oilers have you studying a lot of game film. Both in terms looking at opponents and to study your own game. Can you contrast the two experiences and what are you able to take from each type of video study?

DS: With the Oilers it’s a lot longer of a learning curve. They’re great during the year, we have a program where they’ll send me videos of my game and then give their breakdown of it. Here at North Dakota, with out Defensive coach, we do a lot of 1-on-1 video and group video sessions, and we also have a really great system where I have an app that lets me watch all of my shifts which allows for a lot of self-learning too. With the coaches at UND it’s more learning how to read and react and with the Oilers, it’s more technical and looking at the big picture.

It was really great getting to speak with Dillon about his game. Based on comments from our readers, he's one of the most asked about prospects in the Oilers' system. Hopefully this conversation helps our readers get a better idea of who he is and what kind of player he hopes to become.