The idea that Niagara IceDogs defenseman Vince Dunn can’t play defense? That’s just plain offensive, says the Linsday, ON-born rearguard.
“They’ve definitely been saying that I can’t play defense, but I definitely think that I can prove them wrong by playing the best game that I can every game. I have to try to tighten up my defensive game,” Dunn said. “I mean, I don’t think my defensive game is all that bad. I mean, Connor McDavid didn’t have any pointless games until I was matched up with him. I thought that was one of my better games.
“I don’t think my defense is that bad, it’s just more of a focusing thing. When I want to play defense, then I can play it just as well as anyone else.”
Dunn, who was ranked 53rd by NHL Central Scouting in their midterm rankings for the 2015 NHL Draft, said he feels that the disparaging comments about his defensive abilities are a result of the analysis that comes during draft-year scrutiny.
“I think it’s just something to take away from my game. I know it’s definitely not my greatest strength, so maybe it’s something I need to work on and prove to them that I can play defense,” he said. “I don’t think it’s anything to criticize me, but it’s definitely something that makes me want to work on it. My offensive abilities are there, but if I can bring my defensive game to the level of my offensive game, then it’ll be perfect.”
IceDogs’ coach Marty Williamson said he knows Dunn has the ability to play solid defense if he puts his mind to it.
“He definitely can play defense. It’s just a matter of him focusing on it and wanting to get the job done,” Williamson said. “Sometimes he spreads himself around too much and tries to do too much offensively where we don’t need him to do that. I’d prefer he’d be rock-solid defensively and that’s a challenge for Dunner.
“He’s done a good job of it. I know he can do it too, so that can be the frustrating thing when he doesn’t. He’s done a much, much better job and he’s understanding not to push the offense too much if it’s not there; keep the game simple, but avoid making mistakes defensively.”
Dunn said he’s put a focus on his defensive game this season to prove that he’s a more balanced defender.
“It’s been a lot of fun this year. I’ve definitely learned a lot from playing over the past year from before. I’ve tried to tighten up my defensive part of the game and I’ve been able to pick up a few more points lately. That’s definitely made my game a lot better,” Dunn explained. “You just have to stick to your game and try to balance it out on the other side too — you don’t want to be all offense or all defense. You have to be at least reliable both ways.”
Williamson said he’s been impressed with the work Dunn has put in, improving his overall play.
“We’ve seen a real emergence. He’s been a real log-the-ice-time guy for us. He’s really worked on his defensive game and that’s what will make him a high pick or not a pick at all,” Williamson explained. “He’s got wonderful offensive talents, shoots the puck well, runs the power play. But his bread-and-butter has to be to improve defensively and he’s done a really good job working on it. He’s been up against McDavid and some of the top players — it’s a challenge for him and it’s a good challenge.”
In 58 games, Dunn has scored 13 goals and added 29 assists. He sports a +2 rating. And he’s content, but not satisfied, with his Central Scouting ranking.
“I think I could have been a little bit higher, but the rankings don’t really mean much until the end. They’re just kind of a baseline to see where you are compared to the other guys,” he said. “It’s nothing to take too personally. Fifty-three’s a pretty good number and I’m pretty happy with that, but I think I can definitely get higher.”
Plus, he said, he knows that the only number that really matters is where you get called on Draft Day.
“You can’t really expect too much. I’ve talked to a lot of guys — there’s a guy on my team who was ranked top-30 and he didn’t get picked until the sixth round. So anything can happen,” he said. “I just think you have to keep up your game as much as possible and try to do well at the combine. You can’t take a game off and you have to try your best every game.”
Dunn knows scouts are watching him but he doesn’t really focus on their presence.
“I don’t really try to think about the scouts watching me all the time. I just try to play my own game,” he said. “I think if you put more pressure on yourself it just gets harder to make plays. You have to stick to your own game plan and everything should work out fine for you.”
Williamson added that Dunn’s personality lends itself to not letting pressure get to him.
“He’s one guy we don’t think we need to help a lot,” he said. “Dunner’s a pretty free-spirited guy who just takes things shift-to-shift. He doesn’t let things bother him too much — it’s a nice quality to have.”
Dunn is a Los Angeles Kings’ fan and looks to the Kings’ defense for inspiration.
“Lately I’ve just been a [L.A.] Kings’ fan. It’s not really being on the bandwagon for the Cup, but I’ve been a Kings fan and my favorite player is definitely Drew Doughty,” he said. “I want to be a Drew Doughty. I don’t think I’m quite at that level yet — that’s really a big statement to make. Maybe a [Alec] Martinez right now but I’m definitely working to be a Drew-Doughty-type impact player.
“I think he’s really skilled on his offensive plays. He can really slow things down and make smart offensive plays, but he can also hold his own in the defensive zone.”
As the OHL postseason approaches, Dunn is looking to reach a statistical milestone and improve his physicality to help his continued development.
“Individual goals, hopefully reach 50 points. The points don’t mean too much to me, but 50 would be nice. And hopefully I can tighten up my defensive side and that would be just perfect,” Dunn said. “Definitely I could work on my upper body. I think my speed and my skating is pretty good. But improving my size and my strength, I could definitely out-battle some players and make it easier on my game.”
And improving his defensive play? It’s something that he knows he’s going to have to work on both in-season and during the off-season.
“It’s something you work on in practice — trying not to get beat one-on-one,” he said. “In games too, I try to keep guys to the outside and make it easy on myself. I try to keep it simple in my own end and do my stuff on offense.”
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