Jason Dickinson had one of the more memorable “three-in-threes” of his life last week.
Three-in-threes are typically synonymous with a grinding stretch of three games, often with travel included, in the minor leagues. They are physically taxing on the body, and in the NHL, three games in three nights are against the collective bargaining agreement.
So, why would Dickinson, a Dallas Stars first round pick in 2013, be excited about a three-in-three?
Well, your NHL debut makes everything worthwhile. Scoring on your first NHL shot? That makes it even better.
The 20-year-old forward received a surprise call-up on the morning of April 7th. Jason Spezza was sick in Dallas, and the NHL club tabbed Dickinson for the emergency recall.
He called his parents, a call “they weren’t expecting,” and boarded a flight from Austin to Dallas. His flight was then slightly delayed, adding some nerves to an already nerve-wracking day.
“I was worried I was gonna be late,” Dickinson said of the delayed flight. “That didn’t help things.”
You wouldn’t have been able to tell when he made his Dallas debut against the Colorado Avalanche later that evening. He took the initial “rookie lap” as the first player out for warm-ups, then midway through the first period he scored on his first NHL shot.
“Just don’t miss, that’s what I was thinking,” Dickinson said.
Dickinson only spent one game in the NHL. As an emergency recall, he had to be returned to the AHL after Spezza beat his illness. The next night he was back in the AHL lineup for the Texas Stars, and the following night he scored a pair of goals in a wild 8-5 victory for Texas that clinched a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Dickinson’s one-game NHL cameo could be a slice of the future for Dallas. The former first rounder has impressed mightily during his rookie season and has 52 points (22 goals, 30 assists) in 71 games, while also registering a +11 rating.
He has also moved into an expanded role as the season has progressed for Texas. As Texas heads into the playoffs, Dickinson is one of the top penalty killers and is a catalyst on the Stars second power play unit.
And it all starts in the defensive zone. Dickinson has been particularly effective on defensive zone draws (faceoff stats aren’t kept in the AHL) and has an active stick to go with sound positioning. He is tied for third in the AHL in shorthanded goals with three.
“That’s where you have to make your mark,” Dickinson said. “You can score goals and points, but you’re not really contributing to the team if they can’t trust you on defense. That’s a big part of my game and I build off it.”
Dickinson is hoping to continue building toward an NHL future with Dallas, potentially next season. The Stars are loaded at center for the considerable future, but Dickinson has been a versatile player in the AHL and played both wings.
His confidence is growing down the middle and on the wings, and you can see the results on the score sheet.
There are a couple tweaks Dickinson has to make before he steps into the NHL spotlight. He is strong on the puck, but needs to add a bit more physicality in his game to become a complete defensive player who can battle with larger centers. He also needs to trust his shot more, and be willing to pull the trigger a bit quicker than he has at times this season.
But, it is a minor list of modifications. And that has Dickinson and the Stars excited that his one-shot, one-goal NHL debut is a sign of future success.
“Obviously, I’ll never forget that,” Dickinson said. “It all happened so quick. Can’t wait to get back there and do it again.”