2016 NHL Draft: Gambrell takes own path to success at Denver

By DJ Powers
Dylan Gambrell - University of Denver

Photo: University of Denver forward and 2016 prospect Dylan Gambrell played for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL for three seasons before competing for the Pioneers in 2015-16 (courtesy of RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)



University of Denver freshman forward Dylan Gambrell is one of the top draft-eligible collegians for the 2016 NHL Draft. He centers the Pioneers electrifying “Pacific Rim” line that also features sophomore Danton Heinen (BOS) and junior Trevor Moore.

As Gambrell explains, it took some time for the magic to develop between he and his linemates.

“Their hockey sense and playmaking ability is unbelievable,” enthused Gambrell. “Danton and Trevor played together last year so they had that great chemistry already coming into this year. I just tried to jump in and play my part as a linemate. I think now we have great chemistry and are able to make great plays on the ice.”

So, do Heinen and Moore make him better, or does Gambrell make them better or both?

“I’d like to think it’s both,” chuckled Gambrell. “We kind of all bring different things to the offense. Danton’s got a great shot and is a great playmaker. With Trevor, his vision and playmaking ability are awesome. I think we all try to compete hard and that’s the first thing that we all try to do to contribute. So it’s been working out well lately, and we’re enjoying that.”

One of Gambrell’s best attributes is his unwavering commitment to become a better player. And as Denver assistant head coach David Carle explains, it is that commitment that has helped him to be successful this season.

“Dylan’s been consistently getting better,” said Carle. “That’s been one of the most exciting things to see. He’s very humble and just cares about getting better every day. When Dylan came to us, the package was there – his skating, skills and stuff like that. But he’s gotten better with the puck, being more assertive driving to the scoring areas. I think his confidence has grown, from the very first day of practice (at the beginning of the season) until now. Dylan’s had a lot of success this year, and that’s all been from hard work. He’s earned every bit of it too.”

Gambrell also possesses an excellent shot that his coaches would like to see utilized more advantageously.

“We feel that one thing Dylan can do better is one timing pucks off the rush,” Carle explained. “He catches and shoots a lot of pucks. He’s got a great shot. I think if Dylan can shoot the puck quicker off one-timers when his feet are moving, he might be able to catch goalies off guard a little bit.”

Like his linemate Moore, who is from California, Gambrell hails from a non-traditional hockey area. His hometown of Bonney Lake, WA, is located southeast of Tacoma. Gambrell began playing organized hockey with the Kent Valley Hockey Association (KVHA) near his hometown.

Often times, when hockey and the state of Washington are spoken in the same sentence, it is usually a reference to the WHL due to the league’s strong presence in that state. And that is something that Gambrell is all too familiar with.

“Growing up in Washington, it’s mainly about the WHL and that’s kind of the focus,” Gambrell noted. “Growing up there, those were mainly the looks that you got from teams interested in you. Guys were always getting drafted (by WHL teams) and they weren’t really opening their eyes to the collegiate aspect of things. For me growing up, college hockey had kind of always been my focus.”

Gambrell eventually left Washington to pursue his dream of playing college hockey and wound up in Colorado. It was playing for the Colorado Thunderbirds and their head coach, Angelo Ricci, that would, unsurprisingly, lead him down the road to the University of Denver. Ricci had played his collegiate hockey at Denver. And as Gambrell explains, his coach did have some influence in his decision to become a Pioneer himself.

“I was able to talk to him about it and how life was there (as a student-athlete),” explained Gambrell. “When I took my visit to DU, I just fell in love with the place. And being here now is just awesome. I think the greatest thing that Angelo has taught me is having a team-first attitude. That’s always the main focus. It’s about the team first and not the individual. Angelo has also taught me about the community here in Denver, not just on the ice but off of it, as well.”

So what can Gambrell offer teams that are considering selecting him in the upcoming NHL Draft?

“I have a high compete level,” Gambrell said in describing his game. “I try to work hard every second of every shift. I try to be reliable in all three zones because I want to be a 200-foot player. Obviously, I want to contribute to the offense, but I also want to be solid in the neutral and defensive zones.”

With the NHL Draft still two months away, Gambrell has more important things to focus on right now.

“To be here and a part of the Frozen Four is very special for me,” he said. “We have a great group here. Everybody has gelled really well together and our focus is to win another National Championship.”

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF