Dakers ready for major minutes

By Kevin Wey

He didn’t play goalie full time until he was 13. He didn’t see much playing time in his first season of major juniors. He didn’t see much more ice time in 2004-05 either, but he did impress in his limited action. So much so that he was taken by the San Jose Sharks in the fifth round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. But that’s the past. The time is now for Taylor Dakers, and the Sharks will watch Kootenay with interest in 2005-06 to see whether they have another mid-round steal on their hands.

Dakers was drafted by the Ice in sixth round of the 2001 Bantam Draft after playing minor hockey in the Vancouver area. The Langley, British Columbia, native played junior B hockey in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League for the Columbia Valley Rockies in 2002-03, where the 16-year-old was named the Eddie Mountain Division Rookie of the Year and Goalie of the Year.

After a successful season of junior B hockey, Dakers made the jump to the WHL. The Ice started the 2003-04 season with three goalies: Jeff Glass, Bryan Bridges, and Dakers. Bridges was traded to the Seattle Thunderbirds, where he has gone on to shine, while Dakers remained in Kootenay as understudy to one of the WHL’s top goalies the past two seasons. Glass played 3263 minutes in net for the Ice during the 2003-04 regular season, while Dakers played only 856 minutes in 19 games.

“I didn’t get much ice time,” Dakers said of his rookie season. “I didn’t play extremely well all season and my numbers weren’t very great either.”

<p>Dakers .877 save percentage and 3.36 goals-against average were well off Glass’ .909 and 2.45, but the 18-year-old showed improvement in 2004-05 and posted a very respectable .916 goals-against average, a 2.03 goals-against average, and 4 shutouts in 23 games for the Ice. Central Scouting took note and ranked Dakers eighth among all North American goalies for the 2005 Draft, noting his sound technical skills, good skating, lateral movement, and quick glove hand.

Establishing himself as a very capable backup netminder in 2004-05, Dakers will be handed the reins in 2005-06. Kootenay head coach Cory Clouston will be looking to Dakers to play nearly as many games as Glass did the previous two seasons.

“He’s got to be able to play 50-plus games this year,” Clouston told Hockey’s Future in a telephone interview.

Dakers may be Clouston’s goalie of choice in 2005-06, but the former backup had his patience tested even last season.

“There were some stretches when I’d go six- or seven-plus games without getting a start, and I was really getting frustrated with how little I was playing,” Dakers said. “However, I knew that this year would be my year to be the starter, so I had to stick it out.”

Understanding of Dakers’ frustration, Clouston does think the experience of backing up Glass was beneficial for the young goalie.

“Taylor and Jeff got a long very well and pushed each other,” Clouston said. “He took it as a learning experience and made the best of the situation.”

“I think he’s become a better person because of it, but now it’s his chance to show what he can do.”

Clouston has faith in his No. 1, as Dakers is “good positionally, he’s athletic, he’s got a good glove hand; he’s strong in most areas.”

Although a muscle strain limited Dakers to just practicing with fellow Shark prospects at the Pacific Division Prospect Tournament, the experience was still an eye-opener for the 19-year-old netminder.

“It was the fastest hockey I’ve ever seen,” Dakers said. “The skating, the puck movement, the shots, the whole tempo of the practices and everything was so much quicker than what I’ve ever seen.”

“It’s just shown me how much quicker, faster, and better shape I need to be in,” Dakers said.

At 6’2 170 pounds, Dakers is a lanky goalie who will take away even more of the net as he fills out. Clouston does note that Dakers is “coming to camp a lot bigger and a lot stronger than he has in the past.”

Improving his strength and his size has been a point of focus for him, but he also notes he wants to improve his consistency. Clouston concurs, saying Dakers needs to improve his “consistency and mental game, he has to become mentally stronger.”

However, Clouston does note that Dakers, who played forward for much of his youth hockey, is a good puckhandling goalie, sometimes to a fault.

“He’s very good at puckhanding, and at times he tries to do too much,” Clouston said. “The new shrunken area that the goalies are allowed to play the puck will be beneficial for him so that he doesn’t do too much and keeps things simple.”

Dakers feels his angles and patience are two of his best traits as a goalie, and he describes his game with one word.

“Efficient,” Dakers said. “I try not to do too many moves or movements where I don’t need to.”

Playing a hybrid stand-up/butterfly style, Dakers’ conservation of motion style is similar to Shark starter Evgeni Nabokov and former Shark Miikka Kiprusoff, as well as fellow Shark prospect goalies Dimitri Pätzold and Patrick Ehelechner.
Although Vancouver Canucks starter Kirk McLean was his favorite growing up, and Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo impress him a lot now, Dakers would compare himself to former Shark Ed Belfour.

“He’s real efficient,” Dakers said of Belfour. “He makes saves look simple and easy, and he’s done it for over 15 years.”

While Belfour has been a focus of ire amongst Shark fans and fans around the league for his on- and off-ice conduct, Dakers is quiet and unassuming.

While Shark fans learned Dakers had been drafted by reading the Internet, Dakers found out he’d been drafted by the Sharks from agent Dennis Polonich, former Detroit Red Wing fighter in the late 70s and early 80s, while playing a round of golf. Clouston had a good idea San Jose might take his backup goalie.

“I know Brian Gross (Sharks scout) was able to watch him on several occasions and they showed interest in him for the last while,” Clouston said.

The Sharks may even have beaten a few teams to the punch by taking Dakers with the 140th pick of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

“We had had a lot of discussions with other teams and have talked with a couple other teams that would have, in hindsight, taken Dakers with their next pick,” Clouston said.

Although Kootenay made it to the WHL Western Conference Finals last year, losing to the Kelowna Rockets in six games, Dakers does not have a game of WHL playoff experience. Despite this fact, Clouston does not enter the season concerned that his No. 1 netminder has no playoff experience.

“Six years ago we won with a goalie named Dan Blackburn, who was a 16-year-old rookie.” Clouston noted. “That’s what the playoffs are about, guys stepping up, and you never know until they’re put in that position whether they’ll be a success or not.”

The Ice won the B.C. Division and were first in the Western Conference last year behind the leadership of Glass and top scorer Nigel Dawes.. Despite the departures of Glass, Dawes and other veterans, the bar is high, but Dakers’ goal is simple.

“I want to give the team a chance to win every night, because I think we have the ability to win against any team in the league.”

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.