First year pro: Nigel Dawes

By Colleen Greene

New York Rangers prospect Nigel Dawes is the kind of player every team wants to have on their roster – a talented, hard-nosed forward who does all the little things right.

He’s a 30-goal scorer in Hartford this season, along with 23 assists for 53 points, helping the Rangers AHL affiliate, the Wolf Pack, to a 39-20-2-6 record in the Eastern Conference. He ranks third on the team in scoring, and is doing it as a rookie.

Aside from his offensive numbers, Dawes brings a solid defensive game, as evidenced by his terrific +14 rating, as well as a willingness to take a hit to make a play.

“I’ve never been one to shy away from the physical play and that’s the way things have been going this year,” he said after netting a goal in an 8-2 thrashing of the Philadelphia Phantoms last Wednesday. “I like the physical play – getting in there and taking the hit and making the hit. That’s all part of the game and part of the way I play.”

Dawes and his linemates, Colby Genoway and Dwight Helminen, totaled four points in that game against Philly. Assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson likes what he’s seen out of the diminutive Dawes.

“He’s been a steady customer here for us,” he said after the game. “That line didn’t have a lot of points for us tonight, some nights they do, but most nights they come with that type of energy. Those are three great players on that line. There have been times when we’ve been riding those guys pretty hard, but lately we’ve lightened up a little on their workload and it looked like it paid off today.”

Dawes doesn’t mind that type of responsibility. Demonstrating a strong work ethic, the 21-year-old winger is willing to do whatever he can to help his team win, a large part of the reason the Pack find themselves in second place in the Atlantic Division.

Standing at 5’8, 175 pounds, you wouldn’t expect such physical play from someone his size.

“You can’t really think about it,” he said about the size disadvantage he faces every game. “It’s been that way since I’ve been 15 or 16 years old. I just have to go out and play my game and do what I do best and that’s play hockey. I just have to keep playing the way I do. Ultimately, I want to get to the NHL. That’s been the goal since the start of my career.”

The Winnipeg, Manitoba native started his professional career this season after achieving just about every milestone imaginable as an amateur. The Kootenay Ice won the Memorial Cup in his rookie season, the first of four years in the WHL.

“My first year in junior I got a chance to win, but there I didn’t have the biggest role on the team, I was one of those depth players,” he said, despite netting nine postseason goals. “It was definitely a great experience, but then I thought it was going to be easy – that I could just win one every year. But it was definitely a great experience.”

Aside from his accomplishments with the Ice, Dawes also played an important role as a member of both Canada’s 2004 World Junior squad that won the silver medal, as well as the 2005 team that captured gold.

“Any time you get to play for your country, it’s amazing,” he said of the experience. “I was fortunate enough to play close to home, so I had a lot of family and friends down there, and that’s something I’m never going to forget.”

Dawes left behind a junior career that saw him put up 272 points in 245 games over four seasons, including a franchise record 164 goals. He’s continued his goal scoring ways in the AHL, but has taken on new roles on this team, forcing him to become an even more complete player.

“Any time you go to a new team, your role is going to change a little bit,” he said. “But the main aspect of it is still the same. I want to try to contribute offensively and I’ve actually added the role of killing penalties this season. I’ve never really played the penalty kill before, so it’s been a little bit of an adjustment, but you’ve just got to get used to it and things have been going pretty well so far.”

The entire season has been going pretty well so far for the first-year forward. After four standout seasons in the WHL, Dawes is re-adjusting himself to his somewhat familiar role as a rookie in his first year pro.

“Yeah, it’s definitely different after you put four years playing in the WHL,” he said. “After your first year in the WHL, you realize you’re not going to be a rookie again. But four years is a long time and now it’s back to the beginning again. But the guys are pretty good here, they don’t give it to us too bad.”

Dawes is enjoying his rookie season so far, and it doesn’t look like it’ll be too long before he’s showcasing his talents in New York. He looks forward to helping out the team on Broadway, especially with the enforcement of the new rules, which he feels will benefit him once he gets to the big show.

“You can see it already this year,” he said. “The smaller, quicker, shiftier players (are doing well). That’s the type of game it’s going to be now. The bigger guys who liked to clutch and grab before are having a pretty tough time this year. I think that plays right into my hands and I don’t think it could have come at a better time.”

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