Dillon Simpson: 2011 NHL Entry Draft Prospect Profile

One good way to feel old is to do prospect profiles for 17-18 year old prospects.  I'm only 28 but when sitting down to compile information on someone born 10 years after you were, it really makes me think.  It's more jarring as you get older, of course.  What really makes hit home when it's the son or relative of a NHL player you used to watch.  Bloodlines are a popular highlight for a prospect, so you really can't ignore it.  Sometimes it's a point of comparison; sometimes it's just a nice tidbit of information.  Either way, I'm certain I'm going to run across this as I get older and suddenly feel that age.

Today's profile for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft will focus on one such prospect: University of North Dakota defenseman Dillon Simpson.  Devils fans may be more familiar with his aunt, Christine; who has done some of the intermission work for Devils broadcasts last season.  While he was a little before my time, some of you will recall his dad Craig Simpson. Ascoring winger from the mid-80s and early-90s with an absolutely ridiculous career shooting percentage (23.66%!!!).  Fortunately, Dillon plays a different position so any attempt at a comparison isn't really there.  But that's OK.  Let's learn more about him after the jump.

Who is Dillon Simpson?

As noted prior to the jump, he's a defenseman for the North Dakota Fighting Sioux and the son of Craig Simpson.  His size is a bit of a question.  His profile at Eliteprospects, which contains his stats as a college player (2 goals, 8 assists, 27 games) and his time in with the Junior A league team Spruce Grove (12 goals, 29 assists), Simpson is listed at 6'1" and 195 pounds.  Over at his player page at the UND website, which contains some background about him, he's 6'2" and 205 pounds.  Finally, in his prospect card at NHL.com, which shows his Central Scouting Services midterm rank (115) and his final rank (157), Simpson is 6'0" and 192 pounds.  I'm admittedly a little confused on how big he actually is; but at least he's not particularly small.

One additional item of interest that is worth mentioning is his age.  He was 17-year old freshman for most of last season, which is a rather impressive feat.  As noted in this Ryan Kennedy article in The Hockey News, Simpson actually accelerated his schooling so he could come to UND early.  I imagine he didn't have much left to prove in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

A Little Video

Simpson's profile page at the UND website has the following video, which includes an interview, his first goal as a Fighting Sioux, and some other highlights. 

What Others Have Said About Dillon Simpson

Simpson entered the 2010-11 campaign with plenty of hype. A 17-year old freshman defenseman on a traditionally strong North Dakota team coming off a big season in Junior-A with Spruce Grove. The Ryan Kennedy article at The Hockey News highlights someone with quite a bit of promise.  Check out a few quotes:

The coach [Steve Hamilton] noted that Simpson displayed maturity beyond his years this season and thanks to that, the rookie was given more responsibility.

"He manages the play," Hamilton noted. "He moves the puck, he’s poised, he’s confident…he’s an every-situation guy."

Simpson knows what his strengths are, but is also aware there is still work to do.

"I’m a two-way defenseman," said the blueliner, who counts Nicklas Lidstrom as a role model. "I take care of my own end and can help out on offense. I’m not the best skater, but I think I make up for it with my vision and smarts."

However, as the season went on, he was, well, like a freshman and scouts quickly saw flaws in his game.  For example, back in November, Kirk Luedeke of Bruins 2011 Draft Watch got an opinion on Simpson from Red Line Report's Max Giese:

"He's a smart player defensively, rarely out of position; but he's a pretty bad skater and he doesn't have any poise moving the puck," Giese said. "He's a slushy skater with a short and sluggish stride. His hands are stiff, he struggles to put passes on the tape and he always hurries to get the puck off of his stick. He's getting the ice time right now because of North Dakota's injuries."

That's definitely not good for a prospect. Poise and passing can be helped; but skating is vital.  Sure, it can be worked on, but that depends on what specifically is the problem with it. Can a short stride be extended? Can something sluggish become smoother? It seems to me that it's more than just adjusting to the speed of the WCHA after playing in Junior A.  Between that and the end of that opinion - getting ice time only because of need - I get a sense of why his draft stock fell so much.

Not everyone is completely down on Simpson like Central Scouting Services (#157 among North American skaters is really low).  The Scouting Report recently put out their Top 100 prospects list for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and Simpson actually made the cut at 87th overall.  Here's the summary from Scott Campbell's post; and when you're done, go read the rest of it to see Matt Killian, Zach Yuen, and Zac Larraza:

In hindsight, Simpson’s draft stock was likely hurt by playing in the NCAA as a 17-year-old, as Simpson didn’t get the ice-time or live up to the expectations most had for him. The son of former NHLer Craig Simpson, Dillon had a strong rookie season in the AJHL a year ago but had some issues with the speed of the college game. He has some decent ability and is a fairly smart defenseman but will need to really improve his skating if he wants to be a legitimate NHL prospect. He will have some time to develop over the next few years and should be well worth a 3rd round pick to see if he can improve on those deficiencies.

I think this is a positive take on Simpson.  It recognizes his problems, but notes his assets while reasonably stating that he needs further development - particularly his skating, of course.  Campbell and the Scouting Report aren't the only ones who feel this way. When Luedeke summarized the NCAA draft eligible prospects after the college regular season, his opinion on Simpson would agree with Campbell's assessment:

7. Dillon Simpson, D University of North Dakota (WCHA)- A bit of a disappointing season for a player scouts had some real high hopes for coming in. The son of former NHL forward and HNIC analyst Craig Simpson (and nephew of television reporter Christine Simpson) has decent size at 6-1, 195. He scored 2 goals and 10 points in 30 games as a freshman and wasn't overly involved in the offensive scheme/didn't get a lot of ice time. He's a work in progress who has some soft hands and hockey sense, but isn't a great skater. He's slow out of the blocks and needs to work on his stride to get the most out of his movement. Scouts see intriguing elements of his game, but after 12 goals and 41 points last year with Spruce Grove of the AJHL, more of an impact was expected from him- he did not deliver. This is not to say Simpson isn't a legitimate NHL prospect- he is. He grew up around the game and has the natural athleticism to be a player, but this season showed that it is going to take time and he'd require a leap of faith for a team to draft him in the first two rounds.

The big point from Luedeke's most recent take that stood out in my opinion is that Simpson didn't get a lot of ice time.  It's a catch 22 of sorts.  If you don't have the skills (skating, offense, poise), then you're not going to earn minutes; yet, the skills don't develop unless you're getting minutes.    He's a freshman, so I'm sure he'll have a better sense of what it takes to get minutes

An Opinion of Sorts

While this isn't a cavalcade of opinions, there are two ways to look at Simpson.  The first is the negative approach. If you feel his skating is so bad that it's not likely to be improved; that he got shocked by the next level to a point where he's got a long way to go to develop; and are bothered by the fact that he couldn't work his way into the UND lineup as a regular, then you're not exactly enthused to draft him until later in the draft.  As in, fifth round or later - if at all, depending on the severity of the negativity.  After all, there was a reason CSS ranked him low in the midterm and then dropped him further.

The second is an optimistic look at it.  You understand that his skating is an issue, but it may improve. You recognize that he was a young freshman on a strong team in a strong college conference so minutes would be hard to come by and his time will come. You think his hockey sense and positioning are enough to feel he may have a future in pro hockey.  In this case, you may be willing to take a chance on him late in the third round or the early fourth round.  This falls closer to where The Scouting Report ranked him among all other prospects.

No matter what way you look at it, it's clear that rushing into the University of North Dakota backfired from a draft stock standpoint, and Simpson will likely need the next three seasons to develop as a defender. That's not a bad thing at all; it's rather common for prospects of his type: the ones who have serious flaws among their assets.  It's common that such a prospect plays out their eligibility instead of jumping to the pros early. He'll get good experience at UND regardless where he goes in the draft.

In his Round 3-7 Mock Draft for the Devils, Tom felt he could be a fifth round pick and could break out next season now that there's room on the Sioux blueline.  I wouldn't mind him being the Devils' fifth round pick.  It's tough to get a read on what round would be appropriate because it really depends on how positively or negatively one looks at Simpson as a prospect. The New Jersey Devils surely got plenty of time seeing Simpson play since Devils prospect Derek Rodwell is also on the team.  Whether that would make them hopeful or not for his development and potential will determine whether he gets into the system - which could vary quite a bit.

Your Take

Now that you've read some information on Simpson, I want to know what you think of him as a prospect. Are you immediately put off on how poor of a skater he is? Are you hopeful that he'll improve in the next few seasons at North Dakota?  Do you think he'll get more minutes and develop into a better defender next season?  Where would you take Simpson if you were the Devils?  Did you see Simpson play or find some other opinion that comments on what he did? Please share your answers and other opinions about Dillon Simpson in the comments.  Thanks for reading.

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