|Photo credit to Dave Dale/The Nugget
"Well to be honest, I think our goal was to be a competitive team, which we always try to be," said coach Stan Butler. "But given the loss of players that we had, we thought we would settle in as a team battling for the playoffs, in that 7/8th spot. But credit to our team, and my coaching staff, everyone's worked hard and we've thankfully found a way to be better than that."
A big reason for that surprise success has been the emergence of one particular rookie defenseman. North Bay's powerplay was one of the league's best last year, but they were losing their top offensive defender in Brenden Miller. And then North Bay decided to move Miles Liberati early in the year. Who would step up to fill the shoes left by those two players? Who would help Kyle Wood create offense from the back-end, something coach Stan Butler calls "critical to success in today's game?" Insert 11th round pick Cam Dineen.
"He's been huge for us," says Stan Butler. "We've tried to adapt to the game as much as anyone else. The game now is about puck moving defencemen and skill. And that's what Cameron [Dineen] is. I mean he's second in defenseman scoring behind a 19 year old [Rasmus Andersson], as a first year player in the league, on a team that's not the most offensively gifted."
Dineen, the son of a high school principal, wasn't always set on coming to North Bay. The New Jersey native had a commitment to Yale and played last year with the New Jersey Rockets of the EHL (Eastern Hockey League). Dineen ended up leading the league in defenseman scoring, was a first team all star and the league's rookie of the year. While many OHL fans aren't likely to be familiar with the Rockets or the EHL (which used to be the AJHL), they actually boast some pretty impressive alumni (especially when it comes to defenders), whose names OHL fans would recognize; John Carlson, Bobby Sanguinetti, and David Kolomatis.
Ultimately Dineen decided to break his commitment to Yale and signed with North Bay. "I broke my commitment to Yale for North Bay because I thought coming to the OHL and playing for Stan Butler would put me in the best position for my development in my draft year," says Dineen. "He was committed to Yale. His Dad's a high school principal. We just showed him our program here and how he could continue his schooling here and I think that really helped," added Butler.
The rest, you could say, is history. As such, it's been quite a whirlwind for Dineen this year. 2015 started with him playing at the Ivan Hlinka (U18's) with team U.S.A. (where he tallied two assists in 4 games). Then he started the OHL season pretty slowly, with 1 goal and 5 assists in his first 15 games. But right around the start of November, things really started to click for Dineen. As I write this today, Dineen sits 2nd in the league in defensemen scoring (2 points behind Barrie's Rasmus Andersson) and has emerged as one of the OHL's elite offensive blueliners. To put that in perspective, Anthony DeAngelo, Cody Ceci, Ryan Murphy, Ryan Ellis, and John Carlson are the only defenders in the last ten years to finish in the top 2 of defensemen scoring in the league during their draft year. All 5 were first round picks at their respective NHL Drafts.
So why isn't Dineen garnering that kind of attention, as it pertains to the upcoming 2016 NHL Draft? Coach Stan Butler certainly believes Dineen deserves to be a high draft pick. "I do [think he's being underrated]. But that seems to be a common theme for any team I coach. I think a lot of our guys are always undervalued. I think he fits in that category. I just don't see, with the game, where it's going, why you wouldn't value a guy like Dineen a lot more," says Butler. Dineen himself, admits to paying attention to the draft rankings. "I mean yeah, I pay attention to draft rankings, but I try not to really look in depth about it," says Dineen. "Every team has their own agenda and rankings, and that’s all that matters in the end. I think I have shown that I can play with the best this year, but it will just come down to what certain teams are looking for or see in me. It would be a dream come true to be picked in the first round."
|Photo credit to Battalionhockey.com
Another guy Dineen gives credit to is his defensive partner, Colorado Avalanche 3rd rounder (and now Arizona Coyotes prospect) Kyle Wood. "Kyle always makes a good first pass which allows me to jump into the rush and create offense. As everyone knows, he has a fantastic one timer and shot, therefore, he compliments my pass first mentality. He makes me elevate my play every game," says Dineen, who suggests Wood has helped him off the ice too. "He has definitely helped me with the draft," admits Dineen. "I have asked him a lot of questions about his draft year and his experience. He has told me his stories and memories, and always is willing to answer any questions I have about what to look out for in the process."
With great mentors on the ice, and a fantastic talent developer in Stan Butler guiding his progression, NHL teams would be crazy to not consider Dineen as a first round pick. A quick examination of the NHL's defenseman scoring leaders right now and three of the top five (Klingberg, Letang, and Subban) were not first round picks. These are guys who did not possess elite size upon being drafted, but who have excelled because of the way the game is changing. Look no further than the impact that Philadelphia Flyers rookie Shayne Gostisbehere has had this year (a player Dineen compares himself too). He was a 3rd round pick, in his 2nd year of eligibility (after getting passed over in his first year as a high school player).
When will the NHL, and NHL scouts learn that an emphasis needs to be placed on drafting skilled defenders who can contribute offensively? That's the way the game is played now. And that's why Cam Dineen deserves to be a first round pick come June.
Thanks to Cam Dineen, Stan Butler, and the North Bay Battalion for taking the time to answer my questions, making this article possible.
Below you can find the transcript of Cam Dineen's Q & A.
Brock Otten - It's your first year in the OHL and things have gone pretty well so far (I'd say). What's been the biggest adjustment for you, coming from the Eastern Hockey League?
Cam Dineen - I think the biggest adjustment coming to the OHL is just the fact that every team is good, and every game will be a battle. Almost every game is the same fast pace. Also, the skill of teams as a whole is obviously much higher here in the OHL.
Otten - Why break your commitment with Yale and join North Bay?
Dineen - I broke my commitment to Yale for North Bay because I thought coming to the OHL and playing for Stan Butler would put me in the best position for my development in my draft year.
Otten - You had a chance to play at the Ivan Hlinka this summer for the U.S. What was that experience like?
Dineen - It was an honor to play for the U.S. at the Ivan Hlinka. We came up a little short of our team goals, but it was a blast and I made many memories and friends.
Otten - What's been the biggest takeaway from playing for Stan Butler? What's the one thing you would say is the most important thing that he's taught you?
Dineen - I’d say the biggest thing Stan has taught me is to use my hockey IQ to play defense. He knows I’m not the biggest or the strongest, but he preaches to me to always have an active stick and to use my brain.
Otten - Every player should play with confidence, but be honest, If I had told you in September, that towards the end of the season you'd be leading the OHL in defenseman scoring, what would you have said?
Dineen - If you told me I would be anywhere close to leading the OHL for D-man scoring, I definitely wouldn’t believe you. I thought I came in strong and played with confidence, but I think I have developed a ton since arriving.
Otten - What do you attribute your success to this year?
Dineen - I think my success just has come from hard work this past summer, and a very helpful and motivating coaching staff here in North Bay.
Otten - Obviously it's your draft year and you're really starting to gain some steam on several rankings (starting to inch closer to the first round). Is that something you pay a lot of attention to?
Dineen - I mean yeah, I pay attention to draft rankings, but I try not to really look in depth about it. Every team has their own agenda and rankings, and that’s all that matters in the end.
Otten - Do you think, with the skill set you bring to the table and the success you've had this season, that you deserve to be an NHL first rounder come June?
Dineen - I think I have shown that I can play with the best this year, but it will just come down to what certain teams are looking for or see in me. It would be a dream come true to be picked in the first round.
Otten - If I were to ask an NHL scout, what your greatest strengths are as a player, what would they say?
Dineen - I’d say that a NHL scout would say that I have a high hockey IQ, which allows me to defend effectively, I have good vision and poise with the puck, and that I can quarterback a powerplay.
Otten - Conversely, what would they say you need to improve on the most?
Dineen - They would say I just need to keep getting stronger, in order to be better in the D zone, and to keep working on having stick on the puck at all times.
Otten - Want to talk briefly about your defence partner Kyle Wood. What's it like playing with him?
Dineen - Kyle Wood is a great player who possesses good puck skills. He always makes a good first pass which allows me to jump into the rush and create offense. As everyone knows, he has a fantastic one timer and shot, therefor, he compliments my pass first mentality. He makes me elevate my play every game.
Otten - Having gone through the draft process himself, and being an OHL veteran now, has he helped you with things off the ice too?
Dineen - Yeah, definitely. I have asked him a lot of questions about his draft year and his experience. He has told me his stories and memories, and always is willing to answer any questions I have about what to look out for in the process.
Otten - As a New Jersey native, safe to say you grew up a New Jersey Devils fan?
Dineen - I am actually a Boston Bruins fan because my dad’s side of the family was from the Boston area, before moving to NJ.
Otten - Is there a guy in the NHL that you would say, that's a guy I want to develop into? Or that's a guy I try to pattern my game after?
Dineen - Recently, I have really liked Shayne Gostisbehere. I watched him a few times when he played for Union College on TV and since then, I have been waiting for him to make his presence felt in the NHL. He has a high hockey IQ and is great at moving the puck.
Otten - Last question. Who's the toughest forward in the OHL to stop one on one?
Dineen - Josh Ho-Sang