By: Zach Morris

Sam Dickinson is someone who has been touted by many for a very long time as someone with an NHL future.

Dickinson’s final year before the OHL draft was interrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however in Dickinson’s during that season he was still able to rack up points. Thanks to his stellar play, he was selected fourth overall in the OHL draft in 2022 to the Niagara Ice Dogs. After being selected by the Ice Dogs, he was traded to the London Knights for three second-rounders, three third rounders, and a fifth rounder. London had high expectations for him and hoped that he could be their new franchise defencemen for the next few years and oh boy did he live up to that. In his first season with the Knights in 2022-2023, Dickinson helped lead the Knights to a Memorial Cup finals appearance. Dickinson was selected to the OHL First All-Rookie Team thanks to an exceptional season. He was then selected to represent Team Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup where helped lead the team to another Gold Medal as one of the top defencemen.

The question is why is Dickinson seen as a top prospect for the 2024 NHL Draft in June? Zach Morris with Draft Prospects Hockey breaks down Dickinson’s game as he tries to answers that question.

Dickinson is an absolute workhorse of a defenceman who eats minutes and is typically out there facing the harder matchups. He is one of the bigger defencemen coming into the draft this year, standing at 6-foot-3 and uses his size to his advantage. He is constantly outmuscling players along the boards and in front of the net. His skating skills are always evident, you can see in the way he uses crossovers and long strides to create separation when leading the rush. As well as his smooth and fluid skating when hustling back on defence. Sam’s skating is one of his greatest assets, which always keeps him involved in the play no matter where he is on the ice. He is a shows flashes of his offensive skills, which was especially evident during the Hlinka Cup tournament. Playing with Oliver Bonk in London you’d think his offensive potential would be limited but so far he has excelled and seen lots of powerplay time which has allowed him to get off to a hot start, amassing 8 points in 7 games. Playing with Bonk also allows him to show off his high IQ and defensive ability. Bonk is constantly taking part in the rush and playing deep in the offensive zone causing Dickinson to play a more conservative role. He won’t always wow you with a spectacular move when he has the puck but his vision and passing ability are always on display. He is looking to create the best scoring chance and is extremely patient with the puck. That can also be one of his biggest downfalls. Sam will have the occasional turnover because he is waiting too long to make the best play rather than just advancing the puck. The problem is when he turns it over it is typically a bad one. He also has a lethal shot from the point and is not afraid to use it. He has seen tons of penalty kill time which has allowed him to further showcase his defensive awareness and IQ. Dickinson’s game isn’t as face paced offensively as some of the other defencemen in this year’s draft, but he has the fundamentals down to a tee which allows him to excel and play a fluid game.

One of Sam’s greatest assets is his skating ability, he makes it look effortless and smooth. His skating is not always on display as he is calculated with his movement and energy. When he needs a burst of speed to lead the rush or hustle back on defence it is evident the tremendous talent he poses. Dickinson is able to blow by defenders when leading the rush because of his exceptional crossovers and long strides. When skating back to defend the rush he poses extraordinary speed skating backwards thanks to his cross overs and unders. The way he is able to transition from going forward to backward and still maintain his momentum is a thing of beauty. His edge work is evident when walking the blue line in the offensive zone. Dickinson’s skating always keeps him in the play even if it seems like he’s not. His skating, aside from his size, is one of the main reasons he looks like a man amongst boys and one why he is such a highly touted prospect in this year’s draft.

In the following clip you can see Sam demonstrating his excellent skating ability. He shows his exceptional crossover ability and 10 to 2 skating.

Defensive Play and Physical Ability
Sam’s defensive play is something that constantly stands out and is really being show cased this season. Playing with Oliver Bonk, Dickinson has taken more of a defensive role on the pairing. Bonk is constantly involved in the rush and jumps into the play in the offensive zone. This has allowed Dickinson’s defensive game to truly shine, I’m sure the coach is not too thrilled about the amount of plays Dickinson has had to defend by himself or at the very least slow down until Bonk or one of the other forwards is able to get back in time to aid him. On the flip side Sam has been able to show off his high hockey IQ consistently stifling the opponent’s attack. He is very active with his stick constantly poke checking opponents, but he is always careful and ensures that he does not take a penalty. Dickinson is almost always in the right spot, whether that is covering his man in front of the net and boxing him to ensure the goalie isn’t screened and the player can’t tip the puck or shadowing the man with the puck. Dickinson was gifted with physical attributes standing at a towering 6’3” and weighing in at 194lbs and he doesn’t put them to waste. He uses his size to get in the way of players and slow the rush down. Dickinson often pins opponents along the boards in order to snatch the puck from them or allow a teammate to do so. He uses his large frame to block shots or at least disrupt the shooting lane, this is extremely evident on the penalty kill.

In this clip Bonk makes a bad turnover in the defensive zone and Dickinson is immediately in the right position taking his man in front and communicating the with Bonk and letting him know to take the player with the puck. Later in the video you can see another good play by Sam, he out muscles his man on the boards using his large frame and positional awareness.

Although Dickinson was unable to clear the puck from the zone on the penalty kill at the start of the clip, in the end he recovered exceptionally. He blocked the first shot attempt and even though he was on his knees, he somehow managed to get his stick in the way and deflect the second shot attempt.

His defence partner makes a sloppy pass on the line trying to send it across to Dickinson. Luckily, Dickinson is able to recover and is there to slow down the play. On the second attempt he is able to get his stick in the way to break up a potential breakaway pass.

He puts pressure on his man in the defensive zone with his active stick and forced the Greyhounds player to take a bad one-handed backhand shot and then makes a terrific stretch pass out of the zone.

Playmaking and Passing Ability
Sam’s greatest asset on offence is his vision. He rarely rushes a pass and loves to look for the best scoring opportunity rather than dishing it off to the first open player he sees. He shows his poise when leading the rush from his own zone. His passes are tape to tape lasers that are rarely off the mark and as a result he feels more comfortable taking some risks. He is not afraid to send a pass-through defender because he trusts his accuracy and vision. His stretch passes from inside his zone to the opposing teams’ blue line are a work of art. Sam’s passing is an instrumental part to his blazing hot start this season.

In this clip he held on to the puck and waited to see if there was a better option. He spotted Bonk on the opposite point and snuck across a pass which led to a good scoring opportunity for Bonk.

Dickinson gets the puck and goes on the rush. He slows the play down to allow the trailing skater to join the play. He sends a beautiful cross-ice pass to a wide-open number 39, Max McCue, who fires a nice wrister.

Dickinson is never afraid to fire off a wrister or one time from the point and with the power, speed and accuracy that his shot possess I can’t blame him. He is rarely just firing a shot on net because he has the puck, he bides his time and picks his moments. He knows when he’s got the opportunity to let a slap shot go or throw a wrist shot on net with a target in mind. He loves to looks for a potential tip opportunity and let a wrist shot go.

On the powerplay Dickinson wires a nice hard and accurate wrister from the point that goes in for a goal.

Dickinson gets the puck at the top of the point and fires a clapper that is deflected by Sam O’Reilly in front for a goal. You can see the power and accuracy on Dickinson’s shot. He put it on the right side of the goalie where O’Reilly was positioned for a good chance at tipping it.

Areas of Improvement
For all the positive aspects of Sam’s game there are still some rough edges that not to be ironed out. He has two issues that go hand in hand. Dickinson sometimes seems almost lacksidasidcale on the ice and it looks like he doesn’t realize the pressure that is coming towards him or the importance of the situation. He bides his time waiting for a better opportunity and it can lead to all his options disappearing and the opposition trapping him in a tough spot. Although this helps him conserve his energy and stay on the ice for longer shifts it can lead to costly turnovers at inopportune times. He is also prone to holding on to the puck for extended periods of time which also leads to turnovers. By this point I’m sure you can guess, his biggest issue is he gives the puck away too much. If Sam is able to clean that part of his game up and show more urgency with the puck, he will be a stud two-way defenceman in the NHL for a very long time.

It is rare to see a defenceman who is able to excel at all areas of the game, however, Sam Dickinson is exactly that. He is an absolute beast of a defencemen who plays big minutes and plays in all situations. Dickinson is a menace in the defensive zone hounding opponents with his physical presence and not giving them a second to breath with his poke checks and stick lifts. His skating ability is expectational, he makes look easy and it will only continue to improve as he develops. He is a dynamic playmaker, his vision and passing ability are second to none in the OHL. He has an excellent wrist shot that he can fire off quick. It should be a big year for him, and he is already off to a blazing hot start. Sam Dickinson is a tremendous prospect who will almost certainly be selected inside the top 10 of the draft this year.