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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sleeper alert: DYLAN WILLICK

Sometimes, finding a successful hockey player is about instinct. It's about a gut feeling. And said player may not be the flashiest or most dynamic-looking on the ice in a given game, but because of smarts, heart and determination, he goes on to exceed expectations.

One such player in our view is Kamloops Blazers center/right winger Dylan Willick. We featured him as " A Guy You Should Know" previously, but as we've talked to scouts and dug deeper, he strikes B2011DW as a classic NHL draft sleeper.

Here is a highlight video done by the Kamloops Blazers on their unsung hero and most dedicated player for 2010-11.

For our money, speedy, intelligent glue guys can play at any level, and Willick is one of those.

B2011DW was able to reach Dylan at his home in Prince George, British Columbia today. He's been hard at work since his season ended in April without the opportunity to taste playoff action. The Blazers made a valiant late push for the WHL postseason, but ultimately came up short. They lost some key players to injury, but even with the losses up front, Willick helped fill the void, moving up from the third line to finish out the 2010-11 campaign at a point-per-game clip. He finished his second WHL season with a respectable 24 goals and 44 points in 72 games after tallying just 12 and 29 as a rookie.

He is one of four children to parent Blaine and Melissa Willick. His dad is an engineer in the oil industry who works out of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Older brother Donovan and younger sisters Devin and Dakota round out the clan. The family is getting ready to move to Kamloops this summer, which bodes well for Dylan as a member of the hometown Blazers.

Willick first started playing hockey amazingly at age three, when his elder brother (by two years) joined an organized league in Hinton, Alberta, where his family lived until he was 10. Although much younger than the rest of the kids, he took to the sport quickly and Willick continued playing high-level hockey when his family moved to Quesnel, B.C. The Willicks then relocated to Prince George where he lived from 11-17 until making a go of it with the Blazers.

Although undersized at about 5-10, Willick is solidly built from dedicated work in the weight room and a commitment to overcoming his physical disadvantages. He's a very good skater with quick direction change ability and who is also strong on his skates. His offensive flourish demonstrated some upside- he's a highly effective penalty killer and grinder, but is capable of more. He does everything for his team to include taking one for the team- he'll drop the gloves when he needs to and is the typical character guy who is respected because he doesn't ask anyone else to do something he won't do himself. Effort is never in question with the Alberta-born, British Columbia-raised Willick, who was described by one NHL scout as one of those kids who "Puts it all out there. He doesn't have as much talent as a lot of guys, but nobody outworks him."

Willick is also a leader- he wore the 'A' for Kamloops this season as one of the youngest captains in the CHL. His grit and leadership by example could see him with the 'C' soon.

He's a candidate to be drafted in June later on, but might get passed over. Even if he isn't a draft pick, it won't deter him from working toward his NHL dream because he's been there before.

Without further ado, here is Dylan Willick in his own words:

On making the Kamloops Blazers despite not being a WHL Bantam Draft pick:

I was listed by Kamloops. Going to training camp, I knew it was one of those things where you have to make a name for yourself. Nobody knows who you are and you're the new kid on the block. I went in and worked hard. I think it boils down to doing my best at every opportunity. It's about putting my head down and going as hard as I can- going into the corners, banging and crashing. I consider myself reliable defensively; I'm usually the third guy high and I've never tried a lot of fancy dangles- it's not my style. I accept my role with the team and it's something that I think helped me to earn a spot with Kamloops. I do a lot of work on the penalty kill and that's something I pride myself on because I think I can use my speed, feel for the game and work ethic to make the play when down a man and help my team.

On his fitness and conditioning approach and goals:

I think it starts with a good base. I go to the gym quite a bit! I figure that building strong legs and a core is essential so that I can take what the bigger guys are going to give. My first year (in Kamloops) I was getting knocked around in the corners and along the boards, so I put a lot of work in last summer and came back this season about five or six pounds heavier- it made a difference. Right now, I'm in the weight room, so I'm doing a lot of cleans and power stuff. As we get closer to the season, I'll leave the weight room and start doing the plyometrics, sprints, cardio for endurance, agility and ladder training that will help me with my foot speed and quickness. So, right now, it's about building strength in the weight room and then focusing on getting faster in the next phase.

On what he needs to work on to improve his overall game:

One thing for sure is my shot, actually. It's not all that bad (in terms of release and power) but I found that during the course of a game when I'm on the ice, if was moving around or in a tight spot, I couldn't pick the corners like I wanted to. I would look at video and saw that there was a better spot to get the puck to, so it's something that I feel I can improve. I want to get on the ice and just skate and shoot- work on the accuracy and being able to hit those spots on the move, coming off the rush and things like that. The second aspect, I think, is more of just a general improvement in my game to get better overall. Skating is what gets noticed about me, but I still feel I can improve my speed and quickness. I can work on it a bit more and get that much faster and stronger on my skates.

On his strong offensive finish to the season and the confidence that he can bring an offensive dimension to his team:

I actually got a boost of confidence on the third line towards the end of the season- we were playing well and things started to click for us either in terms of the puck going in for me or passes to linemates that were ending up in goals. Then the injury bug hit near the end- we lost a couple of our captains and (Brendan) Ranford was out for a bit, so I got moved up to the higher lines and started seeing more power play time. When we were practicing on the power play unit, I started thinking about what I needed to do and where I had to go and from there the puck started finding the back of the net.

On the genesis famous Kamloops Blazers mimicry EA NHL 98 final Stanley Cup celebration that went viral on You Tube:

Oh, that. Yeah- (ha ha). I think it was (Cam) Lanigan and (J.T.) Barnett who were digging around and found an old video game and saw that celebration. In one of our practices, Barnett scored on Lanigan and he went off and did that celebration and we all thought it was pretty funny. So, we talked about doing it and when we did, wasn't all that big a deal. After the game, we were checking our phones and found out that someone posted the video and that it was getting a lot of hits. It was all pretty neat the way people caught on and it went viral like that.

You can see the video here.

Willick may not be a household name, but with his head and wheels plus a desire that has seen him already overcome not being picked in the WHL draft en route to a 20+ goal season and captain for one of the Dub's most storied franchises. Much more may be in store for this guy.

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