REGINA – Acadie-Bathurst Titan captain Jeffrey Truchon-Viel never ceases to be amazed by teammate Noah Dobson.
“It’s hard to believe he’s only 17, honestly,” Truchon-Viel said before the Titan’s 4-3 overtime victory in their Memorial Cup opener on Saturday — a game in which Dobson set up the winner.
“I’ve been playing with him for two years now. He’s so mature, how he acts, how he prepares himself for a game or even for a practice. It’s just great to have him around. He’s a great leader for us.”
Although Dobson actually turned 18 in January, it doesn’t make Truchon-Viel’s praise any less valid. Just look at NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings for the 2018 draft.
Dobson, a defenceman from Summerside, P.E.I., ranks fifth among North American skaters. There are nine ranked players participating in the Memorial Cup tournament and Dobson is by far the most acclaimed. Of the seven skaters – there are two goaltenders, too – the next player on the list is Titan right-winger Justin Ducharme at 103.
Dobson is a player whose stock has been rising all season. A rival QMJHL coach watched him closely during Titan’s semifinal series against the Victoriaville Tigres. The coach said he was “a man playing against boys.”
Not bad for someone who just joined adulthood four months ago.
The six-foot-three, 178-pound blueliner was instrumental in shutting down Tigres forward Vitalli Abramov (Columbus), Maxime Comtois (Anaheim) and Ivan Kosorenkov as the Titan swept the matchup.
It’s a role he’s thrived in since entering the league last season. Dobson was trusted by coach Mario Pouliot to play against stars such as Canadian world juniors Pierre-Luc Dubois and Mathieu Joseph. He did so while finishing with a plus-34 rating.
Dobson excelled not with physicality, but with skating and smarts – skills he developed during his QMJHL draft season at the Red Bull Akademie in Salzburg, Austria.
“The game today is not all about the big hit and being physical playing defence,” Dobson said. “It’s all about having a good stick and having good footwork.
“I’ve learned how to play defensive against the high-end guys without having to throw the big hits or be that physical.”
Where his game has made the biggest leap is in the offensive end.
The combination of countless reps to improve his shot and a role on the power play sparked a 17-goal, 69-point campaign this season. That total was good for second in scoring among defencemen behind teammate Olivier Galipeau and marked a 43-point improvement over a year ago.
Dobson also had 13 points in 20 post-season games during the Titan’s championship run.
“He’s the type of guy who’s going to work on his weaknesses,” Truchon-Viel said.
Pouliot noticed a more confident player this season after Dobson played at the under-18 Ivan Hlinka tournament last August.
“He started to show how good he is with the puck,” Pouliot said. “We are really happy to have him with us. Since the first day, even when he was 16 years old, he was a great example for all our young players, too. His progression is amazing.”
It looks like Dobson has all the skills. That’s what he’s wanted his efforts to convey this season.
“After last year, I wanted to mould myself into a complete, two-way defenceman,” he said. “I thought I made great strides with that this year.”
As with the other draft-eligible players competing in Regina, he’ll have a bigger opportunity for scouts and NHL team executives to watch and evaluate those skills at the Memorial Cup.
“From a small community in Bathurst, I think a lot of guys are under the radar,” Dobson said. “To be on the biggest stage in junior hockey, it’s going to be a great opportunity for myself and all the other guys on the team to showcase.”
An assist on the Liam Murphy’s tally 2:58 into the extra period is a nice start.