Canucks hoping newly acquired Jason Dickinson can fill third-line void

Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill spoke about trading Jason Dickinson to the Vancouver Canucks ahead of the 2021 Expansion Draft.

VANCOUVER — Being a “utility-knife guy” for the Dallas Stars allowed Jason Dickinson to build the foundation for his NHL career.

But he is hoping for something more specific with the Vancouver Canucks. He’d like to become a more purposeful implement – like a big, sharp fork the Canucks can stick into the opposition’s top players each night.

“Offensively, I have a lot more in me,” he told Sportsnet after Saturday’s trade to the Canucks. “But my defensive game, I feel like that is where I’ve been able to solidify myself. I’ve found my game. I know where I stand there and I love the matchup game. Once I’ve got a guy I know I need to outplay, that’s when my game starts to shine and I play at my best.

“Being that versatile guy is good and bad. It has its pros and cons, but you never get a consistent situation. Every night (last season) I looked at the board and I was on a different line. I’d have a different winger or I’d be a winger. I do believe that I’ll be able to carve out a definitive role in Vancouver and I just hope that they see it the same way.”

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They do. Canucks general manager Jim Benning said Dickinson will have the chance to earn the third-line centre spot in Vancouver.

The organization surrendered to the Stars a third-round pick in next week’s draft with the hope that Dickinson, the just-turned-26-year-old who had 15 points in 51 games last season, will lift some of the defensive burden from Bo Horvat and give Vancouver’s captain more offensive-zone starts.

“We think he’s a real good, third-line, matchup-type player,” Benning said. “We think he’s versatile. He can play centre, he can play the wing, he gives us speed and he’s a good penalty killer. And he’s 26 years old; he’s right in that window with the. . . rest of our group. And I think there’s still room for growth in his game offensively. We’re happy to get him.”

They’re happy to get not only Dickinson’s skill set, but also his character and leadership.

A 2013 first-round pick who spent the last three seasons with the Stars after climbing to the NHL, Dickinson gained prominence beyond the ice during last summer’s playoff bubble in Edmonton when he represented his team at the front of the room as the Stars, Canucks, Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche held a press conference to announce a two-day strike over racial injustice.

Dickinson stood alongside Horvat, Vegas’ Ryan Reaves and the Avalanche’s Nazem Kadri and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in a powerful display of player unity and empowerment.

“That weighed into the decision because he’s a high-character person,” Benning conceded. “Talking to (Dallas GM) Jim Nill, they had a tough decision to make on him. If they would have kept them, he would have worn a letter at some point for them. We talked about his character and bringing in a guy like that to our group, I think it’s going to help us.”

Dickinson said he didn’t think about potential ramifications for standing up for what he believed.

“I just didn’t think I had the courage to do it on my own,” he said. “When the opportunity was presented to me (to help lead the player movement), I was on-board. I loved it. I was glad we were doing something. It was a great moment for all of us.”

After a dreadful season, the Canucks could use some great moments on the ice.

Dickinson’s acquisition dislodged prospect Kole Lind, Benning’s second-round pick from 2017, from the Canucks’ protected list that was submitted two hours after the trade in advance of the Seattle expansion draft on Wednesday.

Dickinson had just seven goals last season with the Stars and has shown few signs of becoming a top-six scorer in the NHL. But the winger-centre from Georgetown, Ont., was fourth on the Stars in five-on-five shot share (56.23 per cent) and scoring chances (59.56) and, interestingly, fifth among forwards in overtime ice time despite his limited offence. Clearly, he was a player Dallas coach Rick Bowness trusted.

In Vancouver, he could replace unrestricted free agent Brandon Sutter as the team’s third-line centre.

One of Dickinson’s early idols in hockey was two-way Canucks centre Ryan Kesler.

“When I was watching hockey growing up, I didn’t really watch one team,” he explained. “I was a fan of players. I kind of followed players and what I liked in their game, and at first it was Ottawa because I really liked watching Daniel Alfredsson. And then as things started to change for him, I started to notice Kesler and was watching his game, and then the Sedin twins as well.”

So the kid from just outside Toronto followed the Canucks?

“Yeah, you can ask anyone from my family,” he said. “They’ll vouch for me.”

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