Vancouver Giants captain Dalton Thrower is set to end his major junior career on a high note following a roller coaster of a five-year ride.
The 20-year-old blueliner's exceptional play is the main reason why the rebuilding Giants sit in seventh spot in the Western Conference's playoff picture. He has piled on the points – 12 goals and 37 points in 38 games – while playing solid defensively in his own zone. In addition, he has taken the bull by the horns in the dressing room as the team's confident leader.
“As soon as I got here (Giants head coach) Don Hay put trust in my by naming me the captain,” says Thrower, who was traded to Vancouver from the Saskatoon Blades in the offseason. “I’ve tried to make the best of this opportunity by being a good captain and the points have come for me because we have a good group here. (Calgary Flames prospect) Brett Kulak has been a great defence partner and we’ve worked well together. I have to give him some credit for my points.”
Taking into account Thrower is a second round pick of the Montreal Canadiens, it shouldn’t be surprising to see him thrive as a veteran. But his inconsistent track record somewhat put a wildcard stamp on him as he headed into this season.
It all started when Thrower began coming into his own in his draft year a couple of years ago. He developed into a tough two-way defenceman with a booming slap shot, notching 18 goals and 54 points in 66 games while racking up 103 penalty minutes. All indications were that he was poised to blossom into a superstar the following year, especially with the Blades hosting the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup. That, however, did not happen. His point production dropped by over .3 points-per game (six goals and 27 points in 54 games) and he took inexcusable penalties far too much for a veteran.
“It was a frustrating year at times – it didn’t go how I would have liked it,” says Thrower, who was selected 51st overall by the Canadiens in 2012. “I think my point production was down because I missed a lot of games with injuries and so (Canadiens prospect) Darren Dietz took my spot on the first power play. So when I came back I couldn’t get back on the top unit because he was playing so well.”
There was opportunity for Thrower to turn his season around by ending it on a bright note in the playoffs, but that didn’t happen. He was held off the score sheet with a minus-four rating while the seventh-place Medicine Hat Tigers upset the second-place Blades in a sweep. The Vancouver native’s fortune only got worse in the Memorial Cup. Even though there was no call on the play, he was suspended for the remainder of the tournament in Saskatoon’s round robin game against the Portland Winterhawks for a hit to the head of Taylor Leier. The Blades, meanwhile, finished in last place without him.
“That was tough to take,” he says. “I don’t know what happened (in the playoffs and Memorial Cup). A lot of people have asked that, but I don’t know. Things just didn’t go my way.”
Because of how his previous year went, the Canadiens sent Thrower back to junior for his overage season. This is rare as very few top 60 draft picks return to the WHL for their 20-year-old seasons. One, however, has to keep in mind only 12 days separate Thrower from having a 1994 birthdate.
“They thought it was the best move for me (to return to the WHL),” says Thrower. “I thought it would be a good experience for me because the Giants are my hometown team.”
Assuming the Canadiens and Thrower come to terms on an entry-level contract, the 6-foot, 197-pounder will head to the pros next year. If he spends time in the AHL first, he should see a familiar face in former Blades teammate Darren Dietz.
“We used to talk about it in Saskatoon – playing together one day in the NHL,” says Thrower. “It will be fun to be back on the ice with him when that happens.”
It goes without saying that Thrower would be thrilled to follow the footsteps of Montreal's 2007 second-round pick P.K. Subban, but he doesn't feel that's an accurate comparable. Instead, he considers Vancouver Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa as his role model of choice.
“Obviously Subban would be a great guy to look up to and try to become, but I’ve tried to model my style after Kevin Bieksa for quite a while,” he says. “I want to be an in-your-face player that players hate to play against. I think he plays like that and he's a good player in the offensive zone with his shot."
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen