London Knights’ Sam Dickinson on the NHL draft

There are a lot of great defensemen available in the National Hockey League draft that starts Friday in Vegas.

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There are a lot of great defensemen available in the National Hockey League draft that starts Friday in Vegas.

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Many of the reputable rankings and scouting services suggest that five or six of them could go off the board in the first 10 to 12 picks.

But the biggest?

Sam Dickinson doesn’t take a backseat to anyone. Not Artyom Levshunov, from Michigan State. Not Anton Silayev of Nizhny Novgorod, Zeev Buium of the University of Denver and certainly not the OHL’s best defenseman, Zayne Parekh, of the Saginaw Spirit.

“I believe in myself,” the London Knights blueliner said. “People have opinions, but I don’t listen to half of them, especially the ones that are just wrong.

“I have complete confidence in myself that I am the best defenseman in the draft.”

The 18-year-old left an incredible final impression. He was London’s best player in the electrifying third-period comeback that ended with a stunning Memorial Cup final loss to the Saginaw Spirit earlier this month.

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Dickinson boarded the team bus after Sunday night’s loss, packed his bags and headed back to his home in Toronto on Monday. Tuesday afternoon he was in Buffalo for interviews with 20 NHL teams and some brutal off-ice testing sessions on the stationary bike.

“I think I burned what was left in me,” said the 6-foot-1, 203-pounder. “A lot of the interviews are rinse-and-repeat, but you get a sense of areas where you think you can get drafted or teams that you think are a good fit for you that could pick you.

‘However, you often feel in the dark. So a lot of things can change and it’s about letting the process happen and being prepared for anything.

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Dickinson will have a big crew – family, friends and London bats – with him at the sensational Sphere in Sin City. He doesn’t want to keep them waiting and wants to be the first rear guard to hear his name called.

He plans to be unparalleled on and off the ice among his peers. Even when it comes to media interviews.

“It’s something in me,” he said. “It is natural for me to want to be the best in everything I do and that is reflected in hockey. I am a competitive guy and it is desirable for me to be the best in every aspect of the game.”

His Knights teammate Sam O’Reilly is behind him. The center believes Dickinson deserves to be the first d-man on stage.

“With the D we played against, I think he’s much better than (the high-scoring) Parekh,” O’Reilly said. “I’ve seen some of those other guys too, but you watch Sam all season and it’s pretty impressive what he can do.

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“I can totally say I thought he was the best defenseman in this year’s draft.”

It’s time to find out if the GMs of the NHL’s bottom power teams agree.

TWO SAMS: The Knights could produce two NHL first-round picks for the second consecutive draft. O’Reilly, who had a great season and playoffs, teamed up with Dickinson in that conversation.

Last year, Oliver Bonk (Flyers) and Easton Cowan (Maple Leafs) were among the first 28 picks. The London franchise has produced a whopping 10 first-rounders since Mitch Marner was selected fourth overall by Toronto in 2015.

O’Reilly was saddled as a C-level candidate heading into last season after a stellar year at the London Nationals in Junior B. He had to work to overcome the early grade.

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“I guess you can say people can doubt you,” the 18-year-old forward said. “Last year you could see how good Cowan was and people still doubted him. It’s all about having a good mindset and not letting the outside noise get into your head. I knew I had it in me and our team did well. If you do the right things, success will come.”

Dickinson wasn’t surprised by O’Reilly’s rise. He was impressed with how he took full advantage of his first junior season with the Nats.

“He embraced it,” the defenseman said, “and the growth he’s had from the beginning of the year to now is probably the biggest on our team and, really, in the OHL.

“The things he does for us and the way he works are what separates him.”

If the Knights had won the Memorial Cup, O’Reilly would have been in the mix as the tournament’s MVP.

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“I knew coming in I had to earn Dale (Hunter)’s trust,” he said. “Every day I paid attention to the details. They felt comfortable putting me somewhere in the lineup and that’s something I wanted, in addition to being a good teammate and fighting for the guy next to me every night.

“It was an honor to play for the Knights and we will be back next season with a good team.”

AROUND THE TRACK: O’Reilly spoke to 30 NHL teams at the Buffalo facility. The only ones he didn’t were Tampa and Los Angeles. . . Dickinson said it was an incredible experience to be the youngest of London’s top four defensemen last season. He, Bonk, Isaiah George (Islanders) and Jackson Edward (Bruins) are considered by Knights GM Mark Hunter to be in the same league as the club’s 2005 squad of Danny Syvret, Dan Girardi, Marc Methot and Bryan Rodney. “I don’t think the OHL or London will see a top four like that again for a while,” Dickinson said, “and we proved all season long that we were the best team in the Canadian Hockey League. We finished first in the OHL, lost only two games in the playoffs and then won 3-0 in the round-robin of the Memorial Cup. You appreciate that right away.” . . . O’Reilly earned the nickname Peanut with the Knights after an allergy he discovered when he was 6. “I love it,” he said. “I haven’t been called Sam since I moved to London and it stuck. (Former roommate) Logan Mailloux came up with it last year when I moved there and everybody picked it up. . . . Once Dickinson is selected, the Knights’ record for having at least one player selected in the NHL draft will extend to an incredible 55 years. The run began in 1969 with Guy Delparte (Canadiens) and Neil Nicholson (Oakland Seals). . . The Canadian Hockey League will replace the six-game Canada Russia series that was previously used as a lead-up to the 2025 World Juniors. The CHL USA Prospects Challenge will pit Canadian and American players from the OHL, Quebec Maritime and Western Leagues against members of the U.S. national team development program in a two-game series in November. The games rotate between the three CHL leagues each year and if the game is available in Ontario, London would be a logical fit.

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