Dawson Davidson has seen the upside of the Western Hockey League, and he hopes to exit major junior hockey on another high note.
The overage offensive defenceman was a member of the Regina Pats when they advanced to the WHL championship series in 2017.
The Moosomin, Sask. product was traded to the Blades on Jan. 8, 2018 along with centre Tristen Robins and the Pats’ first-round selection in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft for veteran Czech import defenceman Libor Hajek.
While he wasn’t able to play for the Pats when they hosted the Memorial Cup last May, Davidson arrived in Saskatoon with the goal of helping the Blades return to the post season for the first time since 2013.
“I think for me it is just lay it on the line this year,” said Davidson. “There is nothing really to save it for. I’m trying to help this team as much as I can.
“One thing that I really wanted to stress when I came here is coming to Saskatoon I know they’ve had some woes. I wanted to come here and leave the team in a better place than when I came here. I think I am doing a good job of being a part of changing the culture here.”
Having first cracked into the WHL as a 16-year-old rookie with the Kamloops Blazers part way through the 2014-15 campaign, Davidson is enjoying his best season in the league. Appearing in the Blades’ first 49 games, Davidson has recorded nine goals and 42 assists for 51 points and a plus-16 rating in the plus-minus department.
His assists and points totals are career highs and his plus-minus is a career best.
Davidson quickly caught the attention of Mitch Love, who took over as Blades head coach before the start of the season. Love liked Davidson’s offensive game but still saw some work needed to be done on the defensive front.
“Obviously, Dawson is probably more of an offensive-first guy, but he has really worked on his defensive game,” said Love. “It has been something that right from day one here he wanted to get better at, to give himself a chance to play pro hockey.
“I think he has done a good job of that. He has been very coachable in that regard. If he wants to give himself a good chance to play pro hockey next year as a 21-year-old, he is going to have to learn to play away from the puck.
“He realizes that, and he understands that and he is continuously getting better at that.”
One of the biggest challenges Davidson faces playing in his own end is his size. He stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 179 pounds, while many WHL defensive defencemen average 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds.
“I think it makes it a little more difficult just because your weight is maybe not there, especially when you are younger,” said Davidson. “Your stick is maybe not as long.
“You run into some challenges. The thing about being a small defenceman, I think, is you have to be a little bit better than everyone else at everything. That height is always going to be a knock on you no matter what you do.”
Davidson said Love, Blades associate coach Ryan Marsh and assistant coach Ryan Keller have helped him and all the team’s defencemen improve. Like Davidson, Love was viewed as a smaller defenceman when he played five complete seasons in the WHL from 2000 to 2005 with the Moose Jaw Warriors, Swift Current Broncos and Everett Silvertips, standing six feet and weighing 190 pounds.
“You need to get good with your stick, better than what big guys are with their stick,” said Davidson. “Your positioning needs to be good. Let’s be honest, if I go in there with a 250-pound forward, I have no chance of out-
With the Blades posting a 29-13-7 record this season, Davidson is starting to see some similarities between his current team and the 2016-17 Pats.
“We had a pretty good regular season that year, so that helped. I think you are starting to see that here. We’ve had a pretty successful regular season to date. I can sense a little bit more fan support this year and just them getting behind the team.
“Just us making the playoffs is still a goal. I know we’re in a good spot; we are not slowing down.”
Davidson knows the Blades road through the post season likely won’t be an easy one. At the moment, it appears the Blades will play in a bracket that contains the WHL-leading Prince Albert Raiders and the Moose Jaw Warriors, who are again one of the circuit’s top clubs.
When that hard road comes, Davidson said he is all for it.
“It is kind of weird how the playoffs are going to set up,” said Davidson. “Right now, it is kind of looking like us and Moose Jaw.
“I am not saying Brandon can’t catch up, but that will be a hard-fought series. It looks like P.A. will kind of line up after that. You are going to have to play tough teams.
“It’s just how the playoffs are bracketed. I’m looking forward to the challenge, and I think our whole team is.”
(You can see more of Darren Steinke’s work in his online blog stankssermon.blogspot.ca.)