The transition to college hockey did not go seamlessly for Detroit Red Wings prospect Dylan James. It seemed to start out along the right path. James was collecting eight points through his first 13 games with the North Dakota Fighting Hawks.
Following that promising and productive start, there’d be just two points – both of them goals – over the next 17 games.
However, as the regular season was winding down and the playoffs were ramping up in the NCHC, so was James and his game.
The freshman forward from Calgary, selected 40th overall by the Red Wings in the 2022 NHL entry draft, was earning honors as NCHC Rookie of the Week for the final weekend of regular-season play. In two games against Omaha, James, 19, was good for a pair of goals and an assist.
— North Dakota MHockey (@UNDmhockey) March 13, 2023
In a 5-4 overtime victory, he was scoring twice, the first multi-goal game of his NCAA career. The next night, James drew an assist on the game-winning goal with 3:02 remaining in regulation to break a 1-1 tie as UND went on to a 2-1 victory.
James is keeping it going in the NCHC postseason. He scored a pair of goals, one of the a shorthanded marker, as the Fighting Hawks were eliminating Omaha. This week, the Fighting Hawks are playing St. Cloud State in the semifinals.
“More confidence at the end of the season,” James explained to the Grand Forks Herald. “You’re playing to win.
“I usually do play better in the second half, and I guess I am this year, too.”
Last season with Sioux City of the USHL, he was counting 24 points over his final 16 games as the Musketeers won the Clark Cup title.
Berry Seeing A Different Player In James
From his perch behind the Fighting Hawks bench, North Dakota coach Brad Berry is enjoying his birds’ eye view of the evolution in James’ game.
“He’s playing with confidence,” former NHL defenseman Berry told writer Brad Elliott Schlossman. “We all know he has NHL elite speed, right? At the end of the day, as a freshman coming in here, sometimes, it’s a little overwhelming just getting acclimated to the game, knowing how much time you have when you have the puck on your tape. Sometimes, the game overwhelms a young guy a little bit, because it’s so tight-checking in our league.
“But now he knows when to chip a puck. He knows when to hang onto a puck. Man, he’s a threat off the rush going around defenders. Now he’s starting to play with confidence.”
James’ teammates, who deal with his blazing speed all week during pratice sessions, can testify to what a weapon his wheels are when they’re engaged.
“It’s hard to keep up with him when he gets a full head of steam going, when he takes you wide,” North Dakota defenseman Ethan Frisch said. “It’s not easy for a defenseman, so I feel bad for other teams’ defensemen when he gets rolling there.”