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Wednesday, 23 January 2013 11:34

Scratches, Scarlett put Heatherington on NHL radar

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With the benefit of hindsight — 103 games’ worth, to be exact — Swift Current Broncos defenceman Dillon Heatherington can safely point to Sept. 24, 2011 as the real start of his Western Hockey League development.


That evening he watched from the stands as the Regina Pats threw a wet blanket on the Broncos’ home opener with a 4-2 win.
“That would be the first time that I’ve ever been healthy-scratched,” Heatherington recalled. “It’s obviously disappointing, frustrating at the time, but looking back on it, it’s helped my development a ton and it was a better thing to watch those games sometimes than to play them.”
The night before, the then-16-year-old rookie had been on the ice for two late Regina goals as the Pats opened their 2011-12 schedule with a 5-1 win over Swift Current.
Heatherington was scratched from three of the next four games, six more in November and two in early December before finding a regular home in the Broncos’ lineup.
Broncos head coach Mark Lamb felt Heatherington was strong in his own zone, but needed to make better decisions with the puck.
So he paired Heatherington up with New Jersey Devils draft pick Reece Scarlett, himself bouncing back from a difficult season that saw the Broncos outscored 121-60 and Scarlett post a minus-22 rating over the team’s final 28 games.
Who better to take a struggling young player under his wing than a guy barely half a season removed from his own heart-to-heart with rock bottom?
“He’s meant a great deal to my development,” Heatherington said of Scarlett. “He’s helped me a lot keeping calm with the puck in our own end, and has really led me through my career here in Swift.”
Both players would agree it’s a good thing the pairing stuck.
Through the Broncos’ first 48 games this year Scarlett and Heatherington are a combined plus-19, despite playing most of their minutes against other teams’ top lines, and Scarlett is eighth among WHL defencemen with 27 points.
Heatherington is also showing increased offensive consistency and his puck-moving instincts too seem to be better than ever, as evidenced by his end-to-end goal rush Jan. 15 against the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Bigger yet, Heatherington came in ranked 44th among North American skaters in the NHL Central Scouting Services’ mid-season rankings for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
“Coming into the league last year, he was a little bit shaky as any 16-year-old is,” said Scarlett. “But this year, he’s been unbelievable.
“He makes me a better player and I like to think I help him out a little bit, but he’s a special player and he will continue to grow.”
Mission accomplished? Almost.
If Scarlett has anything more to say about his protégé’s development, Heatherington will become the first Bronco in 13 years to go in the first two rounds of the draft.
“The sky’s the limit for that guy,” said Scarlett. “He’s a big body; he skates unbelievable; he moves the puck; he’s going to have a great second half; his draft stock’s going to continue to rise and he will play in the NHL some day.”

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor