September 30, 2017

Dunkley working to build on expectations

It’s heady company to be placed in, mentioned in comparison to the likes of Jonathan Toews and Sam Bennett.

In the past, Doug Gilmour — then the GM and currently team president — has linked Kingston Frontenacs forward Nathan Dunkley to those names.

They’re comparisons that he certainly appreciates, but wants to keep to a minimum as he navigates his way towards the 2018 NHL Draft.

“I kind of try to avoid the outside stuff and focus on what I’m capable of every night,” Dunkley explained. “It feels good in a sense and it gives them their expectations of me. Obviously I look up to guys like that. [I see myself as] a gritty forward that likes to play in the corners and make plays.”

The expectation of Dunkley is big, though.

He’s 53rd in Future Considerations’ preliminary ranking for the 2018 draft and is coming off a season where he had 31 points in 58 games as a 16-year-old rookie.

Kurtis Foster, assistant coach with Kingston, said that he’s really only had a view of Dunkley from the other bench, but now that he and head coach Jay Varady have taken over the reigns of the Frontenacs franchise, he’s learning first-hand why Dunkley’s been the recipient of such heady praise.

“With Jay and I being new coaches, we’re trying to get a good vibe on everybody,” he said. “Knowing Nathan’s a high pick, you can definitely see why he was — he’s a very tenacious, hard-working guy that has some offensive skill. We’re looking for big things from him this year.”

Last year’s playoffs helped set that expectation.

The Campbellford, ON native shone in playing a key role in 11 games, scoring four goals and adding three assists as Kingston fell in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

It was a display for which Foster had a front-row seat.

“Last year I was with Peterborough and we played against them in the playoffs and I saw how well he handled the pressure, “ Foster said. “He was a key player for them. He’s a kid that’s always been a leader and a top guy on his team, and that’s not going to be different this year.”

Dunkley wants to be known for his ability to perform under pressure.

“I think playoffs are a special time and they bring a lot out of players,” he said. “I like to think that I thrive in those moments. I wouldn’t say it’s a pressure. As you play more games in the league you kind of know the ropes and you try to teach the guys coming up what to expect and how to deal with that.”

There is, though, pressure in playing in one’s draft season.

Dunkley said that he does his best to ignore the scouts in the crowd and focus on his play on the ice.

That’s just part of his nature, expalined Foster.

“He’s a pretty quiet kid. He just goes about his business and does what he’s asked,” Foster said. “He wants the pressure and he wants to be that guy that’s depended on. That’s what we’ve seen so far and hopefully he’ll continue to grow into the type of player we can depend on even more.

“One thing I tell him — and I tell any prospect — you really can’t have a night off. The night that you don’t feel good could be the night that you have the most scouts. It’s something you can’t control — you’ve just got to bring it every night.

“They’re looking for guys who are consistent and doing their best every single night.”

Dunkley is working towards that.

He’s focusing on improving his shot and developing a quicker release. His coach added that he’d also like to see him further improve his speed — it’s good, but he said he knows there’s more.

“He’s very smart, thinking-type player, that works hard, is very aggressive, and is not afraid of anybody,” Foster said.

“But if he can bring a little more speed then it really will help him.”

Help him reach those lofty comparisons he’s heard, too.

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