June 3, 2024

How Dickinson and Parekh compare against each other in the 2024 draft class

For a while now, Sam Dickinson of the London Knights and Zayne Parekh of the Sagniaw Spirit have been at the top of analysts and fans boards as the top two defensemen in the Ontario Hockey League who are eligible for the 2024 NHL Draft. 

There’s been debate about where to put them.

Is Dickinson the No. 1 defender? How much potential and risk is involved with Parekh?

Regardless of the questions, they’ve remained at the top this season. 

Dickinson, a 6-foot-3, 194 pound left-shot defender, lands sixth on FCHockey’s Midterm ranking for the 2024 draft. That comes after he recorded 70 points (18 goals, 52 assists) in 68 games. He has even added an additional 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 18 playoff games. His ability to play a balanced two-way game with strong and projectable offensive traits has led to him being considered by many the best defender in the 2024 class.

Parekh, a 6-foot, 181 pound right-shot blueliner, lands at No. 11. He netted an absurd 96 points (33 goals, 63 assists) across 66 games, while adding an additional 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in 13 playoff games. His offensive production has made him a household name and might be the best pure offensive-generating defenseman in the 2024 class. 

Dickinson versus Parekh: The definitions of puck magnets

The best way to describe these two defenders? Puck magnets.

They either have the puck or are in a position to receive it whenever they’re on the ice. They play fast, tight to the puck, and demand attention from their teammates, as they are heavily relied upon to make things happen. Dickinson plays aggressively against the rush, picking his spots to pinch in and challenge the carrier. On the breakout, he often takes the lead and executes outstanding stretch passes to generate chances the other way. In the offensive zone, he understands when to step into the play and loves firing shots whenever he gets the chance.

Parekh plays aggressively to the puck, as if it is his lifeline. Defending the rush, he pinches frequently and looks to end the opposition’s entry before it even begins, enabling a quick transition back up the ice. Offensively, he steps into the play often and dominates by pushing the pace. He acts as a fourth forward on entries, generating significant opportunities off the rush, which is becoming increasingly important with each passing season.

Both defenders are excellent skaters

When it comes to skating, defenders are under a microscope — especially those expected to play at the top of a lineup. Simply put, if you aren’t a good enough skater, NHL forecheckers will make your life very, very difficult. Fast forwards who dominate off the rush will pose significant challenges.

Thus, defenders with high potential, like Dickinson and Parekh, are expected to be excellent skaters. Dickinson has a smooth stride and clean mechanics, with outstanding edges. Those edges allow him to weave past attackers to move the puck and walk the blue line to open passing and shooting lanes offensively.

Parekh’s skating isn’t quite as smooth as Dickinson’s, but he is still fast with excellent edges. His aggressive playing style makes his skating stand out on the screen. This skating ability is crucial to his effectiveness. If he were not as good of a skater, his production would likely decrease significantly due to the risks associated with his style of play not yielding the same results.

Dickinson and Parekh impact the offensive end with their shooting abilities

Dickinson’s impact certainly lies in how he shoots the puck. In the offensive zone, he likes sneaking down below the tops of the circles for shots closer to the net and one-timer opportunities. Thus, he fires a lot of shots when given the opportunity, making him a threat in the offensive end. Across three tracked games (listed at the bottom of this article), Dickinson fired six shots towards the net at even strength and five on the power play.

Of those six even-strength shots, just one hit the net for a shot-on-net rate of 16.67%. Three of his shot attempts, exactly half of his attempts, came from high-danger areas. Of those three, his shot on goal was among them. Only one of his even-strength shots was blocked. On the man advantage, two of his five shots hit the net for a 40% shot-on-net rate. All five shots came from medium-danger areas.

Similar to Dickinson, Parekh will sneak down from the point looking for shots closer to the net or for one-timers. However, he’s far more willing to skate the puck himself into the zone, setting himself up for shooting opportunities. Parekh fired 16 shots towards the net at even strength in the same three games tracked (also listed at the bottom). Of those, six hit the net for a rate of 37.5%. In total, five of his 16 attempts came from high-danger areas, including three shots on net, one of which was a goal. Five of his attempts were blocked. On the power play, he had nine shot attempts, with four hitting the net. None of them were from high-danger areas, and only one was from a medium-danger area. Three of his power-play shots were blocked.

While both love shooting, you cannot let their teammates get open either…

Dickinson is a smart player with the puck in the offensive end. While he enjoys shooting and setting up in spots for scoring chances, teams can’t focus solely on blocking his shooting lanes. He doesn’t force passes that aren’t open, but if a teammate is available in a high-danger spot, he will find him. Dickinson attempted 13 offensive zone passes, completing seven, for a completion rate of 53.85%. Four of his passes were intercepted, and two were inaccurate but did not lead to turnovers. Of the 13 attempts, three were aimed at high-danger areas, and he completed two. On the power play, he attempted 25 offensive zone passes, with three aimed at high danger. He completed 24 of those 25, including all three high-danger attempts. Two of those setups led to scoring chances.

Parekh is far more willing to take risks as a playmaker. With his aggressive style from the point, he is willing to take the puck deep and change angles as a skater to open passing or shooting lanes. That has led to 20 offensive zone pass attempts at even strength, completing 16, for a completion rate of 80%. Of those 20 attempts, six were aimed at high-danger areas, and he completed four.

Additionally, he had eight shot assists, with three resulting in scoring chances. Only one of his passes was intercepted, while three were inaccurate but did not lead to turnovers. On the power play, Parekh attempted 16 passes in the offensive zone, completing 15. His lone pass aimed at high danger was not completed. Additionally, he had one shot assist that did not lead to a scoring chance.

Wrapping up the numbers into a big bow

Dickinson clearly does not have the same offensive flair as Parekh, especially as a playmaker. However, he plays a safer game while still being very efficient offensively. For example, Dickinson extended offensive possessions by holding the blue line on six occasions and was only knocked off possession once. Including the four intercepted passes, he had five offensive zone turnovers at even strength in those three games. On the power play, he held the blue line on four occasions and was not knocked off possession a single time. His lone offensive zone giveaway was the intercepted pass. Combined, that is six offensive zone giveaways and 10 keep-ins at the blue line.

For Parekh, that uber-aggressiveness comes at a cost. While he held the blue line a whopping 15 times, he also got knocked off possession five times at even strength. Including the intercepted pass, he had six offensive zone giveaways. On the power play, Parekh held the blue line just once and was knocked off the puck once. Combined, that’s seven offensive zone giveaways and 16 keep-ins at the blue line.

Offensive game summation

It’s clear that, between the two, Dickinson is less aggressive. Yet, the two have some similar numbers, although Parekh has a higher volume of touches. Dickinson uses his feet and walks the line very well. That skill set allows him to open up passing and shooting lanes, a translatable ability, especially with his skating prowess. However, an issue in his game is that he sometimes takes a tick too long to make a decision with the puck offensively. That extra second of indecisiveness has led to some intercepted passes, as he simply waited too long to attempt the pass, allowing the defender to adjust and take away the lane.

Parekh, on the other hand, is dynamic and unpredictable in his play, jumping up into the action, setting up teammates, or quickly stepping into a shot. This multi-faceted attacking style, paired with a ton of confidence, has allowed him to thrive offensively. However, a defender who plays with that much pace and takes that many risks is not always the most translatable. The reason is that he often bites off more than he can chew. In his ventures into the offensive zone, Parekh frequently puts himself in tight spots, leading to giveaways. Parekh needs to find a balance in his game, striking a happy medium between taking risks and slowing down a bit. This balance comes with better coaching and more experience against higher-level competition.

Zone entry dominance shines through

It isn’t much of a surprise that Dickinson uses his smarts and skating ability to generate zone entries regularly. It’s also no surprise that he was fairly involved from the back end. In those three games, he was directly involved in 19 zone entry attempts, with 11 gaining the offensive zone with control, resulting in a 57.89% success rate. Of the eight that were not controlled entries, four were dumped in by him, and two were retrieved. Effectively, 13 of the entries he was involved in led directly to offensive zone possessions. The other four were failures, where his attempt was rejected before gaining the blue line.

The main sticking point on his lack of success was his timing on passes and some questionable decisions in this area. Simply put, he took an extra half second too long to decide on a pass. Additionally, he sometimes tried to make plays, such as a high flip across the ice, that didn’t make sense or work in that situation. A simple dump-in or skating the puck in himself would have been the more successful alternative at times.

Parekh’s confidence shining bright

For Parekh, like with his offensive game, he is more aggressive with his decisions. While Dickinson skated the puck in himself just three times out of his 11 controlled entries, Parekh doubled him with six. In total, Parekh was directly involved in 26 entry attempts, with 16 successfully gaining the offensive zone with possession for a success rate of 61.54%. Of the 10 that didn’t gain the zone with control, four were dump-ins, with one being retrieved. This means he had six failed attempts, getting denied at the blue line. These failures were due to his aggression, particularly with how often he tried skating the puck in himself. There were several situations, similar to the offensive zone, where he tried to take on too much and had the puck stripped from his possession.

Exiting the defensive zone, problems arise at times for both defenders

Dickinson’s teammates rely heavily on him for zone exits. This is evident in his direct involvement in 41 zone exit attempts across three games, with 18 of them successfully exiting the zone for a 43.9% controlled exit rate. Meanwhile, 15 of the other 23 attempts were cleared into the neutral zone without possession, with five failing to leave the zone altogether. The last three resulted in icings.

The biggest issue with Dickinson is his aforementioned timing problem, which is magnified here. While he remains unfazed by pressure, this can sometimes be a drawback. He often takes too long to decide on his exit strategy, whether it be a stretch pass or a quick outlet pass. When successful, he can thread the needle on those stretch passes. However, when unsuccessful, it is often due to slow decision-making and occasional questionable choices. One of his icing calls resulted from a peculiar goal-line play where he sent the puck about 20 feet in the air, unprompted by pressure, and down the ice.

Parekh less involved, but more aggressive

Parekh is less involved with exits and is more direct with his attack. In total, he was directly involved in 30 zone exit attempts, with 14 successfully exiting the defensive zone with control, resulting in a 46.67% success rate. Similar to his entries, Parekh skated the puck out of the zone himself as often as he made a pass to exit with control (seven carry-outs and seven passes). Of the 16 exits that were not controlled, seven were cleared out without possession, five were failed exits, and four resulted in icings. When Parekh skated it out himself, he sometimes put himself into tight spots. However, when he passed the puck, he typically attempted stretch passes up ice. These are difficult to execute consistently, contributing to his below 50% success rate.

Conservative versus aggressive defensive zone play

Dickinson has produced well and is a generally good puck mover, as discussed. But what makes him an intriguing prospect is his ability to do all of that without sacrificing much in his own end. He may not be the most exceptional defensive zone player, but he tracks his man well. He also understands his positioning and responsibilities and consistently retrieves pucks to help clear the zone. His defensive zone numbers include 58 defensive zone puck touches, with three takeaways, including one intercepted pass. He also added two blocked shots. However, he did give the puck away in his own end on six occasions, which was 9.67% of his touches.

For Parekh, he hounds the puck carrier, for better or worse. This leads to him losing his assignment by chasing the play or allowing opposing players to get into dangerous spots behind him. There are also instances where he aggressively pursues a puck carrier and fails to take the puck, allowing the carrier to move towards the net. However, this approach has also led to 49 defensive zone puck touches and 11 takeaways, including five intercepted passes. He blocked two shots due to his ability to quickly close space on a puck carrier. Nevertheless, he had seven defensive zone giveaways, which was 14.29% of his touches, with some of them being costly.

Similar numbers and styles against the rush

Rush offense is growing in importance each year. That means how well defenders can prevent scoring chances and controlled entries off the rush will be closely monitored. Dickinson and Parekh play similarly in this area. For Dickinson, he plays tight gaps, staying close to the puck carrier to discourage easy routes to the zone. However, he can gap up a bit too early, allowing opposing forwards to rush in behind him and collect an area pass for a cleaner entry. Yet, he still found success. He directly faced 43 rush attempts, denying eight of them, forcing 21 dump-ins, and allowing 14 controlled entries. When the opposition dumped it in, either against him or his partner, Dickinson was tasked with retrieving the puck on 13 occasions, successfully recovering all but one of them.

Parekh, who also plays with a tight gap, sees the same issues. Players can sneak in behind for area passes to generate zone entries. However, he plays more physically. Think of how Matt Dumba plays against the rush, stepping up and throwing his weight into the opposition. Parekh doesn’t possess the size or strength to make a significant physical impact, but he steps into opposing forwards often, even if it’s just a smaller bump. Overall, he faced 37 rushes directly, denying seven of them, forcing 17 dump-ins, and allowing 13 controlled entries. When pucks were dumped in, Parekh was tasked with retrieving the puck 12 times, retrieving eight of them successfully.

Projection: Where will they go and what role will they play?

Starting with Dickinson, he could easily go anywhere from third overall to tenth overall in the draft. With his style, Dickinson could realistically step into the NHL right away and be serviceable. However, concerns about his timing and occasional decision-making flaws might lead to him spending at least one more season in juniors, which is likely the best course of action for him. If he can reach his full potential, Dickinson has the makings of a modern-day two-way defender, thanks to his good hockey sense and feel for the game in both offensive and defensive zones.

As for Parekh, it’s unlikely he goes within the top five, but anywhere between fifth and 15th overall is a strong possibility. He is further from being NHL-ready than Dickinson. His game is very raw and too aggressive to translate smoothly early on. That being said, it would be best for Parekh to spend two more seasons in juniors. A quick stint in the AHL could also be beneficial before placing him in an NHL role.

If he finds his stride at the NHL level, Parekh could truly place himself among the best defenders in the league. In a best-case scenario, Parekh could compete for a Norris Trophy with his production potential. While this is a very tall mountain to climb, his style could certainly give him that chance.

What others are saying: Dickinson

“Dickinson is a poised two-way defenseman who can impact all areas of the game. His game, for me, starts with his ability to navigate all over the ice. His efficient skating allows him to log massive minutes without significant wear and tear, and he’s able to move all around the 200×85 with grace. He’s so fluid and quick that he’s able to be the third man high on an odd-man rush yet able to get back to defend and break up a play should things turn. There’s a willingness to jump into the zone when he sees a lane to help facilitate offense, but Dickinson is quick to retreat too. He doesn’t jump in at the expense or detriment of his team. He picks his spots well and it shows a level of intelligence.” – FCHockey crossover scout Aaron Vickers

What others are saying: Parekh

“Parekh is a defenseman who is smaller than the average player, but he possesses above-average skills in skating, puck handling, and shooting. Parekh’s game is characterized by a strong work ethic and belief in his abilities. There were a couple of times when he made the wrong read or turned over the puck when trying to do too much but he wasn’t scared off by his mistakes. A player with less confidence may have been scared off by the moment in such occassions, but Parekh continued to play as if he was flawless on the night.” – FCHockey regional scout Nathaniel Duffet 

Dickinson’s tracked games: Oct. 7th, 2023 vs. Guelph, Apr. 11th, 2024 vs. Kitchener, Apr. 13th, 2024 vs. Kitchener
Parekh’s tracked games: Mar. 8th, 2024 vs. Kingston, Mar. 30th, 2024 vs. Owen Sound, Apr. 11th, 2024 vs. Sault Ste. Marie

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