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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum Communications Co., Published June 24 2011

UND's Simpson on the cusp of the NHL draft

ST. PAUL – Dillon Simpson wasn’t invited to the NHL Combine as one of the top 100 prospects for the 2011 NHL draft.

And unlike University of North Dakota incoming freshmen J.T. Miller and Rocco Grimaldi, he’s not expected to hear his name called in tonight’s first round.

But Simpson has intrigued enough teams that he flew to the Twin Cities a few days early to do some workouts and conduct interviews with those that were unable to test him at the combine.

The Sioux defenseman, who was the youngest player in the country last season, could be a wild card at the Xcel Energy Center this weekend. Mock drafts project Simpson to go anywhere between the second and fifth rounds.

“I’m just going in with an open mind,” Simpson said. “Anything could happen. I could go early or late. I don’t know who is going to take me. It should be a fun time just to see what happens. I’m just going to take everything in and enjoy it.”

UND coach Dave Hakstol said he was impressed with Simpson’s freshman year. The Edmonton native and son of Stanley Cup winner Craig Simpson tallied two goals and eight assists in 30 games. Simpson, who didn’t turn 18 until February, also earned a 4.0 grade-point average in the classroom.

“Dillon handled every part of his freshman year with pretty impressive composure,” Hakstol said. “He had a good year. He’s such a mature young man. That becomes pretty evident when you are around him. There are a lot of challenges coming in as a 17-year-old, especially coming into a veteran defensive corps. Dillon handled it with tremendous poise in every way, shape and form.

“He’s going to be a great player at our level. He’s going to go from being out of the lineup in our last game to being a top three or four defenseman immediately next year. That’s based on his ability and what kind of person he is.”

Simpson also was happy with his freshman year.

“I enjoyed it,” he said. “It was a great time. We had a great group of guys and a great team.”

Saturday will likely be Simpson’s day. Tonight, he’ll be watching to see if two future teammates, Grimaldi and Miller, go in the first round.

Both are forwards from the U.S. Under-18 team. They played on a line together for much of the year and helped the Americans win gold at the IIHF World Under-18 tournament. Miller led team USA with 13 points in that tournament.

“They’ve played at real high levels of international competition within their own age groups, getting to big-game situations,” Hakstol said.

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald