Detroit — Dylan James got the chance to play hockey again this past season and made the most of it.
Playing junior hockey in Alberta in 2020-21, James only played seven games for the Okotoks Oilers (AJHL) because of three COVID-19 disruptions during the season. Obviously James wasn’t alone, many players endured rough seasons, but it still hurt.
There was some rust to knock off and it was an adjustment playing for Sioux City this past season. But James scored 28 goals during the regular season and added five more in 10 playoff games to help Sioux City to the USHL championship, all while simply enjoying playing hockey again.
“It was tough. I quarantined for 50 days (two seasons ago), three different times. That was tough obviously on and off the ice,” James said. “You didn’t know if you were going to practice that afternoon, that year. But coming to the USHL, I was a little nervous, I hadn’t played a season, but I felt I played pretty well.”
Well enough, certainly, for the Wings to draft James in the second round last week (40th overall) in the NHL Entry Draft.
“After Christmas, I played my best. I felt I was getting comfortable with the city, the new teammates, I didn’t know any of them before, and the coaches and what they wanted out of me,” James said. “It was just getting comfortable, and getting older and stronger helped.”
James was back home in Calgary on draft day, watching with family. But his feed was delayed and James wasn’t sure when he was drafted.
“I heard my name called but I didn’t know who drafted me,” James said. “I found out it was the Red Wings and obviously it was an exciting time with my family. They have 11 (Stanley) Cups, that’s sweet.”
One of the first things James thought about was the long list of legendary players who have worn the Red Wings jersey.
“First thing that came to mind was Stevie Y (Steve Yzerman),” James said. “I have met (Niklas) Kronwall (who is coaching at the team’s development camp), he’s giving me tips on the ice, said to just relax and just play. It’s nice to hear from them.”
A 6-foot, 180-pound left wing, James plays with a lot of speed, and uses that speed at both ends of the rink. Scouts view him as a potential two-way forward who will be able to help the Wings in a variety of ways.
“I like to pride myself on my defense,” James said. “My offense comes from that. My speed is my best asset and I use it to forecheck and limit the defense’s time and space. I like to do that.”
Defenseman William Wallinder, a 2020 second-round pick, is making his first appearance at a Wings development camp given the pandemic restrictions the last two years.
Wallinder finally arrived in Detroit and participated Tuesday in his first practice. Wallinder was delayed because of flight issues and lost luggage.
“I had to borrow skates and equipment, it was pretty tough,” Wallinder said of how he was able to get on the ice Tuesday. “I don’t think they (the airlines) have found it yet. I haven’t heard anything. Hopefully they find it.”
Wallinder (6-4, 190) is a smooth-skating defenseman who will return to Rogle (Sweden) for another year of maturation and experience.
But for now, just as Wallinder has in Sweden, he’s getting an opportunity to learn and absorb information from Kronwall, one of his favorite players.
“I liked his hits,” Wallinder said. “It’s great to work with him. He has a lot of experience, just to learn from him and listen to what he says.”
Wallinder was a teammate, and will continue to be this season at Rogle, of Wings’ first-round Marco Kasper.
“He works hard. He likes to go straight to the net and be in front of the net,” Wallinder said. “He’s a tough guy to play against. Really skilled, too.”
Forward Carter Mazur (Jackson) and defenseman Shai Buium became roommates at Denver last summer, shortly after both were drafted by the Wings (Buium in the second round and Mazur in the third in 2021).
The two were instrumental in Denver winning the NCAA Frozen Four and becoming solid prospects for the Wings.
“We’re real good friends,” Buium said. “We started rooming together in the summer last year, going into our freshman year. We got close that way.”
Winning the NCAA championship was a memorable experience.
“It was incredible,” Buium said. “We had a special group, we did a special thing, and it was probably one of the best times in my life.”
Buium showed his offensive explosiveness at Denver, with 15 assists and 18 points in 39 games, with a plus-20 rating.