Knelsen Not Your Typical Teenager

Alaska center will look to be selected in NHL Draft on June 22-23

June 16, 2007

By Anthony Oliva

Special to


Alaska Nanooks center Dion Knelsen was not your average freshman in 2006-2007.


At just 17 years of age at the beginning of the season, the under-aged and undersized Canadian overcame extraordinary obstacles to be an offensive asset in Fairbanks despite battling an injury.


It is because of this success and obvious potential that he will be an intriguing prospect for this year's NHL Draft on June 22-23 in Columbus, Ohio.




Knelsen, listed at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, was the youngest player in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association and second in youngest in all of Division I collegiate hockey. However, he still contributed 22 points for the Nanooks, fourth on the team, while being hampered by a lingering shoulder injury.


"He had a great start offensively," said Alaska assistant coach Wade Klippenstein. "He still finished with 22 points, which is still very good as a freshman, but if he didn't get injured it could have been scary the numbers he could have put up."


The injury took place during a practice drill in the early part of the season but Knelsen, who is reluctant to use his injury as an excuse, hopes NHL teams saw enough of him this year to take a chance on him.


"I'm just hoping to get drafted," Knelsen said. "I don't know if I had a season that was up to my standards but I'm hopeful some teams though have seen my potential and what I'm capable of."


His talent and potential was on display prior to the injury early in season when he scored two goals and added three assists in an 8-4 win over Air Force in the second game of the season. In the next game, he had two goals in an overtime loss to Alaska Anchorage. 


Klippenstein says it is a "real mystery" where Knelsen will get drafted. He is currently ranked No. 201 among all North American skaters by the NHL Central Scouting Service but projections by his coaches have him being selected as early as the third round or as late as the seventh round.


"Whoever takes him is going to get a good player and a steal of a draft pick," Klippenstein said. "Any team that plays high tempo, high skill and speed hockey will benefit from a guy like Dion."


Knelsen's coaches this year were impressed with his maturity and how quickly he adapted to the collegiate game at such a young age.


"He's very intelligent and his maturity is way beyond his years," said former Alaska head coach Tavis MacMillan. "He was only 17-years-old, and we didn't go out of our way to protect him. We had him in all type of situations - the hardest face-offs, power play and penalty kill."


MacMillan attributed much of his success to his extraordinary work ethic.


"He works so hard," MacMillan said. "He is the first one on the ice and the last one off it. He's skating on our days off and constantly working on different parts of his game. If I or someone else doesn't challenge him, he'll challenge himself."


His hard work, his coaches say, will translate to a very bright future for Knelsen in Alaska and in the NHL.


"I know he's not satisfied being anything short of the best," Klippenstein said. "He is going to train hard and he wants to be the leading scorer of this hockey team for the next three years and I wouldn't be surprised one bit if he was. He is just that kind of kid. He is competitive and he's determined and he will do whatever it takes. He will be an offensive leader on this hockey club for as long as he's here.


If Knelsen becomes the scorer that many believe he will, he will do it for recently hired Alaska head coach Doc DelCastillo, previously an assistant at Nebraska-Omaha.


"I'm real excited about this upcoming year," Knelsen said. "Doc DelCastillo seems like a coach who knows how to get the best out of his players. I am motivated on my own but I like getting pushed and I think he will push me to be a better player."


Knelsen's transition in becoming a more dominant player started in Finland this April at the IIHF World U-18 Championship, where the Three Hills, Alberta native represented Canada.


"Playing at the U-18 championships made me realize where I need to go as a player," Knelsen said. "It was a great experience and exactly what I needed. I was able to play with players my own age and see how they played and how they were successful. It was a positive experience. I learned a lot from my coaches and my teammates and I came out a better player."


Knelsen had two goals and two assists in six games at the U-18 Championships and once again showed glimpses of the playmaking ability that NHL teams, in the wake of recent rule changes, have been coveting.


"The timing couldn't be better for a guy like Dion," Klippenstein said. "The way teams seem to be going and building their teams I think he will be a benefactor of that.  Years ago I don't know if he'd be an NHL prospect, but now the game has changed and you need a guy with great creativity."


Knelsen's creativity and intelligence carries over to off the ice as well. He earned a 4.0 GPA this school year and is also a talented guitarist that enjoys to record music.


However, his focus is on playing hockey and he is looking forward to getting back on the ice.         


"I'm real excited for next season," Knelsen said. "My goal next year is to be one of the top offensive players on the team and in the league. I don't want that to be too bold of a statement, but I want to be more that average next year."


This teenager won't have a problem with that.