REGINA — When Noah Dobson was 15, he made the decision to forgo playing midget hockey in Canada and instead travelled to Austria to play for EC Red Bull Salzburg.
Dobson said the move allowed him to get daily ice time and improve his skills. And although it’s a long way from his hometown of Summerside, P.E.I., the star defenceman for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan said it also helped him mature as a person.
“The whole experience part of growing up, living on your own in Europe for a year was pretty incredible to see different parts of the world,” Dobson said in a recent interview at the Memorial Cup. “Just the whole experience was great for me and I really took it all in.”
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Titan drafted Dobson sixth overall in 2016 — and he has found success ever since.
The 18-year-old is the top prospect for June’s NHL draft playing at the Canadian major junior championship. He helped the Titan capture their first league title since 1999 with a six-game victory over the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the QMJHL final.
Acadie-Bathurst (2-1 at the Memorial Cup) advanced directly into the championship game at the national tourney and faces the winner of Friday’s semifinal between the Ontario Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs (2-1) and host Regina Pats (2-1) on Sunday.
Dobson has seven points through three games, leading all defencemen.
“It’s been an exciting year,” said Dobson, who is the No. 5-ranked North American skater in NHL Central Scouting’s most recent draft report. “I think years like this only happen once in a lifetime.
“Just been trying to enjoy the experience and have fun with it and take it all in.”
Titan coach Mario Pouliot said that he started to notice how much Dobson improved following last August’s Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, where he represented Canada’s gold-medal winning U18 team.
Dobson said that he gained a lot of confidence from that tournament and it helped him this season.
Pouliot added that Dobson has been a good two-way defenceman and has defended really well this year.
“We are really happy to have him with us because since the first day, even when he was 16 years old, he’s a great example for all of our young players, especially last year,” Pouliot said. “And his progression is amazing.”
Acadie-Bathurst general manager Sylvain Couturier, whose son Sean Couturier plays for the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, said Dobson is a special player.
“For a franchise to have a Noah Dobson is not every year that you have that type of player in your lineup,” Couturier said. “For me, it’s a sure bet top-10 (in the NHL draft) and I won’t be surprised if it’s a top five or six.
“Noah Dobson will be not only a top prospect for the NHL but one day will be a top player in the NHL, I’m pretty sure of it.”
Dobson had a familiar face with him in Austria in fellow Summerside native Jeremy McKenna, who now plays for the QMJHL’s Moncton Wildcats. The two are good friends and train together in the summer on P.E.I.
Dobson credits a lot of his early growth to playing under coach Rodney MacArthur in his hometown.
“I think that (if not for his) minor hockey days in Summerside, you probably aren’t where you are today,” Dobson said.