Kyle Dubas combined hard work and innovative ideas to become hockey's youngest agent and the Ontario Hockey League's second-youngest general manager. The Toronto Maple Leafs have reshaped their organization by making him the youngest member of their front office.
Hiring Dubas as assistant general manager is a bold decision by one of hockey's most storied franchises, especially considering Dubas' previous front-office experience was serving as general manager of the Ontario Hockey League's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhound for the past three seasons.
The 28-year-old got the job Tuesday, the same day the Maple Leafs dropped vice president of hockey operations Dave Poulin and assistant GM Claude Loiselle, who combined for 1,340 NHL games played and more than two decades of coaching and front-office experience. But the Maple Leafs believe they've hired one of hockey's brightest young minds.
It didn't come as a surprise to a lot of people who know him.
"I think everyone kind of expected it at some point. Maybe not this early, but anyone who knows Kyle knows he's a very hard-working individual," said Dubas' sister, Megan, who is the Greyhounds' director of game-day operations and merchandizing. "Everyone knew this would eventually come, so we're obviously extremely proud of him."
Dubas quit playing at 14 because of concussions. His grandfather Walter coached the Greyhounds for five seasons, winning three consecutive regular-season championships from 1966-67 and 1968-69. Dubas' uncle, Walter Jr., played at Colgate University.
"I was very lucky to be born into the family that I was. [My grandfather] was such a prominent person in hockey, even though I wasn't around then. That was the first lucky break I had," Dubas said Tuesday after being introduced by Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan. "The second was when Craig Hartsburg took over as the coach and general manager. I learned so much from Craig. That was the point where I realized 100 percent that I wanted to work in hockey."
Starting as a stick boy with the Greyhounds at 11, Dubas was a fixture, eventually becoming a scout for Hartsburg, who is associate coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. When Dubas went to Brock University, 500 miles away in St. Catharines, Ontario, to study sports management, he continued to scout for the Greyhounds.
Dubas balanced those duties with his place on the dean's list, becoming a model for what motivated students can achieve.
"He participated fully and completely, and one of the things I remember was that he was actively involved in scouting for the Greyhounds. There were times when he drew on his experience outside of the classroom to enhance our class discussions," associate professor Craig Hyatt said. "He did everything that was required of him academically, but he also went out and built his resume as a volunteer scout."
Brock's sports-management program has notable alumni in recent years, including Toronto Blue Jays assistant general manager Andrew Tinnish, and Chris Armstrong, senior vice president for golf at Wasserman Media Group's Canadian office. But with the Maple Leafs' shadow looming large over campus, it hardly seemed possible for a Brock alum to make it to Air Canada Centre.
Dubas has changed that perception.
"We have a lot of suburban Toronto students come here and they live and die with the Leafs. I've had first-year seminars where five people have said their dream job is to be general manager of the Leafs," Hyatt said. "It's our job to say this isn't the traditional path to being the general manager of a major-league team. It's not all about the Leafs. But now that we've got Kyle Dubas, so much for that."
Dubas was hired by Uptown Sports Management and became, at 21, the youngest certified agent in hockey. The job allowed him to learn the finer points of the sports business. It also taught him about the harsh glare that occasionally comes with being so young in that industry.
"The competition made age an issue," said Todd Reynolds, Uptown's vice president. "They said, 'He's 21 years old. You're going to put your future in his hands?' He overcame it a lot of times. Sometimes he didn’t, but he was able to hold his own."
Representing players, many who were not much younger than him, Dubas was an anomaly at Uptown for five years. But he made his mark in 2011 when the Greyhounds, who Dubas grew up idolizing, approached him about becoming its general manager. He took the job, becoming at age 25 the second-youngest general manager in OHL history.
"He's very progressive, has a lot of really good ideas that challenge conventional thinking. As a coach, to get an edge, I learned a great deal from him," Greyhounds coach Sheldon Keefe said. "Kyle is a lifelong learner that is consistently challenging himself to get better. He's learning about all other sports and businesses. He's a guy that has been on the fast track because of the work that he has put in."
The Greyhounds missed the playoffs in Dubas' first season, but he established himself as a talented hockey executive whose roles included developing corporate partnerships and revenue streams. After finishing sixth in the Western Conference in Dubas' second season, the Greyhounds ranked second in the OHL in 2013-14 with 95 points. They lost in the second round of the 2014 OHL playoffs, but Dubas had turned the team around by hiring the right people and using hockey analytics to find the right players.
He'll be expected to apply those elements with the Maple Leafs.
"Stats guru? That gets lumped in because people know I have an affinity for that stuff. But it's really about learning as much as I can," Dubas said. "I haven't run the team in Sault Ste. Marie based solely on statistics. It's been a good-sized part of what we've integrated, but the rest is just hockey."