Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk has answered a lot of questions about how he turned his career around this season.
How exactly did he go from being out of the NHL at the end of last season to one of the League’s hottest goalies in February, helping turn the Wild's season around since a mid-January trade from the Arizona Coyotes with a 11-2-1 run?
For the most part, the answers have focused on Arizona giving him a chance as a free agent to start the season, and Coyotes goalie coach Sean Burke restoring his confidence. There were also some small tweaks and a better understanding about managing depth in his crease from Burke, but for the most part Dubnyk said he hasn't made any radical style alterations since transitioning his game to the NHL under then-Edmonton Oilers goalie coach Frederic Chabot.
Goalie - MIN
GAA: 2.27 | SVP: .924
There was, however, one significant change this summer.
Dubnyk adjusted how he works on tracking the puck, a change which puts him on the cutting edge of a new tool some believe will be the biggest thing for goaltending since the butterfly.
The technique is called Head Trajectory and Dubnyk discovered it while working with former NHL goalie and current MSG Network analyst Stephen Valiquette for one week at Andy O'Brien's NHL fitness camp in Vail, Colo., before the opening of training camps.
"It's all to do with your head. It's like closing on pucks," Dubnyk told NHL.com. "You discover you have to move a whole lot less than you used to feel you need to. It's such small movements forward and just closing off the angle of the puck, and when you start to realize that and you realize how big you are when you put yourself in the right position -- and that's a big part of it -- you start to feel comfortable and then you can be patient on your feet. You can sit there and let plays happen in front of you and not be going down early, and everything kind of comes with it once you realize how big you are."
Actually, making saves is just one part of Head Trajectory, which at its simplest is about how you track pucks with your head rather than just following it with your eyes. The concept applies to every part of goaltending, from how a goalie moves around the ice following the play, to how he recovers and moves after a save.
Valiquette learned Head Trajectory from its developer, Lyle Mast, who founded OR (Optimum Reaction) Sports, and consults with numerous goalies and coaches at all levels, including the Tri-City Americans in the Western Hockey League. Mast has worked on its development since 2008 with Los Angeles Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford, who uses a core portion of it with the Kings goaltenders.
The beauty of Head Trajectory is twofold: how it applies to any goaltending style and its simplicity. It focuses on the manner in which you move your head to stay focused on pucks while tracking plays and shots, rather than looking left or right or over the shoulder and pulling your eyes off the puck. As simple as it sounds, the applications, like the 13 years of research that went into developing it, are more detailed and comprehensive.
"It's the way we move our head to track the puck all the time," Valiquette said. "And really it's a foundation that touches all parts of how we play the position. It's that valuable. Working with goalies on this, if they can understand it and apply it, it's the biggest game-changer we are going to see in goaltending, maybe ever. Maybe this is bigger than the butterfly. It will revolutionize and evolve goaltending."
It's a bold statement, but for Valiquette it's more than a way of teaching goalies. It changed how he saw his 14-year career.
"It gave me closure on my career," Valiquette said. "I now know why I was bad when I was bad and why I was good when I was good."
Turns out that difference was all about his head movement.
Like Valiquette, the proper head movement is something almost all NHL goalies already do when they are playing well. But not many recognize the way they move their head is a trigger to that good play, and because of that they can't always fix things right away when they struggle.
"One hundred percent," Valiquette said. "After my first week learning it, I was like … if I only knew I had to look at it better. That's it. In the easiest form it's like your body does exactly what you need it to do if you have your head positioned properly. That's it. Period."
Valiquette is also well-suited to speak on the butterfly revolution.
As a 17-year-old he was teaching the skate-save style at a goalie school in Toronto in the early 1990s when good friend and former NHL goalie Zac Bierk convinced Valiquette to take a trip to Montreal to learn the butterfly from Montreal Canadiens goaltending coach Francois Allaire. After three days with Allaire, Valiquette returned to Toronto and began teaching some of the butterfly technique he had learned.
"I got fired," he said. "It wasn't ready to be accepted yet."
Valiquette and Mast know there will be doubters this time, and some who think they already teach the technique without fully understanding it. But work with Mast for an hour and the realization that how a goalie moves his head to track the puck supersedes all other elements becomes obvious.
"Quality sight and the ability to move can compensate for poor technical," Mast said. "But good technical cannot compensate for poor sight and the inability to move. Assessing and enhancing these abilities are a direct function of how the goalie tracks the puck and tendency he has to do it properly and improperly."
Count Valiquette among the converted. Dubnyk too.
The Wild goalie knows he has only scratched the surface on Head Trajectory and plans to work in-depth with Mast this summer.
Don't be surprised if other goalies and organizations follow suit.
"I believe head trajectory and the mechanics of how we track with our head to allow our body to move the way we need it to move as a goalie is as revolutionary as my first experience transitioning form skate saves to butterfly," Valiquette said. "Actually this is bigger."