KELOWNA, British Columbia -- Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk is eager to start the season with new coach Bruce Boudreau and is excited to show what he learned from the hard lessons of 2015-16.
That included the Wild firing coach Mike Yeo on Feb. 13 during a 1-11-2 stretch and replacing him with John Torchetti, who finished the regular season 15-11-1 to help the Wild get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite the turnaround, general manager Chuck Fletcher replaced Torchetti with Boudreau shortly after he had been fired by the Anaheim Ducks following a loss in Game 7 of the Western Conference First Round to the Nashville Predators.
And Dubnyk's play was below his expectations. After he was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2014-15, when he had a .929 save percentage and 2.07 goals-against average, he slipped to a .918 save percentage and 2.33 GAA last season.
"Whenever there are changes like that there is uncertainty, so for Chuck to be able to get a guy like Bruce is exciting for everybody," Dubnyk said. "I've heard nothing but good things about Bruce and that's exciting for all of us. And personally I am very excited for this season."
That excitement stems from assessing some of his disappointments last season.
Video: DAL@MIN, Gm6: Dubnyk makes post-to-post save
"There was some ups and downs and challenges I hadn't faced in my career mentally, just as far as a new contract and playing games and all these things you have to face at some point in your career," Dubnyk said. "I just feel like there is a lot of things that I saw last year that I can build off and be stronger this year having gone through those situations. So I am very excited."
Dubnyk went into last season expecting to hear questions about the six-year contract he signed July 4, 2015. He knew there would be some who doubted whether his remarkable run with the Wild in the second half of the 2014-15 season, when he went 27-9-2 with a .936 save percentage and 1.78 GAA after a mid-January trade from the Arizona Coyotes, was enough to warrant the contract. He prepared for questions about whether he was the goalie who ended that season as a Vezina Trophy finalist, or the one who finished the previous season in the American Hockey League after two trades and clearing waivers.
"I was prepared that people were going to be quick to jump if I didn't have the numbers I had before," Dubnyk said. "As much as you try to prepare yourself to handle all that, it's still frustrating when it happens. We had success as far as wins and losses at the start of the year, but my numbers weren't great and it was bothering me a little. As much as I tried to prep myself for the questions, you can never truly prepare yourself for when they come."
Dubnyk finished last season 32-26-6 with five shutouts, solid but far from the results he had set for himself.
Video: MIN@DAL, Gm5: Dubnyk shuts down Hemsky with skate
"I just got frustrated because I know I can be at that level, and be at an elite level," Dubnyk said. "And I want to be there and I want to work to be there so there were times it's good to put pressure on yourself. But there were times in the year I was putting too much pressure on myself with the new contract and the expectations coming off the previous season."
Looking back, Dubnyk said he was able to let go of those thoughts by focusing on smaller daily tasks. The cliché about taking things one shot at a time often is easier said than done, but Dubnyk made strides toward that goal last season.
"When you go through things like that, you are just better equipped to handle it," he said.
After recovering from a broken index finger on his blocker hand sustained during the morning skate before Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round against the Dallas Stars, Dubnyk spent the summer continuing to focus on the things that helped him bounce back from a 2013-14 season that started with him as the starting goaltender for the Edmonton Oilers and ended with questions about his future in the NHL. He spent a week at the Net360 goalie camp put together by his trainer, Adam Francilia, and Ray Petkau of Alpha Management Group, where he was reunited with Oilers goalie coach Frederic Chabot, whom Dubnyk credits for his solid technical foundation, and began working with Minnesota-based True Focus Vision to improve his eyesight.
Dubnyk also continued to work all summer with Francilia, who has rebuilt Dubnyk's body with position-specific exercises off the ice. On the ice he worked on his head movement and tracking mechanics with goalie coach Lyle Mast.
Video: SJS@MIN: Dubnyk slides over to rob Marleau on PP
"I've just grazed the surface," Dubnyk said of his work with Mast and the relatively new philosophy of head trajectory. "It's always a challenge every day to try to grasp it because every single part of your game comes back to it. It starts with your skating and then into your setup and your save execution and your post-save recovery. It's all part of it."
The offseason work with Francilia and Mast go hand in hand, with exercises off the ice designed specifically to maintain a stance that allows him to move his head and body efficiently on the ice, something that slipped as he sat down in his stance and onto his heels late last season. Dubnyk said he's seen improvements in those areas the past two summers but conceded that he's mastered neither, which only adds to his excitement going into a new season.
"I've said my whole life that if I am not working to get better right until I am done playing then I've got a problem, because I don't think anyone gets to the point they don't have to [work to get better]," he said.