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Dubnyk enters season with starter's mindset

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Devan Dubnyk posted a 20-20-3 record, 2.67 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 2011-12.

Devan Dubnyk wanted to commit to the Oilers.

The Oilers wanted to commit to Devan Dubnyk.

The on-ice marriage wasn't quite as nerve-racking as his wedding on June 24th in Hawaii -- although it was, as he described, "a little tense" in negotiating a new deal -- the 26-year-old goaltender took the plunge and put pen to paper on a new two-year, $7 million extension Thursday.

It's a match made in heaven.

"I was trying not to think too much about [re-signing] during the season," Dubnyk said. "It's a little tense when contracts have to be hammered out, but it's certainly a fun time to have it turn out the way it did. The Oilers have given me a good opportunity to play a couple good years and now to continue on here in Edmonton."

Dubnyk had a breakout season in 2011-12, posting career-highs in games played (47), wins (20) and goals-against average (2.67). In addition, he collected a .500 record on a sub-.500 team and a .914 save percentage.

The 6'5", 210-pound netminder is set to earn $3.5 million in each of the next two seasons -- a comparable number to Boston's Tuukka Rask and Vancouver's Cory Schneider. And with Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo on the outs (and possibly on the move), all three will be looking to lock up the No. 1 role on their respective teams in the coming year.

"I definitely look at myself [as a starting goalie]. I think I have to," Dubnyk explained. "It's that time -- a progression, and I hope to continue to be setting career highs in different categories as the years go on.

"It was a really important time for me at the end of the season last year, to show myself and others that I can be a starting goaltender. It certainly doesn't mean I'm not going to be pushed. Khabby (Nikolai Khabibulin) is still a great goalie, a great person and he's got a lot left in him. I'm looking forward to working with him for another year and I'll have to earn each start like I've been doing over the past couple years."

Primarily known as a positional goaltender, Dubnyk's athletic ability came to shine last season. It's a skill he's been working at but, as he describes, those thrilling post-to-post, diving denials are a byproduct of everything else coming together.

And as a goalie, the mental portion is especially critical. Without it, he might not have robbed Chris Higgins of a sure-goal on Apr. 7 in Vancouver with a last-ditch, desperation paddle save late in the game.

It was the work of a starter.

"With the way I play, I never really want to be making saves like that," Dubnyk laughed. "You can't ever give up and, as the season went on, I began to see that I was capable of doing it. When you go out and feel good about your game and your ability, you can relax and make saves like that.

"Luckily for me I got a piece -- and a good piece -- and I have no idea how it managed to stay underneath me, but I was pretty happy.

"It's all about being big -- being big and relaxed. It's the old cliche that you can't squeeze the stick too tight, but it's so true. You're not always going to be in the perfection position because things happen, but if you're relaxed, it allows your body to react more quickly and you can come up with stops like that. I hope I'm not having to make diving paddle saves too often, but sometimes you've got to do it."

Khabibulin still has one year remaining on his four-year, $15 million deal he signed back on Jul. 1, 2009. The 39-year-old veteran is a past Stanley Cup winner with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but has struggled mightily of late and will likely be relegated to the backup role. Still, on the ice and in the room, Khabibulin has played a significant role in Dubnyk's development as a pro.

"It's great," Dubnyk said. "He's been more to me than I could ever expect. I can feel the support -- it's genuine and I've shown the same to him. When you've got a partner that genuinely supports you and wants you to do well, you feel that way about each other. He's been a great person to me, a great pro; it's been an honour to sit beside him in the room and play with him the last couple years."

Along with the veteran presence Khabibulin will provide as a wise and experienced mentor, Dubnyk is excited about what the club's new head coach will be bringing to the table.

"I'm excited that Ralph (Krueger)'s the guy. The great thing about Ralph is that he's extremely positive and that's a good thing to have with the young guys. But there's no grey area with him. You'll know if you need to be better and you'll know if you're doing well. He's not going to mess around, so the communication between players and coaches will be very good."

Dubnyk and the Oilers already have a taste for it, too. The Regina, SK native was in the crease, stopping 21 shots while Krueger was behind the bench on Feb. 21, 2012 as the orange and blue dismantled the Calgary Flames by a 6-1 score at Scotiabank Saddledome.

The victory snapped Krueger's head coaching goose egg as a fill-in for the concussed Tom Renney, and it provided a lift to the up-and-coming Oilers who needed a reason to reignite the Battle of Alberta rivalry.

Considering the Minnesota Wild's acquisitions of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter Wednesday, in addition to the Flames and Canucks' subtle upgrades, the Northwest Division will be as challenging as ever next season.

"It's always good," Dubnyk laughed. "The Northwest Division is very good and it always has been. Especially Vancouver, Calgary and Minnesota -- it's tight. We've got to keep up and step up above them. We've taken some steps and added some more young guys, so I'm hoping we can continue to grow together.

"I've been around Edmonton a long time. I've seen a lot of change and the optimism around the team internally and externally is great. When you sign a guy like Justin Schultz who was pursued by a lot of teams and he chooses us, it shows that everybody's optimistic about where we're going. And they should be.

"We're getting better, more experienced and our young guys are learning how to win. That's only going to continue to improve. We're going to come together soon and there are a lot of good years ahead in Edmonton."

With the commitment the Oilers have shown in the rebuild, their plan and now in their goaltender, everyone sure hopes so.

Especially the man tasked to backstop the team's rise back to the post-season.

-- Ryan Dittrick, - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick

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