EDMONTON – The 2013-14 NHL season may still be a couple of months away, but Devan Dubnyk is chomping at the bit to get back between the Oilers pipes.
With an abbreviated 2012-13 campaign that saw the team finish out of the playoff picture, a high-intensity summer training regimen and a familiar face set to join him in the Edmonton crease, the netminder has plenty of reasons to be eager for the start of the new season.
Dubnyk made a guest appearance at Oilers Hockey School on Thursday at Servus Place in St. Albert, spending a few hours helping young players develop their skills. The 27-year-old also spoke to the media and provided an off-season update.
"I feel great, but unfortunately it's July and I'm itching to get back already," he laughed, sharing memories of his days as a minor hockey player attending Okanagan Hockey School in Penticton, B.C., during the summer and receiving instruction from then-Canucks forward Brendan Morrison.
Dubnyk and his wife, whom he married last summer, now have a permanent residence in Edmonton and are expecting their first child later this year. He has also been training consistently with Oilers strength and conditioning coach Chad Drummond.
"It's been awesome," Dubnyk said of his current workout regimen. "It's been tough, certainly some long workouts, but we've got a really good relationship with him. I'm feeling great."
Dubnyk was feeling particularly great on July 5 upon hearing the news that the Oilers had inked free agent netminder Jason LaBarbera to a one-year contract. The two puck-stoppers spent multiple off-seasons training together in Calgary, and Dubnyk said he's looking forward to working alongside a player with whom he has plenty of familiarity.
"I've known him for a long time, so I was really excited, obviously, when that signing happened," he said. "You have to have a relationship with any partner, but obviously when you get a rare chance that it's someone you know and have such a good relationship already, it's just kind of a bonus."
LaBarbera recorded a 4-6-2 record with a 2.64 GAA and .923 save percentage in 15 games with the Phoenix Coyotes last season, backing up starter Mike Smith. The 33-year-old has played 175 career NHL games with the Rangers, Kings, Canucks and Coyotes, holding a 59-70-19 record with a 2.84 GAA and .908 save percentage.
"He's a real quality guy who's been around a long time," Dubnyk said of his new counterpart. "He works hard, and I think he's just going to be a great guy to have in the room for the young guys. He's been through a lot, seen a lot. He's a solid presence back there … I know he'll be good for us here."
LaBarbera isn't the only Oilers off-season pick-up Dubnyk is excited to start playing with, though, as he said veteran defenceman Andrew Ference also brings plenty of valuable attributes to the squad.
"Ference is a guy who's hard to play against and is going to be a real good addition to our back end," he said. "He's just a solid guy you can put on the ice any time there's an urgent situation, or something needs to be shut down, or if there's a minute left and we've got the lead he's going to be that guy you go to. He obviously knows how to get it done, and he's going to teach our guys a lot I think."
In terms of personal goals for the coming season, Dubnyk said he hopes to earn 60-plus starts between the Oilers pipes. In his four seasons in Edmonton, Dubnyk has improved both his GAA and save percentage each year, finishing the shortened 2012-13 campaign with a 14-16-6 record, 2.57 GAA, .920 save percentage and a pair of shutouts.