|Devan Dubnyk makes a sliding save on San Jose's Patrick Marleau (Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club)
The Oilers took to the ice last night at Rexall Place with six rookies making up a large portion of the team’s roster. Generally speaking, the spotlight has been focused up front where the dynamic offensive guns have energized Oil Country with unrelenting excitement of what the future may hold.
Expectations aside, this is an exciting time to be an Oilers fan. The rookie performances have been excellent for a team looking to rebuild its identity and transform the culture around the organization.
Sometimes lost in the shuffle, however, is the development of 24-year old goaltender Devan Dubnyk
. The 6-foot-6 netminder has battled through his tenure with the Oilers organization, but the light of a full-time job was realized earlier in the season when he secured his position over Jeff Deslauriers.
As we near the midway point of the 2010-11 season, Dubnyk has appeared in 11 of the team’s 35 games, starting in nine and providing his club with unyielding, confidence-building performances in the process. Nikolai Khabibulin
, 37, has played well this season but is obviously not the team’s long-term plan. With two-years remaining on his contract and age most certainly in mind, the Oilers need a young goaltender to grab the reigns and develop alongside the rest of the young, rebuilding Oilers.
The aforementioned qualities have provided the Oilers with a unique situation as they look to develop a star in goal. Khabibulin’s play, combined with his contractual situation have allowed the team be patient with Dubnyk as he finds his way early in his NHL career.
After all, we must remember that Dubnyk has only appeared in 30 NHL games at this point.
Patience is key, but for the young goaltender looking to establish himself, more action is proving beneficial. After struggling last season to record his first victory through 14 games, Dubnyk has responded well this season. While posting a 2-3-4 record may not seem like a terrific response, his play has warranted a greater return.
Although the numbers are skewed to the losing side of the spectrum, three of his four overtime losses have come in a shootout – a situation where the Oilers as a team have struggled mightily. Oilers shooters have only scored on six of 29 opportunities. Both Dubnyk and Khabibulin haven’t received much help, as the team currently boasts a 1-5 record in the skills competition.
In actuality, Dubnyk’s below .500 points-percentage represents the most unusual mark on his resume. Dubnyk’s 2.95 goals-against average and .916 save-percentage are quite respectable in the grand scheme; particularly for a goaltender that has only appeared in limited action.
The level of execution that has resulted from Dubnyk’s performances this season have most definitely been earned. As a team, the Oilers give up an average of 34.4 shots per game, and Dubnyk sees a slightly higher total with an average of 35.7 when he’s between the pipes.
Taking a night off simply isn’t an option.
With Dubnyk’s numbers heading in a positive direction, it would be perfectly reasonable to assume that he will receive more action as the season progresses. General Manager Steve Tambellini and Head Coach Tom Renney have held firm in their staunch approach to providing ice-time for developing players.
In this case, it’s becoming less about development and more about providing your team with the best opportunity to win. Right now, Khabibulin has secured the number one role, but Dubnyk’s ever-expanding confidence in the crease has helped him climb the ladder toward the starting role.
The numbers certainly speak for themselves, but of course an 11-game stretch is a fairly limited sample size. Dubnyk will have to keep pushing himself to improve in order to maintain his currently level of play. He’ll have to push even harder to exceed that level and further establish his name with the organization.
For Dubnyk, that workload comes naturally. The unflappable, easy-going personality most certainly helps to relieve the pressure in intense situations.
Ironically, that calm demeanor sometimes breaks through of its shell under certain circumstances. Dubnyk’s practice habits are exceptional, as he works tirelessly with goaltender coach Fredric Chabot on a daily basis prior to practice. Everything from the basics to puck-movement, it’s an ongoing process to help iron out his deficiencies and further refine his variety of strengths.
Like most goaltenders, Dubnyk is his own critic. If he lets in a goal during practice that he feels he should have stopped, the vocal frustration can be heard throughout the rink. That level of intensity is concentrated, as he simply battles harder next time to make the stop.
It’s a unique quality that has helped contribute to a unique career.
If the Oilers hope to rise to the level of a championship caliber squad sometime in the near future, the rebuilding process is dependent on more than offensive firepower. As it stands, the team is quietly developing their plan for the future in goal. Now the responsibility falls on Dubnyk to keep it rolling.