The Edmonton Oilers have a lot to prove going into 2012-13.
They are full of dynamic and exciting young talent that is bringing back a buzz in Oil Country that hasn’t been seen in years.
However, for as many young stars─Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins to name a few─as the Oilers have on the roster, and now add Yakupov and Schultz to the mix, there are equally as many question marks on the roster after posting finishes of 30th, 30th and 29th respectively over the last three seasons. Hope and expectations are running high, but there is much to prove for this group in many areas.
With most of the attention taken by the young, high profile forwards and more recently the Oilers acquiring the services of defenceman Justin Schultz, fans are getting caught up in the seemingly endless amount of potential and the anticipation of how good the forwards and defence could become on this team.
The man seemingly forgotten in all the hype is Devan Dubnyk. He is possibly the biggest question mark between the pipes going forward.
At 26 years old, he is still y0ung and not far off from the other young guns previously mentioned. As well has only had three limited years of NHL experience.
In those three seasons, Dubnyk’s play has been somewhat inconsistent. He has shown many moments of brilliance and exceptional play, however, he has had trouble sustaining it over extended periods of time. Not all that uncommon for a young emerging goaltender.
So far he has career numbers of 101 games played with a record of 36-43-13, a goals against average of 2.85 and save percentage of .910. The numbers don’t tell the whole story with Dubnyk, as he has played the last three seasons in front of a defence group that regularly ranked towards the bottom of the league and was hung out to dry on many nights.
Dubnyk’s 2011-12 season, where he played a career high 47 games, was a tale of two goaltenders. His first half was simply average as he was battling Nikolai Khabibulin for playing time; he appeared in 13 games, with a 4-9 record and a 3.07 GAA and .903 S%. While he showed flashes, Dubnyk’s game was often inconsistent and was victim to some suspect goals.
After Christmas, however, Dubnyk’s game took off. When Khabibulin’s game started to go downhill the Oilers relied more on Dubnyk and he responded well to the challenge. He went 16-11-3 with a 2.32 GAA and .919S% the rest of the way and gave the Oilers a sense of the goaltender they hoped they were getting when they drafted him early in 2004.
This coming season, he will enter training camp as the incumbent starter as it should be his job to lose, and the Oilers hope he takes it and runs with it. Dubnyk has improved in each of his seasons and there is no reason to think he won’t take another step forward. In his first two seasons he was clearly in the role as backup and last year he was in a battle for playing time and the starting job with Khabibulin.
Khabibulin is back for another year, but it has been no secret that the Oilers have been looking to trade him. With only one year left on his contract it’s hard to believe he is part of the team’s plans going forward.
Armed with a new two-year deal, Dubnyk will be given every opportunity to prove he is the man in Edmonton and worthy of being an unquestioned starter in the NHL. With Khabibulin’s game well past its prime and the Oilers next wave of goaltenders such as Olivier Roy and Tyler Bunz years away from being NHL ready, Dubnyk has his best chance possible to gain a strong foothold atop the depth chart.
Dubnyk has all of the tools a goaltender needs to be successful. He has great size at 6’5″ 210lbs, the right demeanor and temperament and he’s a hard worker. Dubnyk plays a very sound positional game and has excellent rebound control. He also has the pedigree, being a first round pick (14th overall, 2004). Now all he is lacking is the consistency to put it all together for a full season.
With all the hype around the forward group and two potential young building blocks on defence with the arrival of Justin Schultz and the emergence of Jeff Petry, Oiler brass is hoping Dubnyk continues the progress he had to finish last season and becomes the building block they need in net.
It is no secret that goaltenders often take a longer time to develop and often require more seasoning than other positions. Dubnyk could be entering his prime at the perfect time alongside the other youngsters and he provide Edmonton with the stability it needs for years to come to allow the team in front of him to flourish and continue putting up impressive numbers.
Carl covers the Edmonton Oilers for THW as well as providing additional prospect coverage. Follow him on twitter @carlTHW, connect on Facebook or contact at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions, comments or if you’re interested in him writing for you.