Dubnyk, Reimer or Schneider Part II

Devan Dubnyk has the raw skills to be great. He comes in second on our rankings.
Image courtesy Brendan Hoare.

Earlier this summer, I asked independent goalie scout and hockey writer Justin Goldman (AKA The Goalie Guild) for his take on who was likely to have the best career among James Reimer, Devan Dubnyk and Cory Schneider. He told me he liked all of them, but that at gunpoint he’d go with Cory Schneider. As a Canucks fan I was happy to hear that, but I was unsatisfied by the 140 character limit answer – I needed to know why. So I e-mailed him, and asked if he’d be interested in discussing the matter further with me. What follows is the elaborate answer I was looking for. In part I of the series, we profiled James Reimer over at LeafsNation, today: Devan Dubnyk.

 Devan Dubnyk; what does he do well? What does he need to work on?

What I like most about Dubnyk is his raw skill, in terms of his ability to read, react, and use his size to his advantage. Maybe three of four years ago, when we’d talk about a big goalie, “Using his size to his advantage” we’d expect that goalie to play higher up in his crease to make himself even bigger. But over the past few years, the way a big goalie plays has changed. Now they’re sitting back in their crease and allowing their size to be relied upon even more.

Dubnyk has a much better understanding of that now, so because he’s so big, and because he’s got such great reflexes, he can play deeper in his crease and his net coverage is still excellent. I think Dubnyk developed a much better understanding of his overall biomechanics, and of his size-speed combo last season.

Devan is also a really athletic goaltender. When you have his type of frame, and combine it with the type of quickness that he has – the sky is the limit. He has so much upside and potential with those raw elements – there is really no ceiling to what he can do.

I was able to watch him a lot last season because Edmonton and Colorado [The Goalie Guild is based in Denver] play each other a million times per season. And from where Dubnyk was in October, to where he ended in April – he was a completely different goaltender.

When it comes to projecting a goaltender’s upside, you have to look at their situation. Dubnyk is a former first-round pick, and Edmonton clearly decided to go with him over Jeff Deslauriers before last season started. The Oilers are going to give Dubnyk every opportunity in the world to grab the starters role this season, and build off last season’s momentum.

All Dubnyk needs is a streak of four or five games where he goes off, wins them all, then gets that confidence where he can fully believe; “I’m a starting NHL goaltender, and I’m not looking back.” Once he gets to that point, I don’t see him regressing. I don’t think he’s as mentally tough as a James Reimer, but opportunity leads to those things. As Devan plays more, and really embraces that starters role, his performance and consistency will likely improve.

Dubnyk’s never been in a winning situation, and he’s unlikely to be in one this season. How does that impact a goaltender?

It definitely plays a role, and that’s where it becomes tough to gauge a goalie’s true upside. When you look at a goalie that has been on bad teams, or has gone through losing seasons, it just explains what happened to them on that particular team, in that particular situation. You can’t take that record and say, “Oh, on a different team three seasons later he’s still going to be a losing goaltender.” Goalies learn to be mentally durable as time goes on, and over the course of a losing season – you learn how to handle tough losses. Long-term, it makes you more resilient. You develop a thicker skin and you embrace the old ideal that "you have to lose before you can truly win."

The losses, the bad stats and the fact that he’s still not really on a strong team are going to play a role in how Dubnyk is perceived overall as an NHL talent. But I just look at his raw skill level, and what he does in the crease – and to me he’s got more upside than Reimer. He’s more athletic, agile and has that lanky size, I mean, those legs are telescopic. They come out of nowhere, and give Dubnyk this ability to make desperate saves look graceful.

Dubnyk’s ability to go post-to-post and make that explosive movement in a controlled manner is probably the one thing that he improved most from September to April. He was already explosive and had that lanky frame, but he started to really improve his movement and control. And as his body control got better, his rebound control got better, then his save percentage started to creep up. As a result, Dubnyk ended the season on a solid, quiet little run.

I could tell by February that he was starting to put the pieces together, and it was really noticeable with his in-crease movements. He was way more controlled and comfortable playing NHL games – and that’s where I see him being one-step above Reimer. I mean, that’s what Reimer needs to do this coming season, whereas I feel like Dubnyk did it last season.

Many Oilers fans and observers wondered why it took so long for Dubnyk to take over as the starter. Do you see him getting the majority of starts this season?

You have to be pretty careful about fan perception. Fans say a lot of stuff, and they’re really passionate, but they don’t always understand the situational aspect of goaltending. Edmonton definitely has plenty of faith in Dubnyk, but they forced him to earn every single start he got. If he was giving up bad goals, or didn’t move as well as he normally does, they weren’t going to start him the next game. They didn’t want to just hand him a starting role, they wanted him to fight for it.

We’ve talked about him not being as mentally tough as Reimer – but how the Oilers managed Dubnyk last year – forcing him to earn every start – is a great way to toughen up a goalie’s mental makeup. So I actually give the Oilers coaching staff credit for not just saying, “Hey, you’re going to start every game, we just want you to play as much as possible and get better.” They really pushed him to work hard, practice his butt off and earn every start. And that’s the way it should be for a young goalie, or any goalie for that matter.

The final installment in our "Dubnyk, Reimer or Schneider?" series will appear tomorrow at CanucksArmy!

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    The guy’s 6’6″ and only a hair over 200 pounds; I love the mobility that that light frame brings, coupled with the raw surface area that comes with being 6’6″. As is said in the article, some of the post-to-post saves he made last year were breathtaking to watch, but my personal favorite Dubnyk save was that diving catch he made cross-crease, I can’t remember which team it was against. It might’ve been Calgary, but I’m pretty sure that’s wishful thinking.

    I really hope Dubby continues to improve and steady his game, so that we have Bunz and Roy fighting for the back-up spot in a couple years.

    EDIT: His 200 lbs frame is “light” relative to his height…

  • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

    It makes me really happy to see this kind of feedback coming from an independent source. The only one out of the three that I’ve seen is Schneider, from his play with the Moose. That kid’s going to be really special.

  • magisterrex

    So I actually give the Oilers coaching staff credit for not just saying, “Hey, you’re going to start every game, we just want you to play as much as possible and get better.” They really pushed him to work hard, practice his butt off and earn every start. And that’s the way it should be for a young goalie, or any goalie for that matter.

    Best part of the article!

      • Quicksilver ballet

        As frustrating as it may be for a fan to watch the losses mount. Edmonton’s coaches are more experienced hockey people than any of us, and questioning their hockey IQ is either foolish or arrogant. Their job last year was to build the foundation for a winning team which may not = what the fans want to see in a given game. As much as we’d all like a seat in the room, they aren’t going to lay all their cards out and tell us Khabby is starting ahead of of DD, for X, Y & Z reasons even though he’s struggling badly.

        • Edmonton’s coaches are more experienced hockey people than any of us, and questioning their hockey IQ is either foolish or arrogant.

          Assuming a coach is going to make the right decision simply because of his employment as an NHL coach is only one of the two. I’ll give you three guesses which one.

          • Woogie

            If us Fans see that Khabby was absolutely brutal I can assure you the coaching staff and management know this. There is no way they can be that blind.

            Is management or the coaching staff going to come out and say… well we sure %$@#@# on that Khabby signing but we are stuck with him for the next 2 years?

          • Woogie

            Who would you pick up instead of Khabby? We aren’t at the cap, Dubby at least in the fans eyes and the I’m going to assuming in the eyes of management is going to be a starter for the oilers for many many years.

            We say we won’t be a playoff team this year. Maybe the year after in Khabby’s final year of his contract. Khabby has a ton of NHL experience and can really help Dubby along. I’m sure both management and Khabby thought by the final year of his contract he would mainly be a back up anyways. What would be the point of waiving him and burying him somewhere? What benefit does that do?

            As much as the Khabby signing wasn’t great, he is that veteran presence we need in the room. It’s less about wins then it is to bring along the young guns at this point. Khabby is a transitional player who is on the down side of his career who knows how to win.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            I don’t know who, but I’m sure theirs someone available coming off something better then one of the worst seasons in years as an NHL starter.

            …..Maybe even someone on the right side of 35

          • book¡e

            I think it very fair to question the judgement of an NHL GM or coach, but I also think that it is somewhat silly to make arguments that assume that the coaches or GM do not even understand the basics of the game.

            The nice thing about being an armchair GM is that there are no consequences to our decisions/suggestions and we are always right.

          • There are plenty of decisions being made every year that fall into the category of “failing to understand the basics of the game”.

            What is happening on this club, that was measurably the worst in the league two years running, that is giving you the impression that they have the “basics” figured out?

            If not for the Owner throwing in some common sense with his demand for a rebuild there wouldnt be any at all.

            But it’s not that the basics have been forgotten either, it’s that the basics arent prioritized properly. On this Oiler team Paychecks have been equal to Playing time, no matter how much that flies in the face of the basics.

            One outsider looks at the Goalie situation last year and says that there was a plan to gradually bring Dubnyk along no matter the consequences in the standings. (Because playing less = development??)

            Another who has been watching the situation full time doesnt see the plan at all and sees instead a bull-headed commitment to the player that the GM has dubbed the “MVP” despite increasingly poor performance.

            This isnt about not understanding basics. This is about ignoring them for reasons not yet explained.

      • book¡e

        You must not have gotten the memo that the GM was hoping to finish in 30th and get the first pick overall.

        Do you really believe that Renney, Tambellini, and Lowe didn’t understand that a .8?? save percentage was not good? The three of them have been around the game of hockey for a long time, I think they know that the big guy with the pads is supposed to stop the rubber-thing from going into the net.

  • bandgeek

    Trade Dub and whoever is left from the Smyth deal for Schneider before Gillis reads the last piece tomorrow or manages to move Luongo!

    I like Dubnyk, and am not as worried about goaltending as some. He’ll do fine overall, and is seasoned at getting shelled after playing on the Blazers.

    Top pairing D and lack of an established 1 C are bigger problems right now.

  • bandgeek

    Love the analysis and commentary… helps provide some insight into the world of goaltenders and what to look for.

    At this point, I don’t expect Dubnyk to be a #1 all-star starter, I just want him to believe that if he works hard, he could be a #1 all-star starter in time.

    • Mason Storm

      Maybe you believe a little too strongly. DD will be/is the Oilers starter, but Carey Price is the goalie for team Canada for the next decade. And I’m a Bruins fan, kid was better then Thomas in the playoffs.

  • I guess this is another example of why us fans are fans and not running a hockey team. Last year most fans including me could not understand the rationale behind how Renney used his goaltenders. Maybe they actually know what they are doing.

  • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

    I was going to say, who the eff is this Thomas Drance…. ohhhh… @artemchubarov

    Also, nice FIST, David…. NO PROPS FOR YOU! ONE YEAR!

  • OilLeak

    I’m a fan of Dubnyk, I think he’ll turn out to be a really good goaltender. That being said, I wonder if he will be a “great” goaltender and where exactly he tops out. Dubnyk has really good positioning and rebound control, but is still very raw in many aspects. We seen it last year, Dubnyk was exposed time and again blocker side especially during shootouts. He needs to learn to keep that blocker up and mover better laterally. Consistency through several consecutive starts needs to improve as well. Other than that, I really like his game.

  • Woogie

    Corey Crawford followed a similar path as Dubnyk and I think that is the better comparable.

    This article touched on a couple of things that had me thinking of Khabibulin. Every fan seems set to want to get rid of him. But I think he still plays an important role. He’s a goaltender than can push Dubnyk for starts to give him that ‘mental toughness.’ Also, it’s going to be another tough year. Better than last, but still short of the playoffs. From what I understand, Khabibulin is a good guy in the locker room and can shoulder some of the support and play some of tough games (ie. playing San Jose and Detroit on back to back nights where you know you’re gonna get shelled in the 2nd game).

  • natedoo22

    I really believe this is the season where Dooby can prove the doubters wrong. This guy is as cool as a cucumber, stands as tall as the Mundare Sausage, and is just coming into his own as a young NHL goalie. I saw so many great nights last year in front of an AHL defense all the while facing NHL shooters. His Save% was extremely respectable considering his situation, so lets just see with the added improvements on the back-end and some better defensive roll-players to see with another year of added seasoning before the majority of fans keep crying for a new goalie. The guy we need may be right here folks!!! I’m praying Coach Renney let’s him play 55 games minimum.

  • ButtermilkBiscuitsAKAoilers2k10

    Havent read nothin yet, just listenin to Theteam1260 right now..notice Brownlee and Gregor chattin bout buttermilk flavoured wings..
    Nice nice..

    peace out

  • I’m a believer in Dubnyk being our starter when this team finally starts competing in the playoffs be it next year or the year after. I don’t believe that they need to go out and find a new starter. Give him the starts this year. He’s already proven he can be a starter. Confidence is #1 priority for any goaltender to become successful.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    I like hearing what somebody with no bias preference has to say. It seems as though Devan Dubnyk is generally perceived to have #1 goalie potential and it’s just nice to know that it’s not just us Oilers’ fans throwing him into the hype machine.