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!