After almost 27 years on the planet, much of it spent blocking frozen rubber in the goal crease, Devan Dubnyk has arrived at the place he’s longed to be – the clear-cut No. 1 goaltender with a NHL team, namely the Edmonton Oilers. I suspect he intends to stay awhile.
For Dubnyk, as with every player, his road to the NHL has been a journey intersected by preparation, motivation and opportunity. The first two don’t mean much without the third. The third is often wasted without the first two. We’ve seen that unfold a time or two.
Dubnyk, now in his seventh pro season, had the preparation and motivation angles pretty well covered, and after biding his time and staking his claim the past couple of seasons behind Nikolai Khabibulin, head coach Ralph Krueger assured him the window of opportunity was wide open, essentially telling him last summer the crease was his.
Armed with a vote of confidence every player wants and needs, is it any surprise Dubnyk is playing the best hockey of his career as he steps between the pipes for his ninth straight start against the Vancouver Canucks tonight?
"It doesn’t change the way you approach a game because obviously you have to keep doing the things you do to prepare, but at the same time, it allows you to worry about that and only that," Dubnyk said.
"You don’t have to worry about ‘I don’t feel good tonight’ or ‘what if tonight doesn’t go well?’ All you have to worry about is ‘Maybe I don’t feel good tonight, but I’m going to find a way to go play because that’s all I have to worry about.’
"Ralph communicated that with me right away, during the summer. It’s a great vote of confidence. It’s that vote of confidence, after a game like San Jose, that the next game you go right back out and play. I don’t have to worry about what Ralph is thinking of me, or about the coaching staff. I’m confident in that and I can prepare for the next game and not think about when I’m going to get back in there."
That might have not been the case two years ago, or even last season, had Dubnyk been lit up by the Sharks as he was in the second game this season. Would he have been thrown right back in? Maybe. Maybe not. Even with the tough go against San Jose skewing his numbers, Dubnyk faces the Canucks with a 4-3-1 record, a 2.53 GAA and a .925 saves percentage.
Dubnyk paid his dues with Wilkes-Barre and Springfield of the AHL and Stockton of the ECHL for parts of four seasons. He got into 19 games with the Oilers in 2009-10, 35 in 2010-11 and 47 last season, going 20-20-3 with a 2.67 GAA and a .914 saves percentage on a 29th-place team as he moved up the organizational pecking order and, eventually, surpassed Khabibulin.
Still, questions were asked and questions remain, even it’s been abundantly clear for some time Dubnyk was a better option than a faded Khabibulin. Is Dubnyk a "legitimate" No. 1 goaltender? Can he be the go-to guy? That, we don’t know for sure yet – at least not beyond any doubt. That said, he’s damn sure looked like a reasonable facsimile so far this season, no?
"It’s my job to make sure it’s the right decision to put me in every night," Dubnyk told me this morning. "I want to continue to do that. It kind of keeps you sharp. You approach every single game where you don’t just want to be given the start, you want to deserve to be starting.
"The benefit is having the opportunity to get right back in there if you don’t play great, but I want to make sure there’s a good reason I’m starting every night. It’s big enough to get the opportunity, but you have to be ready for it when it comes.
"So many things have to go right, and when you get that chance, you have to make good with it. If you’re lucky enough to get it and you’re not ready for it, then it doesn’t matter. "
"Looking back, at the time you don’t realize how many things you have to go through, how many things have to go right. All the things you learn, it’s a huge process to get to where I am right now. It’s a nice feeling to know you’ve worked and gone through all that for a reason. I truly believe going through all that has made me who I am today."
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.