Oilers' Dubnyk is playing to stay

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:39 AM ET

This time around, Devan Dubnyk is playing to stay.

Unlike previous training camps where the Edmonton Oilers goaltender was bound for the minors regardless of his performance, this year he is playing for a spot on the roster.

"It's definitely a different feel for me," Dubnyk said following the first day of on-ice sessions on Saturday. "You still have a little bit of nerves and excitement, but after playing last year, I come in here knowing that I can play at this level.

"I feel more comfortable and confident in my ability this year and I don't feel as though I'm just running around out there."

A former first-round pick, it was only a matter of time before Dubnyk suited up with the Oilers on a fulltime basis.

From the day the Oilers selected him 14th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, the Regina native has been pegged as the team's goaltender of the future.

He's been groomed for the position by working his way through the team's minor-league system.

Last season the Oilers got a glimpse into that future as Dubnyk was called up after Nikolai Khabibulin went down with a back injury.

"Being able to get that confidence during that stretch at the end of the year definitely helps, it makes a huge difference coming in here this year," Dubnyk said. "It's a different feel. I don't know if it's as much as a different approach. What I've tried to do coming in every year is to come here and try to be the best goalie. That's the only way you can come into training camp. You can't set yourself below that, you can't come in thinking that you're going to be the second-best goaltender next to Khabby, because it's not a good mindset to come into camp and try to be second best."

Last season proved to be a valuable learning experience for Dubnyk, who struggled to pick up his first NHL win.

He was eventually able to earn it after 11 starts and finished the year with a 4-10-2 record with a 3.57 goals against average and .889 save percentage.

"It was tough. Looking back on it, people say I'll laugh at it one day, but I'm not laughing yet," Dubnyk said. "I joke about it and stuff, but it was hard and I don't plan on going through a stretch like that again.

"I think what you can take from it, is that you do have to battle through adversity and you keep going and going when there are tough times and tough stretches. I really hope it's not 11 games again, but if you get on a two or three game losing streak, you learn from those situations that you have to kind of get out there and practice, put your head down, keep working and eventually it will come."

With Khabibulin back in the mix having recovered from his back injury, the Oilers have decisions to make regarding their goaltending situation heading into the season.

All three of their goaltenders are on one-way contracts with both Jeff Deslauriers and Dubnyk signing extensions this off-season. Both of them would have to clear waivers if sent down to the minors.

Khabibulin still has three years left on the free-agent deal he signed last summer.

The team also signed Martin Gerber to a two-way contract.

"It's not that you worry about it, but there is not really any way to try and get it out of your mind," Dubnyk said. "It's the situation that's here and that's the way it is. You can't really block it out and you can't really dwell on it. You just have to go out there and be the best goalie here because there are three of us and not two of us who already have set spots here.

"Maybe that's a good thing for camp and it may give you that competitive edge as opposed to already knowing what two guys are going to be here and go from there. You don't dwell on it, but it's a situation that you definitely think about."

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca


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