EDMONTON - Devan Dubnyk was a picture of tranquility in sea of frustration last season for the Edmonton Oilers.
Dubbed the ‘Big Easy’ for his mild-mannered demeanor, the Oilers goaltender proved to be a calming influence on a team loaded with impressionable rookies.
Essentially a rookie himself, Dubnyk had a strong first full season in the league, earning 12 of the team’s 25 wins, and finishing with a 2.71 goals against average and .916 save percentage.
Heading into this season, he’s looking to build on those numbers and grow with the rest of the club.
“I think the main goal for us is to make the playoffs,” Dubnyk said. “That’s where we were last year at the start of the season, but I think we all feel we can do it this year.
“It’s important to get things going right away. We have a lot of young guys coming back, we got a lot of game experience, we got a lot of ice time last year and we’ll be able to bring that in right away and not have to go through that learning experience.”
Selected in the first round — 14 overall — in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Dubnyk has come up through the Oilers system touted as their goaltender of the future.
The future appears to be nearing as Dubnyk posted better numbers than starter Nikolai Khabibulin last season.
It’s expected the two will share the goaltending more evenly this season, before Dubnyk takes over the role of full-time starter, perhaps as early as next year.
“I think it’s a great opportunity, personally for myself I think I’m ready to go and get out there,” Dubnyk said. “I want to keep the same mentality that I’ve had that worked for me last year and try to earn each start regardless of how the situation ends up at the start of the year, at the middle of the year, I don’t want to change that approach.
“I want to continue to earn my starts and if I get back-to-back starts or three in a row, it’s because I’ve earned it. That way you feel like you deserved it and you’re able to play better.”
With Khabibulin still having two years left on his contract, the ice time Dubnyk gets will have to be earned.
The veteran goaltender is heading into camp looking for a bounce-back season after an inconsistent year that had a drunk-driving conviction hanging over it.
Having served his time this summer, Khabibulin is being counted on to continue to provide mentorship to Dubnyk.
“Obviously it was a tough situation for him, because you got to know him as a friend and a teammate and it becomes even harder to watch him go through it,” Dubnyk said. “For me if he wants to talk about it, I’ll talk to him about it, but I’m not going to bring it up, that’s his situation and he’s dealt with it and is able to move forward so that’s exciting for him for sure.”
Unlike last season, Dubnyk won’t be going into camp this year looking to earn a spot on the roster, he’s already been penciled in.
It’s simply a matter of how much Dubnyk will play this year and how close the Oilers can really get to the playoffs.
A year ago there was plenty of optimism heading into the year as well and the club went on to finish last for a second consecutive season.
“I think we believed in the optimism last year as well, and we felt like we could do it and wanted to achieve it,” Dubnyk said. “But when you have a brand new group of guys and a lot of players that haven’t played at this level, something pretty special has to come together for it to happen. And if we could have stayed healthy last year, I’m sure things probably wouldn’t have turned out the way it did.”