Is this Dubnyk's year

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:06 PM ET

EDMONTON - If hockey teams are only as good as their goaltending, there will be plenty of pressure on Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk this season.

The two Edmonton Oilers goaltenders will be relied on heavily to help the team climb out of the NHL basement where they’ve finished the last two years.

Khabibulin is pencilled in as the Oilers’ starter heading into this season, but won’t have a very long leash with Dubnyk making good progression last year and being touted as the club’s goaltender of the future.

Both will be under the gun to provide results this year as the Oilers are hoping to play meaningful games in late March and early April looking to challenge for a playoff spot.

Last season, Khabibulin got the bulk of the starts when the games mattered towards the beginning of the year, then settled into splitting the duties as it became evident the Oilers weren’t going to make the playoffs.

This year, it’s expected the two goaltenders will be playing a more even role.

“I have an idea of what I want to do there, but I’m going to keep that to myself for now,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “Both goaltenders will get ample work. In one case (Khabibulin) one wants to reestablish himself and in the other (Dubnyk) wants to continue to impress with a real future in the game as a goaltender. But I’m not about to divulge my theory on that or any kind of a formula as to why how and when I’ll do it.”

Here’s a look at the Oilers goaltending situation heading into the season and what the Oilers have coming up through the system.

NIKOLAI KHABIBULIN

The Oilers goaltender has yet to live up to expectations since signing a four-year, $15-millon, free-agent contract prior to the 2009-2010 season.

Khabibulin started out well, but then had his first year with the club derailed by a back injury, which required season-ending surgery. The veteran goaltender played in just 18 games for the Oilers that season, posting a 7-9 record with 3.03 goals against average and a .909 save percentage.

Later that year, while recovering from back surgery, Khabibulin was arrested and subsequently charged with impaired driving in Arizona. He was sentenced to serve 30 days in an Arizona correctional facility.

An appeal allowed Khabibulin to suit up with the Oilers last season, where he struggled, finishing with a 10-32 record with a 3.40 goals against average and .890 save percentage. At one point the native of Sverdlovsk, Russia, went 14 games without a win.

This season, having decided to serve his sentence in the summer, Khabibulin is looking to prove he can still be an elite goaltender in the league.

DEVAN DUBNYK

Having been selected in the first round — 14th overall — of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Dubnyk was the second-highest goaltender ever taken by the club. Only Grant Fuhr, chosen eighth in the 1981 draft, was selected higher.

Fuhr won five Stanley Cups and is the Hockey Hall of Fame. Dubnyk, meanwhile, has worked himself up the system and seems poised to take over the Oilers’ starting role.

The Regina native was forced into action two seasons ago and shared the goaltending duties with Jeff Deslauriers when Khabibulin went down with his back injury.

A year later Dubnyk beat out Deslauriers for the back-up role behind Khabibulin. He finished last season with an impressive 12-13 record, considering where the team finished in the standings. His 2.71 goals against average and .916 save percentage were also better than Khabibulin’s.

Heading into this year, Dubnyk is looking to take on an even bigger role and the opportunity is there for him to establish himself as the team’s starter.

It’s where the Oilers envision him being by the time the club is considered a contender.

In the system:

YANN DANIS

Having been passed over in the NHL draft, Danis did enough to earn a contract with the Montreal Canadiens after graduating from Brown University in 2004.

Danis played in just six games with the Canadiens in five years with the organization, spending most of his time with their AHL affiliate in Hamilton.

The native of Lafontaine, Que., then signed with the New York Islanders before moving on to the New Jersey Devils organization.

Between the three teams, Danis played in 45 NHL games, sporting a 16-120 record with a 2.72 goals against average and a .912 save percentage.

Last season, he spent the year in Russia playing with Amur Khabarovsk of the Kontinental Hockey League.

Danis signed a one-year contract with the Oilers this off-season providing some goaltending insurance for the club with the departure of Deslauriers and Martin Gerber.

OLIVIER ROY

The Oilers prospect was selected in the fifth round — 133 overall — of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Roy, 20, was a member of Canada’s world junior team last year and played with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Roy sported a 29-13 record with a 2.79 goals against average and .911 save percentage. It’s expected he’ll play with either the Oilers ECHL affiliate in Stockton or AHL squad in Oklahoma City, although he’s still eligible to go down to junior as an over-age player.

TYLER BUNZ

Selected in the fifth round — 121 overall — of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Bunz, 19, is expected to contend for a spot on Canada’s world junior entry this year. The St. Albert native has spent the past four seasons with the Medicine Hat Tigers in the Western Hockey League. Last year, Bunz finished with a 35-18 record with a 2.47 goals against average and .919 save percentage. He’s expected to go back to junior this season.

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

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