SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers options in net

Oilers goaltender Devan Dubnyk earned a shutout against the Flames on Sunday night. (STUART...

Oilers goaltender Devan Dubnyk earned a shutout against the Flames on Sunday night. (STUART DRYDEN/QMI Agency)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:30 AM ET

EDMONTON - Is there anyone in Edmonton who doesn’t think Devan Dubnyk should be starting in goal on opening night and be declared No. 1 netminder for the season and for the future?

From this perch in the press box, it’s real simple.

Dubnyk (12-13-8, 2.71, .916) won the job over Nikolai Khabibulin (10-34-4, 3.40, .890) last year. And all he needed to do was to show in the fitness tests that he’d made himself stronger in the off-season and thus able to handle the No. 1 netminder work load and to prove that he was primed to proceed, picking up where he left off last year.

Dubnyk has shown he’s stronger and has stopped 68 of 70 shots (.971 save percentage) so far. He’s earned it.

“Are you aware of the incredibly high percentage of the population which wants to see Devan Dubnyk opening the season in goal and being No. 1 this season?” your correspondent asked head coach Tom Renney.

“Pretty aware,” responded Renney.

“And your thoughts?”

“I’m the coach. I’m aware of that, too.”

OK, then, moving right along ...

“I’ve noticed a difference physically,” said Renney of the 6-foot-6, 202-pound goalie who the Oilers delayed development on by not having a farm team one year and by having a three-goaltender system another.

“He’s deeper in the chest and looks stronger and more powerful up there.

There seems to be more strength and power in his game on top of that. So maybe there’s a level of confidence, too, that makes

you feel you can endure most anything. Beyond that he’s very efficient and in control and just maturing as a goaltender.”

Khabibulin will start the next one and likely give way to Yann Danis who will get another look before he heads to his season as starting goaltender in Oklahoma City. Both Dubnyk and Khabibulin will play one of the remaining two away games.

The Oilers finally cut a dozen more players to get down to a still bulky 35, including injuries. With tonight’s game against Phoenix and away games in Minnesota and Vancouver left on the pre-season schedule before the Oilers spend four days team-building in Jasper, Renney made one thing a little more clear going forward.

Don’t expect the final cuts after the Vancouver game. He’ll take a few extra almost-Oiler players for the bonding bit of business..

But now that he’s getting down to the players who are going to be in the conversation, can we start having the conversation?

Starting with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins?

Surely with what the No. 1 pick in the NHL Entry Draft has shown so far, he’ll be going to Jasper. And surely he can’t be more than a strong performance against a lineup involving actual NHLers away from getting himself the first nine games of the season to further prove if he can proceed with his rookie season in the NHL?

“I’m looking at playing him two of the three if I can,” said Renney, who will have a look at him with Ales Hemsky against Phoenix and probably give the Burnaby kid the game in Vancouver.

He said the next two looks he wants to put him against NHLers as often as possible.

“That’s important,” he said. “I think we should see that from here on in.

As for starting the first nine games, Renney won’t go there yet.

“I have not given a lot of thought to that just yet. I’ll let the performance dictate what I decide.”

There’s one other conversation going on out there that is going to get louder the closer it gets to opening day.

If you can only keep one, do you keep Anton Lander, Linus Omark or Teemu Hartikainen?

Ask if he anticipates having to make that decision, Renney said other things may come into play.

“There’s mitigating factors. There’s RNH and Sam’s situation,” he said of the decision on Nugent-Hopkins returning to junior for another year and the MRI Sam Gagner was to have Monday to determine the extent of a leg injury.

Dubnyk’s No. 1. Keep RNH for nine. Keep Lander if Gagner’s out, otherwise Hartikainen for his size.

Any time, Tom.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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