The Dillon Dube hype train is picking up speed, and for good reason. From prospects camp and a pair of rookie games to the start of main camp at the Saddledome, Dube has been Calgary’s biggest standout on this side of the world. Dube has looked dynamic, dangerous, and responsible and he’s the early favourite to win a spot out of training camp. Right now, you don’t have to squint to see that happening.
HOW DOES IT MAKE SENSE?
In answering the above question, the most crucial thing is Dube’s performance; after all, winning a spot should come down to merit. Luckily for Dube, he’s performed well and has stood out for all the right reasons since rookie camp started earlier this month.
I’ve noticed three things with Dube, and they all bode well: he distributes the puck well, he’s confident with it on his stick in the offensive zone, and he’s strong without possession. It’s the third point that strikes me as most important, though.
Offensively, Dube has done a solid job of finding soft spots in coverage and moving to open areas to receive passes. It’s the mark of a really smart player, and it’s that same knowledge that helps him anticipate well at the other end. Dube puts himself in the right spots and reads opposing offences well to disrupt things effectively and turn things the other way.
We’re also talking about a great deal of versatility. While the Flames project Dube as a centre long term, there’s nothing stopping him from shifting to either wing. Dube has the ability to slot in on both the right and left side, and has done so effectively with WHL Kelowna and with Canada in World Junior action.
Finally, Dube’s contract status is impossible to ignore. Entering his 20-year-old season, Dube is eligible for American League action for the first time, which means the junior hockey “10-game rule” is rendered meaningless. There’s not much for him to accomplish with the Rockets, so even if he doesn’t make the big roster, Dube’s entry-level deal will start tolling in Stockton.
If he does make the roster, though, he’ll come at a rather attractive cap hit. Dube’s NHL number is just under $780,000, which would make him the most affordable player on the team. If he earns a spot on merit, Dube’s salary would give Calgary some nice flexibility.
WHY IT MIGHT NOT WORK
While Dube’s performance in a pair of rookie games and one preseason game has been admirable, there’s still plenty of work ahead. The Flames have yet to see a roster made up of primarily NHL players, at least on Canadian soil. That’s going to happen in the coming days, though, and that’ll be the most effective measuring stick.
There’s a couple of things that could happen. Going up against tougher competition, Dube’s effectiveness could drop to the point it’s clear the AHL is where he belongs, at least to start. Similarly, once the bulk of Calgary’s roster is back from China, it might become clear Dube isn’t quite at the level of those he’s competing with. In both cases, an AHL assignment would become an easy decision.
Usage is also a concern with a young player in his first year of professional hockey. Dube might be one of the team’s best 13 or 14 forwards come October, but for me, that won’t be good enough. To make the NHL roster, he’s going to have to earn a spot in the team’s top 12, which would afford him regular playing time.
At this stage of Dube’s career, there’s no point having him sit out on a regular basis. The Flames have plenty of options as extra forwards, but Dube shouldn’t be one of them. He needs to play, and if that’s not going to happen in Calgary, there’s absolutely no harm starting him with the Heat.
Without injury, there’s realistically just one playing spot up for grabs on the opening night roster. With the way he’s performed in the first week or so of on-ice work, Dube deserves credit for forcing himself into that conversation.
The evaluation process is going to get more accurate as September plays out, though. As the Flames start seeing better opposing lineups, and as the bulk of their regulars return from China, we’ll start to get a much better gauge of where Dube is. If we’re still having this conversation in two weeks, however, I don’t see why Dube wouldn’t be suiting up Oct. 3 in Vancouver.