One more game, and Dillon Dube wouldn’t be eligible for this list.
The 56th overall pick in the 2016 draft, Dube is the obvious (maybe only) choice for the most NHL ready forward prospect of any we ranked this go-around. The 5’11”, 183 pound forward was very close to graduating and shedding the prospect title forever after making the big team out of camp, but a rough first taste of the NHL showed that he wasn’t ready quite yet.
After a strong AHL performance in the latter half of the season, there’s really nothing more to say about Dube other than he is ready. He jumps up two spots to number two on our countdown, on what should be his final appearance on this list.
How did we get here?
A graduate of the prestigious Notre Dame program in Saskatchewan, Dube was selected 21st overall in the WHL draft by the Kelowna Rockets. He slowly worked his way up the lineup for the club, building on a moderately successful rookie season (27 points in 45 games) by becoming a handy two-way threat in his draft year. He picked up 61 points in 60 games while also showing off his sharp defensive skills, making him an easy choice for the Flames in the second round of the 2016 draft.
After that, Dube exploded. Although an injury forced him to miss the opening few weeks of the WHL season, Dube caught up and finished with a strong 55 point in 40 games, adding 21 more in the playoffs. Dube also worked his way onto the Team Canada roster despite having less time to prepare, going all the way to the WJC gold medal game before bowing out to the Americans in the finale.
From there, he began to appear on the radar of the NHL in general. One of the biggest surprises at the 2017-18 training camp, Dube carried that momentum into his WHL season, turning heads with his fantastic play with the Rockets. Dube was also appointed captain of Canada’s WJC team, tying up loose ends from the previous year’s tournament and winning gold. With 84 points in 53 games -and a strong four point, six game audition with the Heat at the end of the season- Dube made his case to be an NHL player for 2018-19.
Stats, numbers, and everything therein
He achieved that, but only kind of. Dube began the year with the Flames, winning a spot out of training camp, but was sent down to the Stockton Heat around the halfway point of the season.
His NHL stint didn’t go that well, which is a bit expected. Jumping from WHL to NHL is tough in many ways, as Dube learned throughout various points of the 25 games he played. Emphatically so on his literal first shift of NHL hockey, where he was run over by the Canucks’ Erik Gudbranson. He also was on the receiving end of a nasty check from Duncan Keith later on, ending his night 14 seconds in. Perhaps it was the rookie status, perhaps it was just bad luck, but Dube saw a season’s worth of rough stuff in just 25 games.
Physical adversity aside, Dube just never quite settled in at the NHL level. He exclusively spent his time in the bottom six, was always the first to be stapled to the bench in close games, and just was a step behind everyone else. The Flames eventually decided that he was in need of some AHL seasoning before becoming a permanent fixture in the lineup.
However, his AHL time left no doubts about where he should be next season. Dube started slow in the AHL, but quickly became one of the Heat’s most important players. Despite playing just over half the season with the Heat, Dube finished sixth in scoring, and was a major all-around contributor.
Those in the know
Stockton head coach Cail MacLean offered his thoughts on Dube’s intangible game:
He’s got a little bit of that special ingredient, similar to a Rasmus Andersson has a similar ingredient, in that they like to be in those pressure situations. Dillon, he’s such an efficient hockey player that he kind of exudes that kind of poise because he doesn’t have to work. He works hard, but he works really efficiently so he looks really smooth on the ice. And as we can all attest to, the ability to be faster than everybody on the ice is such a huge advantage in this game.
How does the coach think he can build off his strong finish to the year?
He obviously clipped along at about a point per game pace. That’s beneficial when you’re playing more limited minutes in the NHL and you’ve always been a go-to guy in your career, and you get a chance to get back to that and get a renewed appreciation for it, and it gave him that good confidence to carry back up to the NHL. Now it’s just a matter of what kind of summer can be have, and can he be as prepared to play and as effective in training camp this year as he was last year – cause obviously it was a great training camp for him last year.
On the horizon
Dube has been pencilled in to the Flames roster for 2019-20. There’s no point in sending him back down to the AHL, and with his pro legs seemingly underneath him, there’s simply no place to go.
He figures to fill James Neal’s old spot on the third line, ideally adding an extra play-driving element to the Mark Jankowski and Sam Bennett duo (in the wake of the exact opposite of that). The Flames are hoping that he can start solidifying his two-way game this season and provide some stability in the bottom six before moving him up to bigger things.
It’s not going to be a perfect 82 games for Dube, but he should definitely be more consistent and make a larger impact than he did the first time around.