15Dillon Dube
Photo Credit: Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports

Flamesnation player evaluation: Dillon Dube

If one single beacon of warm yellow light managed to slash through the ashes of the Calgary Flames’ first-round loss to the Dallas Stars, it was Dillon Dube. The kid rocked.

He scored, he hit, he whizzed all over the ice like something feral. Apparently lofting saucer passes through the doorways of your father’s warehouse does wonders as a training method—Dube spent an entire pandemic-induced pause doing just that, and he resurfaced from the shutdown an absolute force.

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His earthquake of an impact throughout 10 playoff games made it difficult to recall, but also exhilarating once you did, that Dube is still developing as an NHL hockey player. In fact, this past season qualified as his rookie year. The recently-turned-22-year-old logged only 25 games scattered throughout the 2018-19 season, one shy of shedding his rookie status. Once management called him up this past November though, he shoehorned himself into a broader, steadier role as a legitimate rookie thanks to his twirls and tenacity. Some hiccups blipped here and there throughout the year, but they withered and wilted as regular season progressed into playoffs. Now, the future is bright and it beckons like a trench-coated man in an alley whispering “Pssssst” as Dube struts past. Now, allow us to evaluate how he made it onto that street.

2019-20 season summary

(Data Courtesy of NaturalStatTrick)

45 6 10 16 12:41 46.78 -3.51 54.04 1.013

Pinning an extra 20 games onto his professional resume compared with the year before but still not playing a full season (even by COVID-shortened standards), Dube exploited limited minutes to set new career-highs in goals and points—obviously. His 6 goals earned him the bottom rung on the top-ten Flames goal-scorers ladder, and his 16 total points tunneled him into 13th on the list. With an extra twelve games of wiggle room in a clean and healthy utopia where the Flames complete a full regular season, Dube would have added something like another 2 goals and 3 assists to the equation as well, if one trusts projections. Also, he furnished the fewest total PIMs among all players who dressed over 40 games for the Flames this year. Woohoo!

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Now, conceded, posting those numbers at the NHL level is not exactly an astonishing feat. But as a rookie taking his first big chomp of NHL usage after mere tastes the year before, those stats are far from shabby. Locking into your groove as a rookie, especially while confined to bottom-six minutes, takes time, effort, patience, attention. Milan Lucic and Derek Ryan are not the vessels upon which surfs a tide of offensive torrents, so to speak, and after a few tweaks those two guys became his established linemates. And they were a highly effective checking trio—Dube fed off both Lucic’s physicality and Ryan’s poised smarts to settle into a depth scoring role (on the second power play unit, too) by the season’s end. Swapping Bennett for Lucic come playoffs, well, that only sealed an already bartered deal. Dube was, and remains, a grinding and glimmering asset on the rise.

Like plenty of truly untested experiments, though, Dube’s transformation from prospect to pillar over the regular season was a slow burn. Of all Flames forwards who played over 40 games this season, Dube did have the lowest on-ice CF% and thus endured a great many more shot attempts from the opposition than his own line flung themselves. And he also supplied the lowest on-ice xGF from that same pool of teammates, so the chances he and his linemates orchestrated were not consistent showstoppers, either.

But where Dube did impress analytically before the playoffs was in terms of conversions and concessions. While his dependable pivot Derek Ryan led all Flames forwards in PDO, Dube trailed by a hair and nabbed silver in that regard. So even though he withstood pressure on the ice and his presence did not generate too many high-danger chances, Dube’s linemates routinely executed whatever they had better than the rest of the Flames did, plus held the fort same. And these executions were noticeable, timely, invigorating. With every point he notched Dube proved himself dynamic, promised more flair to come. A ruthless toe-drag on Nathan MacKinnon here…

A shootout snipe there…

The path was not without its roots, but no hills are, especially when tackled by a rookie.

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Compared with last season

Dube built on his 20-year-old almost-rookie season admirably this past year, jumping from 0.25 points-per-game in 2018-19 to 0.36 points-per game this past season. He bounded even further in the playoffs with an even 0.5 points-per-game. Funnily enough, his playoff output mirrored but reversed his brief 2018-19 stint precisely—whereas he snagged 4 goals and 1 assist during the playoffs this year, he put up 1 goal and 4 assists two seasons ago. Either way, he (more than) tripled his sole previous point total during the regular season, so the climb continues.

What about next season?

As the Flames hurtle into the 2020-21 season, whenever that may be, their management must address two crucial. First, they will clink their glasses in relief—the kid has one more year to burn on his entry-level contract. A pittance, really, issued to someone who injects both punch and playoff pedigree into the lineup, on top of a massive offensive ceiling. Second, they will enlist the accountants, start tallying numbers, and replenish their ink reserves—an RFA by summertime, the kid needs a juicy new deal at some point.

All signs indicate he will begin the season on the wing of the most physical and prolific line in Calgary these past playoffs again. A reunited Lucic, Bennett, and Dube system—so long as everyone sticks around through the off-season—will carry with them into the winter playoff expectations, if not playoff momentum. Consistent power play usage, likely on the second unit, also hovers in the horizon for the young sailor. The forecast? Smooth waters.

In spurts during the regular season and in swells during the playoffs, Dube proved he could blaze past defencemen, bump into puck-carriers, and broil an unprepared goaltender. He also parks himself in the crease with ease, poking home rebounds and tying up sticks and setting stocky screens. He is a strong and sturdy forward, a powerhouse, but also slick and skilled, a python.

With a solid rookie season wrapped and knotted, the focus turns to submitting an even better sophomore showing. And then more improvement, adding an even better year unto that. And then another. And another. And, ideally, each of these successive seasons as precious chunks of a long and fruitful tenure in a Flames uniform.

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