Entering any given NHL season, a lot of players can be considered “known quantities” to various degrees.
At this point, with a guy like Milan Lucic, the Flames know they’ll be getting a tough winger who can still drive play to a solid extent at even strength while chipping in a point every three or four games. With Elias Lindholm, they have a guy who can really shoot the puck and score around a point per game while playing in all situations.
Somebody like Johnny Gaudreau may be coming off a tough year, but he can still be expected to score a lot of points if he’s at his worst. Even less experienced guys like Andrew Mangiapane and Rasmus Andersson have established semi-sturdy floors for themselves at this point in their careers.
Then, there are the guys who are total wild cards. Most prospects carry that label, but these players are of different stock—they aren’t prospects anymore, but they’re still just as hard to pin down. They’ve been in the NHL for a reasonable amount of time but it’s still difficult to figure out whether their calling is as a star, a role player, or something even lesser.
Sam Bennett, Noah Hanifin, and Oliver Kylington are examples of players who fit into this category. To use Bennett as an example: it’s possible he builds off his playoff performance and scores over 35 points in 56 games this year while becoming a fixture in the top-six; it seems just as possible that he falls off the map entirely and tumbles down the depth chart.
However, the biggest “question mark” on the Flames’ roster might be Dillon Dube. What, exactly, can we expect from him this season? Let’s see if we can craft a reasonable estimate.
How he got here
Dube enjoyed a great career in the Western Hockey League with the Kelowna Rockets between 2014-15 and 2017-18, briefly playing with Leon Draisaitl and Josh Morrissey as a rookie before emerging as one of the Rockets’ offensive leaders as a sophomore. Posting 66 points in 65 games during 2015-16, Dube’s breakout season led to the Flames drafting him 56th overall in 2016 with the pick they acquired from the Dallas Stars in the Kris Russell trade.
After two more productive seasons with Kelowna and a couple of brief cameos with the Stockton Heat, Dube made the Flames out of camp in 2018-19. Under head coach Bill Peters, Dube averaged around 10 minutes per night and didn’t immediately make an impact, so the Flames returned him to Stockton on Nov. 29, 2018. He made a few more appearances with the Flames down the stretch, primarily functioning as an injury replacement.
Dube ended 2018-19 having scored one goal and five points in 25 games with the Flames, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that he also tore it up down in Stockton. As a 20-year-old professional rookie, mind you, Dube scored 39 points in 37 games with the Heat. He proved it wasn’t a fluke by starting off the 2019-20 season with 13 points in his 13 games with Stockton before earning a spot back with the Flames.
For a 21-year-old player, Dube had a solid year in 2019-20 with Calgary. He scored six goals and 16 points in 45 games while showing good playmaking ability and speed. Sure, his underlying numbers weren’t great (at all), but who needs them when he can score shootout goals like this?
Dube hit another level in the playoffs. He showed great chemistry with Bennett, with the pair combining to score seven goals and 13 points over the Flames’ 10-game playoff run. Dube scored four of those goals, including the series-winner over the Jets in the qualifying round and this beauty against Dallas:
Dube is a hard player to project for next season. He didn’t drive play offensively or defensively in 2019-20, he didn’t play against tough competition, and he didn’t produce a ton. Of course, he was also in his age-21 season playing on a team that, collectively, couldn’t get a lot of things going offensively.
He’s going to continue to develop. The question is, “how quickly?” Dube showed in the playoffs what we could expect to see from him if he takes another step. Is that a player we can expect to see on a consistent basis? Can Dube maintain that level of play over the course of a full season—or many seasons?
It’s not super concerning that Dube’s underlying numbers weren’t great in the regular season last year. Not many 21-year-olds drive play all that well. Of course, in the playoffs, Dube’s expected goals-for percentage was the best (54.6%) of any Flame who played more than half of the games. His Corsi for percentage was second-best (49.8%). His high-danger Corsi for percentage was also second-best (52.0%). And, perhaps most encouraging, the Flames weren’t riding a huge luck wave when he was on the ice—Dube’s on-ice shooting percentage of 5.75% ranked among the lowest on the team during the playoffs.
If playoff Dube is the player we can expect to see on a consistent basis going forward, it might not be a stretch to pencil Dube in for 20 goals this year (yes, even in a 56-game season). Maybe he can find some chemistry with Bennett in the regular season and turn him into a consistent performer, too.
But what if Dube takes after Bennett and only ever shows flashes in the regular season? Ultimately, a lot will likely rest on where Dube slots in. He may have to work as a cog contributing to a balanced, deep line before he can be counted upon to drive his own unit. Deployment alongside Mikael Backlund this upcoming season could serve as beneficial for both parties. A Bennett – Backlund – Dube line could be a formidable two-way unit if Backlund can rebound defensively and the young wingers can find consistency.
Maybe Dube turns into a star this season. Maybe he stagnates. His future is in his control but, for now, we’ll pencil him in for roughly half-a-point per game in the 2020-21 season.