Folks, playing in the National Hockey League can be really tough. As a young player, figuring out how to perform at a high level consistently isn’t something everyone can do right away. In his first full NHL season, and third year of pro hockey, Dillon Dube found himself challenged by consistency and a role that varied throughout the season.
But despite all that, he was one of the team’s most productive offensive players (and that’s a big reason to remain excited about his potential).
Born in Golden, B.C. but raised in Cochrane, Dube payed his minor hockey in the Calgary area as a youngster. He headed to Wilcox, Saskatchewan in 2012 to play for the Notre Dame program and he became a first round WHL Bantam Draft pick by the Kelowna Rockets in 2013.
After another season in Saskatchewan, Dube headed west and made his WHL debut in the 2014 playoffs. He became a full-time WHLer in 2014-15 and had a productive first two seasons as a key role player for the Rockets – his team captured a WHL Championship and made a Memorial Cup appearance, while Dube played in the CHL Top Prospects Game and captured a gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka tournament. Dube was selected in the second round of the 2016 NHL Draft by the Flames, using a pick they acquired by trading Kris Russell to Dallas.
Dube’s game took a big step post-draft, as he had two seasons scoring more than a point per game for Kelowna and he came the focal point of their offensive attack. He made Team Canada’s roster for the World Juniors twice. The first time he was a role player and was a big part of a team that won silver. The following season he was named captain and was a top player, leading the team to a gold medal.
Dube made the Flames roster out of training camp in 2018, but he couldn’t find a niche on the roster and bounced back and forth between the NHL and Stockton for much of the season. He began 2019-20 in the AHL as one of the final cuts, but his strong start to the AHL season forced his way onto the NHL roster by mid-season. He formed a formidable checking line with Derek Ryan and Milan Lucic and played a big role in the Flames’ pandemic-shortened march to the playoffs.
In 2019-20, Dube found a really good niche as a high-tempo fore-checking player. Playing with Ryan and Lucic, the trio was able to arguably over-perform offensively because Dube’s tenacity and Lucic’s size created turnovers and allowed them to take advantage of the other team’s third and fourth lines.
In 2020-21, Dube’s usage suggests that the hope was that putting him with higher skill players – no disrespect intended to Ryan or Lucic – would open up more opportunities. Sure, he would be playing against better players on the other team’s first and second lines, but his underlying numbers from 2019-20 and his overall performance suggested it might work.
It didn’t quite pan out that way.
- Dube – Lindholm – Tkachuk [40.8% 5v5 time / 49.8% xGF / 48.4% O-zone face-offs]
- Lucic – Backlund – Dube [11.0% 5v5 time / 48.3% xGF / 48.7% O-zone face-offs]
- Lucic – Bennett – Dube [9.5% 5v5 time / 51.2% xGF / 55.9% O-zone face-offs]
- Mangiapane – Monahan – Dube [7.8% 5v5 time / 59.4% xGF / 40.0% O-zone face-offs]
- Gaudreau – Monahan – Dube [3.5% 5v5 time / 41.8% xGF / 87.5% O-zone face-offs]
When he played as a fore-checker on the top two skill lines (with Lindholm & Tkachuk or Gaudreau & Monahan), Dube wasn’t quite as effective as he was when he was playing on the bottom six. (He also played on the second power play unit and was solid, but nothing to write home about.) Some of that may be chemistry, some of that may be the level of opposition they faced, and some of that may just be that he was a second-year NHLer and progression sometimes isn’t linear.
Either way, Dube had an uneven year and couldn’t quite perform in his niche as well as he did in 2019-20. His play earned him criticism from new head coach Darryl Sutter, who scratched Dube twice in late March as he looked to boost the player’s consistency and performance.
If they become better players this team becomes better. There’s a little bit of entitlement that went on here and that impacts your team in a negative way for sure. You don’t play guys more to help them get better. They have to help themselves get better based on their training, based on their preparation, based on their compete level, not just the skills that they were drafted on.
Dube’s offensive totals didn’t explode following his scratches, but he registered at least one shot in 16 of the 18 games after sitting – he went shotless in four of five before Sutter sat him – so perhaps his game was headed in the right direction.
Despite his up and down season, Dube still was a productive offensive player overall. He was fifth in five-on-five goals (behind Mangiapane, Gaudreau, Tkachuk and Lindholm) and tied with Lindholm for fourth in five-on-five primary points despite being eighth among forwards in five-on-five ice time – for reference, he played 18% less at five-on-five than Lindholm. If he can find the consistency that Sutter is pushing him to find, perhaps he could find an even higher offensive gear.
Dube has finished his entry level contract and is a pending restricted free agent with no arbitration rights. He ended up playing 121 NHL games (0.36 points per game) and 56 AHL games (1.00 points per game) on his ELC. At this point, he’s undoubtedly an NHL player. The burning question now is how good of an NHL player can he become?
Dube arguably succeeded in the WHL and AHL because he’s a really talented hockey player. He’s succeeded in the NHL, at times to a high level, when he’s combined that talent with a tremendous work ethic. Based on the comments from Sutter, it seems like the coach didn’t feel that the work ethic wasn’t quite there consistently in 2020-21.
But despite an uneven season, changes in deployments and a role that varied depending on various factors, Dube was one of the better offensive performers on the team. If he can find some consistency and be a player that continually out-works the opposition, he’s definitely has the talent to take another step in the coming years.
If Dillon Dube having growing pains was still one of the top handful of players on his team offensively, it’s easy to imagine him becoming a focal point of the team’s attack if things start clicking for him on a regular basis.