The fall of 2018 couldn’t have gone much better for Dillon Dube. He was the standout player of rookie camp and then main camp, which culminated in a spot on Calgary’s opening night roster. Things came back down to earth from there, but Dube still finished with 25 NHL games and he comes to 2019 camp with an almost identical opportunity. In fact, if Dube repeats history from one year ago, turning 25 into a number closer to, say, 82 is very much in the cards.

That’ll be easier said than done, however, especially from a mindset perspective. Dube got a good taste of the show last season and spent all year playing professional hockey. Yet here he is, back again with a bunch of prospects a week before veterans report for main camp. For some, finding the same motivation would be difficult. Luckily for Dube, that doesn’t seem to be an issue.

“I didn’t stay the full year last year for a reason,” Dube told me prior to Flames and Oilers prospects going head-to-head in Red Deer. “It’s a new camp and you have new goals. Obviously this year (it’s) to be (in the NHL) every single game of the year. Last year was a step forward and I think this year I’m trying to take another one.”

I would suggest Dube’s initial returns this fall are positive. He was one of the best players for either side as Calgary beat Edmonton 1-0 in overtime Saturday night. Dube has also led the way in most of the team’s on-ice sessions thus far, which is exactly what the Flames are looking to see.

A learning experience

Dube spent the first two months of last season in the NHL, but it became apparent as the weeks went by that he wasn’t quite in the right place. It’s not that Dube was bad or was hurting the team. It was more that he wasn’t making a significant impact and, near the end, was averaging less than ten minutes per game.

Dube needed to play bigger and more regular minutes, which is why most fans were on board when Calgary opted to send him to the AHL’s Stockton Heat in late November.

“I think at first I was disappointed,” Dube said. “Not that they sent me down, just at myself that I knew I could have played better and, you know, helped the team out a whole lot more. That was the big thing; I wanted to help them out at the start of the year.

“For me going down, I think the first couple games, not that I didn’t work hard or I wasn’t happy to be there…it was just me learning the game, it’s a lot different. Just being a part of that and getting used to a new group, it’s hard to fit in and be around them. Once I got there and got comfortable, I think the work ethic stayed and I felt like my game just started to come more and more.”

While Dube struggled to produce at the NHL level (25 GP, 1G, 4A, 5 PTS), he excelled in Stockton. Dube finished with 15 goals and 39 points in 37 games and was one of only two Heat regulars to clip at a point-per-game pace. For him to do that as a 20-year-old speaks volumes about his ability and maturity. The latter is very evident when you listen to Dube lay out his approach to 2019 training camp.

“I think I’m focused on developing my game. You’ve got to look at it from the whole picture. Since I was 18 I feel like I’ve developed my game a lot. You look at yourself as a full-time NHLer and how do you get there and guys take a lot of different paths. I want to be able to make sure I grow my game and develop to where I need to be so when I get to the NHL I can be the player I need to be.”

Opportunity exists

Dillon Dube

So what’s on the table for Dube this fall? The answer to that question is simple: a full-time spot in the NHL. Because the Flames think so highly of him, and because he impressed for so much of last season, the expectations are high for Dube. There is opportunity staring him in the face and Calgary is expecting him to tackle it the right way.

For a second, let’s assume Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane will be under contract and in the fold shortly. Based on last season and the little that we’ve been able to piece together in recent weeks, here’s a rough facsimile of some forward lines with everyone healthy.

Johnny Gaudreau-Sean Monahan-Elias Lindholm
Matthew Tkachuk-Mikael Backlund-Michael Frolik
Andrew Mangiapane-Derek Ryan-Milan Lucic
Sam Bennett-Mark Jankowski-Austin Czarnik

I’m well aware Dube’s name doesn’t appear there, but bear with me. First off, I’m quite certain you can subtract at least one player to make room for Tkachuk’s deal. That could be via trade or AHL demotion and could apply to any one of Frolik, Jankowski, or Czarnik. After that, it would be down to Dube beating out someone like Alan Quine or Ryan Lomberg for a spot, which is doable.

If Tkachuk and/or Mangiapane aren’t signed in short order, though, there’s even more opportunity for Dube. Even if that translates to more ice time only in the preseason, it presents a chance to make life difficult for GM Brad Treliving and head coach Bill Peters.

Any way you slice it, a spot on Calgary’s opening night roster is dangling in front of Dube. The script he’ll need to follow is a familiar one, too, because he lived it one year ago. If Dube can jump off the page as rookie camp continues and hold his own during main camp and the preseason, I’m pretty confident he’ll be playing October 3rd in Denver.