For someone eagerly awaiting his first career shootout opportunity, seven rounds must have felt like an eternity for Dillon Dube on Sunday night in the Flames’ eventual 5-4 win against the Minnesota Wild. Patience paid off though when he received the nod, coasted to centre ice and proceeded to beam a breathtaking backhand over Alex Stalock’s shoulder.
— Here's Your Replay (@HeresYourReplay) January 6, 2020
The cross-body backhand is so simple, so clean, but so effective. Rarer than it should be, this snapshot backhand finish simply seems to be the bane for any goalie driven deep into his crease. Dube showcases some excellent deception as he glides towards Stalock there, keeping his toes pointed directly forward, never committing to a side or a shot. Meanwhile, the pendulous stick-handling and steady skates leave the goalie anticipating another fake, so when Dube pops the backhand top corner, Stalock cannot even react. He just stays upright, paralyzed.
The unpredictable open-bodied approach enhanced by a steep quick release make for a masterful move, so it’s no wonder we’ve seen it utilized by stick-handling wizards like Patrick Kane.
Beyond its elegant execution though, Dube’s goal was notable for a few reasons. First, it not only clinched the victory for the Flames but awarded Dube his first career shootout goal on his first career attempt. It’s a neat milestone, yet also indicative of the role that Dube’s forging for himself on the roster. The seventh shooter is no lavish honour, but Flames’ coaching chose to overlook veterans like Backlund and Bennett to entrust the potential game-winning shot to the rookie. So the opportunity was not only a confidence boost for Dube, but indicative of coaches’ confidence in his ability to be creative, score goals and win games.
After the game, Dube attributed his move to his older brother’s instructions when they were younger in an interview broadcasted by Flames TV. His brother Jake was apparently the shootout specialist, but Dillon also reveals in said interview how instinctive that gorgeous goal truly was: “You don’t really know 100% what you’re going to do… so I just kind of watched and reacted to it.”
"I was really happy Ritter made that save because it calmed me down a lot."
Dillon Dube talks about scoring the game-winner in the seventh round of the shootout in Minnesota, pic.twitter.com/dgUrLAu5cD
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Inexplicable reactions are what separate the gifted athlete from the mediocre, at any level. Players who conjure remarkable plays despite the game’s breakneck speeds are coveted by coaches, and it is perhaps this offensive intuition that has shone the brightest for Dube so far this season. Remember his overtime assist on Monahan’s winner against Colorado in December?
The 21-year-old toe-drags Nathan MacKinnon on his first career overtime shift, then rockets a cross-ice pass to spur the game-winning goal. Once again Dube displayed wit, bravado and a capacity for clutch plays, just like he did via Sunday’s shootout winner.
He still has plenty of room to grow, but Dube’s role and contributions are both steadily mounting, largely thanks to his noticeable offensive prowess. Ascending through the lineup since his call-up, Dube hopped the fourth line to quickly cement a position for himself on the third line wing. The Flames’ coaching staff then trusted him in an overtime situation, where he performed, and now a shootout, where he excelled.
Is it any wonder then that Dube flirted with the second line for two periods against Chicago on Tuesday? Mixing the team’s most promising set of mitts in Dube with the team’s most established set of mitts in Gaudreau was an exciting strategy, and whether Dube joins that line in future games is a juicy prospect.
Regardless of his linemates, Dube has asserted himself as a staple of the Flames’ top nine by now. He’s proven that he belongs on the ice every night, undeniably due to his natural offensive talents that need only time to flourish, as shown by that brilliant shootout goal. It seems like his teammates believe in him, his coaches believe in him and, most crucially, the blossoming forward believes in himself and his creative instincts. Predicting a rookie’s trajectory is never a sure thing, and he will likely keep sliding through the lineup a bit this season, but so long as he continues to rely on said instincts in these pivotal moments, Dillon Dube’s ceiling could be huge.