Seriously, is there any worse place for a young goalie to learn the ropes right now than Edmonton? The starting goaltender who is allegedly supposed to mentor you in the ways of the NHL is running with a save percentage in Andre Lacroix territory and getting busted for crimes with "extreme" in the description. You're being guarded by a defense that features Jason Strudwick with a bunch of dudes you've never heard of and never want to hear of again. Guys get hurt so frequently that the trainer's getting paid on commission. You're constantly under the microscope from guys eager to leap onto you as yet another reason why this team's plunging into the basement like a runaway elevator, and when you actually do string a couple good games together you're lifted onto the shoulders of perpetual optimists and proclaimed the team's saviour when, really, all you need is a few weeks to just play goal and learn the ropes.
Devan Dubnyk is twenty-four years old and will cease to be Top 25 Under 25 this coming May. This is his fifth professional season. He's no spring chicken, but in NHL terms Dubnyk remains a rookie. A rookie whose save percentage is thirty points ahead of the so-called team MVP he's backing up, a rookie who's allowed few enough bad goals this season that you can probably name them all, and a rookie who's been consistently improving since he got the call from the late Springfield Falcons last season.
Number thirteen, eh? The only thing unlucky for Dubnyk is that he deserves to be higher.
The Doobie Brother slides up four spots on this year's Top 25 Under 25 compared to July's ranking, where I once again wrote his profile and ranked him higher than any of these brats. Last summer, Bruce was mildly enthusiastic about Dubnyk and gave him a good ranking but Derek and Scott both crapped all over him with righteous, vindictive fury. Let me know if any of that sounds familiar, by the way.
Well, Derek and Scott hate goalies, we know that. Derek hates goalies so much that he's ranking Dubnyk behind Olivier Roy, who you may recall is a goalie, as well as the likes of Johan Motin and Liam Reddox. I can understand the argument that any goalies short of Curtis Joseph in his prime are inherently replaceable commodities, but more replaceable than Johan Motin? Not to pick on Derek, for Scott pegs Dubnyk squarely behind Gilbert Brule even while Brule blows his brulains all over the ice and gets outplayed handily by the Ryans Jones and O'Marra.
No respect for Dubnyk. None. The Oilers don't respect him: he's played in half as many games as Nikolai Khabibulin even with Khabibulin having been injured earlier this season. That crappy goaltender is running third among NHL rookies in save percentage, behind two guys in Corey Crawford and Sergei Bobrovsky who have the benefit of not playing with Kurtis Foster. If Dubnyk's .918 holds up, it'll be the best Oilers goaltending performance in a season at least fifteen games long of all time. You think I'm kidding. I'm not. That would be a franchise record. His nearest challenger is Dwayne Roloson's .915 in 2008-09.
Put down your quills, irate scribes. I realize that sample size is a dangerous thing. If I lower the boundary just a touch, the record is Jussi Markkanen's .929 in 14 games in 2001-02: a different era for goalscoring, of course, but all the same that record's not going anywhere. I don't pretend to think that if Dubnyk takes over the starting job for the rest of the season, he'll post a .918 or even a .915. But the sample size argument works both ways. He's going to be panned for his play last season, Dubnyk's fairly poor numbers last season were inflated by a handful of early games in which Devan, replacing the injured Nikolai Khabibulin (SPOT THE TREND), was clearly overwhelmed and allowed great fistfuls of goals before he started to settle down. His late-season performance was actually quite good once he'd gotten over the jitters. This year he's been fundamentally sound, if in need of some improvement: a bit slow here and there but almost always in position and that's a hell of an asset for a guy as big as he is. His stickhandling, which used to make me fold up and whimper, has already clearly improved. Dubnyk is improving and the numbers are bearing that out.
The Oilers have run out an awful lot of prospects this season in both the AHL and the NHL. There are very few who can say they've looked almost completely composed, who have played solid, mistake-free hockey and made this team better for their presence. Taylor Hall, obviously. Jordan Eberle when healthy. Magnus Paajarvi if you're feeling generous. And, clearly, decisively, and by a wider margin than any of those guys, Devan Dubnyk. Before the beginning of the seasons, cynics chortled and said they'd be happy if they got replacement-level goaltending out of Dubnyk. Well, they're getting much, much better than that.
It's time for the haters to quiet down on this front. Dubnyk is playing his balls off, and he's gotten us more wins this season than the likes of Johan Motin will in their entire careers. You're damned right he's one of our top five under twenty-five.