In the Calgary Flames’ season opener against the Winnipeg Jets last night, the team that was sent over the boards looked significantly different from the one fans last saw in the 2020 playoffs.
Of course, the offseason brought with it several important personnel changes, including a trio of former Vancouver Canucks and a new all-star goalie in the crease, but it was more than just the new faces in town.
Head Coach Geoff Ward dramatically shuffled where the team’s core would play. Elias Lindholm was shifted to center on the team’s top line, and, what could be the most intriguing decision of the season so far, sophomore forward Dillon Dube was assigned to Lindholm’s wing.
Dube didn’t even spend the whole 2019-20 season in Calgary with the Flames. He bounced between Stockton in the AHL and the big club before supplanting a role in the back half of the year. True success didn’t come until the return to play though, when he was slotted on a line with Sam Bennett and Milan Lucic, a line that was the Flames’ most dominant in the playoffs.
Now, he’s being called on to skate with Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk, take on the opposing team’s best defense units, and start the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone. He’s also playing right wing, a position he hasn’t played much since junior. This shift was something that Dube thought a lot about during the offseason.
“I was almost talking to myself about it, what are you gonna establish yourself as? I honestly haven’t figured it out yet. In Stockton I went down and played center, in Calgary I played left wing. It’s just about being able to adjust to those positions and just be the best player you can at whichever position you’re at.”
“Yeah and you look at that too, you look at where filter in—a position or a line that you can go on, and realistically if I didn’t go on the right wing, I don’t think I’d be in the lineup to be honest. . . . Even [Mark Jankowski]’s line there, looking at either [Tobias Rieder] who had to play right winger or someone who had to play right winger. We’re trying to find right wingers and they asked if I was comfortable with it and I said ‘Well I guess I’ll let you know after the game if I’m comfortable with it.’
“I tried it out and just right away, the first little bit there you just get used to it, you get more comfortable with it. One guy who’s really good for that on our team is [Matthew Tkachuk]. He can go swap either side and you kind of just watch what he’s doing and learn a little bit from that. . . . It’s definitely something you gotta pick up on, but once you get in the rhythm of it, it feels normal.”
What his new slot at right wing? Will he be able to adjust? It seems like Dube already has. “I never played right wing before in my life and now I like it way more than left wing! I don’t know if I could go over and do left wing again now,” Dube remarked.
Have the Flames found their solution on the right side?
It’s all about growth for Dube, and he’s open to whatever challenge comes his way. With an offseason full of hard training, countless hours on the ice, and much needed rest time after the playoffs, Dube is in prime shape to take a big step this season.
“My goal is to put in the work this offseason to be able to establish myself and not have any questions of whether I should be in the lineup of not, and be completely comfortable being here.”
Earning a promotion to the top line already, it’s probably safe to say Dube is off to a great start. However, as great as it is playing with elite talent in Tkachuk and Lindholm, Dube’s greatest asset might be his versatility to play up and down the lineup.
“If I could pick [a line to be on] it would definitely be Benny and Looch!” Dube said just prior to training camp opening. “Our line just worked. When we needed a big lift one of the guys on our line stepped up and made it happen. Our chemistry was great and it gave me a lot of confidence to try more things like carry the puck more.”
Lucic was a big part of helping Dube’s confidence grow last season. “When he came into camp, you notice his presence and what he’s done and who he is. It helps on the ice. He creates a lot of room for you. Guys like him are so strong on the puck and it gives you that extra room on the ice,” Dube reflected.
He’s not on a line with Lucic anymore, but the learnings from last year will always be there for Dube. His goals this year? Be consistent.
“When it’s not going well you realize what was working before. You have to make sure you’re not changing your game and you bring it every single shift.”
Dube knows it will take time to get to that level, though, and his goal is to be a reliable player in all situations for the Flames. “For me it’s about trying to the most well rounded guy I can. There are guys on our team that have all the tools to play tons of minutes, powerplay and PK. My goal is to get everything up to par to be one of those players. It’s a lot of work to get to be one of those players but I want to be one of those well rounded guys. Lindy is so good at that, he’s definitely someone I would look up to as a player who’s so consistent and battles hard and plays powerplay and PK and so many minutes a night.”
Will we see more of this from Dube this year?
We just might. Dube is definitely a player to watch this season for the Flames.
Thanks for sitting down with us, Dillon. Best of luck this season!