Flames’ Dillon Dube makes NHL case with exhibition hat trick

Calgary Flames' Dillon Dube, left. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

Forget about just ‘pencilling’ Dillon Dube into the Calgary Flames opening night lineup.

He’s a cinch now.

The real debate in Calgary might now have to turn to whether it’s too soon to hang his No. 59 from the rafters.

Okay, so perhaps we’ll let the pre-season play out before giving the 20-year-old resident of nearby Cochrane, Alta., an NHL gig, or Iggy status.

Point being, the captain of Canada’s world junior-winning squad last winter has already officially added his name to the list of newcomers local Flames fans are getting excited to see this year.

Hat tricks have a way of doing that.

In three pre-season games the former Kelowna Rockets star now has four goals and three assists.

Sure, the first four points came in a pair of rookie games against the Oilers.

However, on Monday night the smooth-skating centre put on his most impressive showing to date, scoring three times against Oilers main camp hopefuls in front of a section of euphoric friends and family.

“Dad probably didn’t even leave his seat – he doesn’t get too excited,” chuckled Dube when asked if his parents and pals likely accounted for all nine of the hats that rained down on the ice following his third goal early in the second period.

“It’s a good confidence booster but it’s not where I want to be. I didn’t play a full 60 minutes. Credit my teammates for setting me up and making me look good tonight. But there’s no point in getting a hat trick and losing.”

A second-round selection from 2016 who had a notable showing in camp here last year, Dube is cementing his reputation as a versatile, reliable two-way centre who feels capable of taking on any role the Flames might dish out.

It was explained last week by Flames GM Brad Treliving players like Dube, Andrew Mangiapane and Spencer Foo were being left off the China roster so they could play the most meaningful minutes possible through four pre-season games.

Dube sees the chance to keep eating home-cooked meals as a true blessing, and he’s making the most of it.

“I talked to Tree and the staff and it’s a good opportunity to stay here in front of the crowd, and my parents and family get to watch me a bit more,” beamed the 5-foot-11, 190-pound centre, who had the crowd buzzing.

“These are like actual NHL games to me and it’s time for me to play the way I can. This is where the real bullets start flying and I feel more confident now than ever before.”

It shows in the way he carries the puck, forever seems to make the smart play and is as poised as any veteran in front of the mic. Case in point, he’s gone to great lengths to praise his linemates after each game, which have been new each time out.

On this night he even tried talking the refs out of giving him his first goal 23 seconds in, suggesting linemate Buddy Robinson tipped it.

Being the captain at the world juniors speaks to his leadership, as does his ability to go from being a checking forward there two years ago before rising to top billing last year.

Calgarians spent the weekend excited about watching the strong play of newcomers Derek Ryan, Elias Lindholm, Austin Czarnik and Noah Hanifin in their Shenzhen debut.

But all the talk stemming from the rookie and main camp in Calgary has revolved around Dube’s dominance thus far and how that might translate into an opening-night roster assignment.

If so, it would have to be as a winger, something he’s done plenty of over the years. After all, the Flames seem content up the middle with Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Mark Jankowski and Ryan.

When asked what his favourite position was, he laughed: “whatever one gets me on the team.”

Before camp, the Flames almost certainly planned to send Dube back to Stockton where he played six games last year following a 38-goal, 84-point season in 53 games with Kelowna.

However, he’s now muscling himself into the battle for a fourth-line role with players like Curtis Lazar, Garnet Hathaway, Czarnik, Mangiapane and Foo.

“A great performance by Dillon – exceptional finish on top of the speed he’s been showing,” said training camp coach Cail MacLean, new coach of the AHL’s Stockton Heat.

“Certainly Dillon’s skating helps him rise above, regardless of who he’s playing with. With that speed he can certainly create plenty up the middle.”

Dube scored less than a minute into each of the first two periods, including a shot from behind the goal-line that ricocheted in off controversial (and pricey) KHL signing Mikko Koskinen. The Oilers’ likely backup allowed three goals on 19 shots, including a Dube shot through his pads to cap off a breakaway set up brilliantly by Robinson.

The Oilers won the game 7-4 thanks to two goals and an assist from Kailer Yamamoto, who will be pushing as hard as Dube for a start to the season with the big club.

Robinson, a former Manitoba Moose, assisted on two of Dube’s goals in a game that saw four fights and a few questionable goals on Flames goalie David Rittich who went the distance, making 21 saves on 27 shots.

Rittich is the favourite to return as Mike Smith’s backup this season and was thus left in Calgary to get more playing time.

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