There may never be clarification on what kept Dillon Dube out of training camp for the first five days.
What has been quickly established upon his return is that he’s not in danger of being left off the Calgary Flames playoff roster.
In fact, if his stellar debut in Sunday night’s inner-squad game is any indication, Canada’s former World Junior captain is poised for the type of breakout Andrew Mangiapane may also be on the verge of.
The two youngsters were arguably the top players in the Flames’ first simulated game, which is essentially a continuation of where they were at before the pause.
As a mainstay on the Flames’ third line, opposite Milan Lucic, Dube had two goals Sunday despite having injured regular Derek Ryan replaced by Sam Bennett. Lucic and Bennett also scored, giving the lads eight points all told.
Not bad for his first skate with the team after missing the first five sessions.
“We had a chat beforehand – I knew that coming in I needed to be ready to go,” said Dube when asked if he was aware of coach Geoff Ward’s pre-game comments suggesting he’d have to prove he could make up for lost practice time.
“I missed out on some things, but we went over video. I was lucky enough my line was going and helping me out a lot.”
“I think we are going to be dangerous coming up here,” said Mangiapane, a relative unknown nationally who could change all that starting Aug. 1.
“They’re strong players and we feed off each other every game. We were playing some of our best hockey (before the break). We’re smart in our defensive zone and smart in the offensive zone, reading off one another.”
An undersized sixth round pick who was on pace to score 20 this year, Mangiapane’s work ethic has made him a fan favourite who does plenty to create offence by way of a dogged determination in the corners and the neutral zone where he’s adept at stealing the puck.
On Sunday he was the game’s swipe master, leading all players in thievery.
It has earned him top six billing on a deep Flames team, and makes him a shining example for Dube, whose consistency has been his bugaboo.
“There’s no question he’s an NHL player – that’s more than evident,” said Ward of Dube, who celebrated his 22nd birthday on Monday.
“He belongs in the league and he has confidence in it. What he has to realize is everything comes out of how hard he works. The nice thing to watch last night was he was a shooter first. When he has a chance to make plays and he takes them, he’s a much more effective player. That’s where we see his skill come out. It’s not unlike Mangy when he came here – we were pushing the same things and he got (to) a level where he was confident. We’re confident Dillon’s game will follow Mang’s.”
Dube, Ryan and Lucic’s third unit was a potent group going into the pause, giving Dube a newfound swagger he carried into the layoff, which saw him rollerblading daily in a local warehouse. When Phase 2 began and the Flames players started skating in small groups, the second round pick from nearby Cochrane was drawing rave reviews.
The concern was that he’d lose some of the momentum when he missed the first week of camp.
“I did get a little nervous the (recent) layoff would be detrimental for him, but I think he made a great statement (Sunday) night,” said Ward.
“He played really well. I thought that line had a good game and Dubes was a real driver for them. The good thing for us is he had a tremendous Phase 2, skating on his own – all the reports I was getting was that he was just flying. I think the shape he got into led to him being as good as he was (Sunday) night.”
As one observer suggested, “Dube made others look slow.”
Maybe, just maybe, these two youngsters have a chance to be Calgary’s X-factors against Winnipeg, using this stage to make names for themselves by getting the Flames over a decades-long playoff hump.
“100 per cent, yeah,” said Mangiapane, 24, when asked if he viewed this opportunity the same way.
“I think every player in the league, you have to play with confidence. Last year and going into the playoffs you are nervous. Every little play in the playoffs is that much more important.”
And now he feels he has the tools and experience to handle playoff pressure and demands much better. After all, it was only late last season he had established himself as an everyday NHLer.
Dube’s growth has him poised to take another step as well.
“We’ve had a while off to reflect – your body is recovered and you’re feeling good about yourself,” said Dube, who had six goals and 16 points in 45 games as a third line mucker.
“Every year steps are being taken and it feels like a new start and new year. I’m taking this confidence into the playoffs.”