There is a school of thought in sports analysis that says to be stuck as a mediocre team is worse than being at the top or the bottom of the league. The good teams get low draft picks but they do not need to drastically improve, and the worst teams get high draft picks to try to turn over their roster. But the middling teams get stuck with middling draft picks so they stay mediocre, and they keep getting middle picks, and so on. The Edmonton Oilers have been proudly bucking this trend since 2009 by being terribad and *staying* terribad. They finished last in the league that year and got the first overall pick, which they used to select Taylor Hall. And there was much rejoicing! Until they finished last in the league again, and got the first overall pick. Again. Which they used to draft Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and the was much rejoicing!…again. Then they finished second-to-last (suck it, Columbus!) and got the first pick (AGAIN!!) which they used to select Nail Yakupov. And there was cautious optimism mixed with guarded hopefulness. But this year will be different! …right? I mean, it just has to…right?
On the bright side, as long as they don’t finish last (…again…) they can start to build some momentum and try to get back into Cup contention. In addition to their trio of first-overall picks, they have other young skaters like Sam Gagner and Jordan Eberle, and newly signed defenseman Justin Schultz. I can hear the chants already: Not Last Place! Not Last Place! In fantasy circles, everyone will be focused on Hall, RNH, and Yakupov, but I am turning my attention to another youngster in Edmonton, their 26 year old net minder, Devan Dubnyk. The Oil need to improve in all phases of the game, and I think Dubnyk could make a quality third goalie on any roster, or possibly second if you like to live dangerously and only roster two backstops.
I’ll freely admit that until I looked up his stats, I had no idea Dubnyk started the season on the Edmonton roster last year. In fact, he was their opening day net minder. His overall numbers won’t blow you away, 42 GS, a 20-20-3 record and a .917 Sv%, though a 2.67 GAA is not too shabby. But a closer look at the end of his 2011-12 season shows Dubnyk might make some significant strides going into 2013.
On the season, Dubnyk recorded 22 Quality Starts (.524) with 7 Terrible Starts (.167), and his Even-strength Sv% was a pretty respectable .927. But as the calendar turned to March, Dubnyk turned up his game and started putting up great numbers.
I don’t call this column Arbitrary Endpoints for nothing…in Dubnyk’s last 13 starts, he posted a 7-4-2 record with a .933 Sv% and a 2.04 GAA. In that span he posted 9 Quality Starts (.692) though the Oilers wasted 3 of them, and of his four NQS, two of those were terrible starts.
His .524 QS% needs to improve for him to be considered a reliable fantasy goaltender, and he needs to cut down on the Terribad Starts or he will negate his good starts. Dubnyk is still developing, which is why I don’t think I would roster him as my number two, but if he is still there in the late rounds I think I would take a chance on him.
As mentioned, Nail Yakupov is now donning the blue and copper, and he figures to stand a good chance to make the opening roster (first overall picks have a way of getting their shot with the big boys sooner rather than later.)
Edmonton is not hiding the fact that they are going for a best-defense-is-a-good-offense strategy, so if Hall, RNH, Yakupov, Gagner, and Eberle can effectively drive play and keep pucks going at the opponents’ nets, there will be fewer pucks flying at Dubnyk. In addition to Yakupov, the Oilers won the Justin Schultz sweepstakes this summer, and while it remains to be seen if he can have an immediate effect, I also like the addition of Nick Schultz from Minnesota. He won’t dent the stat sheet much but he is a smart defender who should help Dubnyk’s progression.
The first month or six weeks of the season will be crucial for the Oilers, and if they can jump out to a strong start (or let’s be honest, above-average would probably suffice…) they will be inclined to keep their young talent in the lineup. I think it’s safe to assume a pretty even split between Dubnyk and Khabibulin for the starts, though I think the club may want to give the kid some more ice time to see what they have–after the last few years of futility there is no point stashing Dubnyk on the bench. If they like what they see from Dubstep in October and November, they may hitch their wagon to him and send more starts his way.
Going into the season, I am not ready to trust Dubnyk as my number two starter, but I like to have a solid third goalie on my roster in case of injury or cold streak from my top backstops. Plus, goalies are always in demand during the season, so Dubnyk could fetch a good return if he gets on another streak at the right time. In the late rounds, you should be looking for high-upside picks that could return great value, and I think Devan Dubnyk fits that bill. Take a chance on him this year while he is still under the radar.