Wild’s Devan Dubnyk should be an MVP candidate

The “journeyman” National Hockey League goaltender has set a franchise record with 35 consecutive starts

Wild’s Devan Dubnyk should be an MVP candidate FREE to subscribers

Troy Media Sports columnist Scott TaylorSt. PAUL, Minn. Apr 9, 2015/ Troy Media/ – Hockey is an intriguing game for plenty of reasons. It’s exciting, it’s inherently Canadian and every now and again a player comes along that baffles even the sharpest hockey minds.

Meet the 2015 edition: Devan Dubnyk.

At best, Dubnyk could be called “a journeyman” National Hockey League goaltender. He had 4 and a half so-so seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, was pretty marginal with the Nashville Predators at the end of 2014 and started this season as the back-up netminder to Mike Smith on a bad Arizona Coyotes team.

Devan Dubnyk traded to Wild back in January

When he was traded to the Minnesota Wild back in January, the 28-year-old from Regina was 9-5-2 with a 2.72 goals against average and a .916 save percentage. He was actually having his best season since 2011-12, the only year in his career in which his won-lost record was at least .500.

Amazingly, from the moment Dubnyk arrived, the playoff-bound Wild has played the type of hockey every NHL insider expected them to play.

Let’s not be dishonest, here. The Wild were not supposed to be 18-19-6 and in 11th place in the Western Conference when GM Chuck Fletcher made a deal to get a 6-foot-6, 200-pound goaltender who barely played regularly on a last-place team.

devan dubnyk
From the moment Dubnyk arrived, the Wild has played the type of hockey every NHL insider expected them to play
Photo: Jeff Miller/100 Acre Wood Photography

“I was just waiting for the year to end, so I could hit the reset button and move on and forget about it,” Dubnyk said recently. “It certainly felt like the end of the season was never going to come.”

The Wild, especially after last year’s inspired play in the post-season, were supposed to be a threat to finish near the top of the standings in both the Central Division and the Western Conference. The Wild were not supposed to be dead in the water in mid-January.

But when that bench warmer in Arizona showed up in St. Paul on Jan. 14, the Wild suddenly became a playoff-level hockey team: In fact, not just playoff-level, but one of the best teams in the NHL.

On Tuesday night, the Wild went on the road and beat the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1. Dubnyk was remarkable: the former Kamloops Blazers goalie who had only one winning season in junior made 32 saves. He was easily selected as the game’s first star. With the win, the Wild clinched a playoff berth in the NHL’s Western Conference.

Since arriving in Minnesota, Dubnyk has set a franchise record with 35 consecutive starts. He’s now 27-8-2 since being acquired from Arizona. Dubnyk, meanwhile, doesn’t really want to pinch himself.

“Approaching this season, I wanted to not take for granted any day,” Dubnyk said. “I wasn’t sure how many games I was going to get into for Arizona, whether it was 10 or 15. I wanted to enjoy the 60 minutes I got, whenever that happened. Coming to Minnesota, I just wanted to keep that same attitude, just be happy for the opportunity to start another hockey game. That allows me to have fun on the ice and be relaxed and play well.”

The Wild are now 45-27-8 on the season (25-7-2 since the All-Star Break), and have moved into fifth in the West. They’ve jumped from 11th to fifth in 2 1/2 months. Sure, the Wild, as a team, has done some things very well, but none of it would have happened without a goaltender who is lights out almost every night.

“When Dubs came and played well those first couple games, it was almost as if we were all able to take a deep breath and slowly remember how we have to play to win,” said Zach Parise. “He really let us settle back down and play the game that we know how to play and play it successfully. I don’t think anyone would have predicted we would go on the run we’ve been on, but he’s given us some stability and it’s paid off.”

Dubnyk should be in battle for MVP

Listen, Parise’s improved play has certainly helped the Wild, all four lines are confident, the penalty killing unit(s) is great and the defense is healthy and happy. Head coach Mike Yeo has done a great job picking his team up off the mat.

But none of it happens without that goaltender. And the fact is, if he’d been in St. Paul longer this season, Devan Dubnyk would be battling Montreal’s Carey Price for NHL MVP.

Scott Taylor is a Troy Media writer/editor based in Winnipeg and Orlando. His has written countless newspaper columns for the Winnipeg Free Press and the National Post.

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