In the final stretch of the summer, the Calgary Flames are still down a 100-point player from last season.
They swapped one for another when they brought Jonathan Huberdeau in for Matthew Tkachuk in the blockbuster deal of the offseason. But Johnny Gaudreau also walked away as an unrestricted free agent.
Barring more Flames NHL trade moves in the next couple of months, that means opportunity for the current cast.
One player worth watching is Dillon Dube.
The Flames have experimented with the 24-year-old at centre and on the wing, but have yet to see the consistency they expect at either spot.
A strong finish to his 2021-22 campaign, however, suggests this could be a breakout season for Dube. It will be head coach Darryl Sutter’s second full season with the club.
The small but speedy and solidly built Roy Kent lookalike fell two goals shy of 20 last year. He scored a whopping nine of them in the month of April.
Developing chemistry with linemates Calle Jarnkrok and Blake Coleman down the stretch, Dube helped the Flames roll into the Pacific Division’s top spot and took some pressure off the stacked top line.
That line has been dismantled, but with the departures of Tkachuk and Gaudreau, a top right-wing slot is available. And Dube will look to force his way into it.
Early opinions favour Tyler Toffoli or Andrew Mangiapane sliding in alongside Huberdeau and Selke runner-up Elias Lindholm. But don’t discount Dube.
Sutter has options and tends to focus on pairs more than trios then finding a third through experimentation.
Dube has the speed and skill set to play with anyone. He also has the desire to improve, which Sutter noted last season.
“He’s his own worst critic and he listens, and I’m good with that,” Sutter said in April.
“He’s just a kid. I’ve said it before, there’s lots of these guys who were here before they should have been.”
The kid has a pretty good track record for improving at every level. He had 27 points (17 goals, 10 assists) in 45 games in his first season with the WHL Kelowna Rockets. In 65 contests the next year he finished with 26 goals and 66 points. After being drafted by the Calgary Flames in the second round in 2016, Dube scored 20 goals and 55 points in 40 games.
His final season in major junior saw him net 38 goals and 84 points in 53 games. He added four assists in six games at the end of the American Hockey League’s Stockton Heat season.
He bounced between the Calgary Flames and Heat for the next two years and was a point-per-game player in the AHL.
That may be a lofty goal at the NHL level. But there’s still time for the Golden, B.C. product who only turned 24 in July.
In what was his first full-schedule NHL campaign last year, he finished with 18 goals and 32 points in 79 games.
That finish, though, is what has people excited to see what he may be able to do with more confidence and opportunity.