EDMONTON -- Devan Dubnyk still is trying to prove himself.
Despite posting a solid save percentage and backstopping the Edmonton Oilers within sight of a Stanley Cup Playoff spot last season, Dubnyk still is working to gain respect.
It's something he's learned to live with and doesn't let detract from his game.
"It's interesting," Dubnyk said. "I don't understand it too much, but the most important thing is the way I feel and the way the guys in this dressing room feel about me. That's all that really matters. I've said before that this is a League where you just can't go and be a top-five goalie one year and just expect everybody to think that way of you every year.
"You're just going to have to continue to go and do it every year. Whether people want to praise me or call me a top-10 goalie or not, I'm going to have to do it every year regardless of what they're saying."
As the second-highest drafted goaltender in franchise history (No. 14 in 2004), there have always been high expectations for Dubnyk.
The organization took its time developing him, having him work his way up through the system where he could reach this point and take over the net on a full-time basis.
Sharing the crease with Nikolai Khabibulin in his first three seasons, Dubnyk, 27, was handed the starting job outright last season. And of all the problems that derailed the Oilers' playoff hopes, goaltending wasn't one of them.
Yet there still are those among the Oilers' fan base who doubt Dubnyk's abilities. Even the organization's confidence in him seemed to wane this offseason when the Oilers showed interest in Cory Schneider and Jonathan Bernier.
When neither could be acquired at a reasonable price, the Oilers put all their support back into Dubnyk, letting Khabibulin leave in free agency and bringing in Jason LaBarbera as the backup.
"That doesn't really change things much," Dubnyk said. "I just like to approach every year the same way, that I'm going to have to earn every start. I don't think that changes regardless of who you have back there. Saying that, I think LaBarbera is a great goalie and he's going to play well here.
"I always just try to approach it that this is the best League in the world and you're certainly not going to get any starts by default. It's my job to go out there and make Dallas [Eakins, Oilers coach] want to play me for 82 straight and have a tough time deciding when he shouldn't. Hopefully that's the case."
Last season Dubnyk played in 38 of the Oilers' 48 games, going 14-16-6 with a 2.57 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. His save percentage wasn't far behind some of goalies considered among the League's best, Schneider (.927), Henrik Lundqvist (.926), Corey Crawford (.926) and Jimmy Howard (.923).
"I think the most important thing is that I've had a chance to grow up with everybody in here," Dubnyk said. "We'll get better and grow together, and we have, but now it's time for all of us to take that next step, including myself, and that's something that we're all going to have to do together."
The next step would be qualifying for the playoffs. Last season the Oilers were in the thick of the race, holding down the eighth and final spot at the NHL Trade Deadline. However, they won three of their final 12 games and finished 12th in the Western Conference, 10 points out of a postseason spot.
Despite the end result, Dubnyk showed he could play on a nightly basis. But until he backstops the Oilers into the playoffs, the doubts will remain.
"For starting goaltenders, the most important thing is for guys to know that they're going to have the same effort from you every night," Dubnyk said. "It's not going to be perfect every night, but you have to know that sometimes you're going to be able to make a save and win a game 5-4 and sometimes you're going to stand on your head and win a game 1-0.
"As long as they know you're going to get a consistent effort, that's the most important part. That's probably one of the biggest things I've gotten better at in the last few years, just simplifying my game and really narrowing down different save selections and different plays, and that's allowed me to be more consistent. I certainly need to keep working on that going forward."
One of Dubnyk's best attributes is his ability to keep a level head. Dubbed "The Big Easy" by an Oilers television analyst, Dubnyk never lets himself get too high or low regardless of the situation.
"It's a long season and you have to have that during a game, you have to have that during a period and you have to have that during weeks in the season," Dubnyk said. "There are all these different parts, there are ups and downs in a game, and especially in today's game, you just never know, it could be 3-0 early and we could come back and win 4-3 easily.
"It's the same thing during the year. You might drop a couple of games, but it's important not to get low and drop five games. If you drop a couple and don't play well, you have to be able to get right back up and rattle off five in a row. You learn that; that all comes from playing games and experiencing things. I certainly feel comfortable that way."
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