Forward Dillon Dube scored 17 goals in 45 games as a 16-year-old rookie with the Kelowna Rockets last season.

Rockets’ Dube motivated for sophomore season

After strong WHL rookie campaign, Kelowna centre looking to push game to another level

Between playing with the Kelowna Rockets until May 31 and suiting up for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament for August in the Czech Republic, it’s the shortest offseason Dillon Dube has ever experienced.

Still, based on what the 17-year-old forward is returning to this fall in Kelowna, Dube can’t wait to get the new Western Hockey League season underway.

“(Summer) was short, but it’s really good to be back, and I’ve been looking forward to the season for a while now,” said Dube, a native of Cochrane, Alta. “With the team we have I know a lot of the guys are excited to be back…we want to make the most of it.”

As a rookie in 2014-15, Dube battled injuries but still enjoyed a productive campaign with the WHL champs, scoring 17 goals and adding 10 assists in 45 games.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound forward saw his role increase as the season progressed and soon found himself playing in all situations, including in the playoffs and at the Memorial Cup.

If Dube continues to progress at his current rate, assistant GM Lorne Frey said the Rockets and their fans will be the real beneficiaries over the next couple of seasons.

“He’s a very talented young player and his game has really improved,” Frey said of Dube who the Rockets made their first pick in the 2013 WHL bantam draft. “He’s coming along maybe faster than we thought, so we’re very fortunate.

“He’s an excellent young man, too, who has high expectations of himself and wants to get better. He should be a treat to watch for our team and our fans.”

Rockets’ new head coach Brad Ralph is still getting to know Dube but has seen the young forward ring up two goals and an assist so far in two preseason games.

Not surprisingly, Ralph likes what he’s seen.

“He plays with tremendous pace, a very intelligent and very skilled player, where puck possession is a big part of his game,” Ralph said of Dube. “The work ethic, the drive is all there…the improvements from here will mostly be situational, learning the game. It will be good watching his continued development into a pro-calibre player.”

And Dube’s play since early last season has garnered plenty of attention from pro scouts. Early projections have him potentially being chosen within the first two rounds of next summer’s NHL entry draft.

Still, Dube understands the importance of not being distracted by what is essentially every young player’s dream.

“I learned a lot from (Nick) Merkley about (the draft) and I know it’s not going to be an easy year, there will be ups and downs,” said Dube. “But I just need to be focused, keep playing my game, improve my defensive play and just be one of the hardest working guys out there. If I do that, then things should work out.”

Rocket Shots…Kelowna will close out its WHL exhibition schedule this weekend with two games against the Vancouver Giants.

The teams will meet Friday night at Pacific Coliseum, then again Saturday at Prospera Place. Face off is 7:05 p.m.…The Rockets kick off the regular season Friday, Sept. 25 at home to the Kamloops Blazers.

Whistle sharp…Rockets goalie Jackson Whistle stopped 17 shots for the win Sunday to lead Vancouver Canucks to a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton. Whistle saw some time again Monday at the South Okanangan Events Centre and helped the Canucks edge the Flames 3-2 in overtime…Eight current Rockets remained at NHL rookie camps as of Tuesday.