A former first-round bantam pick

Rockets high on skilled rookie

Forward Dillon Dube comes to WHL camp looking to follow fellow first-round picks Rourke Chartier and Nick Merkley

Playing a few shifts during Game 3 of last spring’s WHL playoff series between Kelowna and Portland simply confirmed what Dillon Dube already suspected was true.

There’s nothing the Cochrane, Alta. product would rather do than wear Rockets’ colours while carving out a long and prosperous major junior career.

Kelowna’s first-round pick in the 2013 bantam draft, Dube arrived at training camp this week taking nothing for granted, prepared to do whatever is necessary to make the WHL club’s final roster.

“I’m here to try out, I know I won’t be given anything and I have to earn my spot,” said the 5-foot-10, 175 forward. “I need to work my hardest, that’s the only way I can have success. I’m excited to have a chance to be part of this team, and have to show that I can play and that I belong here.”

Dube is the third of three consecutive first-round bantam choices by the Rockets who have been cut from similar cloths—smaller-than-average forwards with plenty of skill. Rourke Chartier was drafted in 2011 and rookie of the year Nick Merkley in 2012.

And like those first-round draft picks who have come before him, there will be considerable expectations of Dube.

The Rockets have slotted him in as a bottom-six forward, with some room to move up as the season progresses.

“When you look at Merkley and Chartier, they came in as 16-year-olds and had to earn their ice time,” Rockets head coach Dan Lambert. “Dillon will be in a similar situation to start, with a chance to work his way up. If he’s able to show us what he can do, we feel he’s a good young player who can play an important role for us and possibly be into our top nine in a short time.”

Like most young forwards, Lambert said Dube will need to be mindful of his defensive game to become a complete player. Still, the head coach said Dube has all the tools necessary to develop into an effective WHL player.

“He’s a great skater, sees the game very well and shoots the puck well for a guy his age,” Lambert said of Dube, who had 21 goals and 63 points in 44 games with the Notre Dame midget Hounds last season. “We know what he can do offensively, now he has to go through that part of the process of working on his defensive game.

“If he’s willing to put in the work, we think he’s going to be an exciting player for us for years to come.”

From Dube’s perspective, being likened to Chartier and Merkley is both humbling and serves as motivation to get off to a good start in his junior career.

“(GM) Bruce Hamilton said he wants me to watch them because the Rockets think I can be kind of like them,” said Dube. “It’s awesome to see them play…I’ve got to put a lot of hard work into being as good as them, but it would be nice if I was able to do that.”

As for his second Rockets’ training camp and upcoming exhibition games, Dube hopes the competitive environment will enhance his game each time he steps on the ice.

“Every game and practise will get faster, and once every player and game gets better, I need to do the same,” said Dube. “This is helping me out for my development, trying to get better for the exhibition games and hopefully beyond that.”

Rocket Shots…Training camp continues Thursday with sessions at  9 and 10:45 a.m. and 5 p.m. at Prospera Place…The Rockets will open their exhibition schedule Saturday at home to the Kamloops Blazers. Face off is 7 p.m.