Although Ryan Kubic took a longer route to the Western Hockey League (WHL) than most, he’s proving that the stops in between were well worth it.
After starring for the AAA Winnipeg Thrashers, Kubic was drafted into the WHL in 2013, before being reassigned to the North American Hockey League (NAHL) for a season’s conditioning stint one year later. This year, the St. Andrews product cracked the Vancouver Giants’ fulltime roster.
Like many young goaltenders, Kubic didn’t initially start out playing in the crease. A forward to begin with, he seized the opportunity to strap on the pads early in his developmental years and gradually learned to embrace the position.
“I started off as a forward for my first two years of hockey,” Kubic said. “Then I got a chance to go in net when my team needed a goalie. I loved being on the ice for the whole game so I just stuck with it and the love for it has grown ever since.”
At only 15 years old, the second goaltender taken in the 2013 draft took one step closer to the NHL. His numbers during his final year of midget hockey were outstanding, producing a 1.40 goals against average and 0.947 save percentage in 21 games for the 2013-14 season.
It wasn’t long after that Kubic would grace the net for the first time in the WHL, seeing action in his first game on Jan. 19, 2014.
Twelve days after turning 16, he debuted as relief for Payton Lee after the starter surrendered three goals on 12 shots.
The five-foot-ten netminder turned aside 10 of 11 shots in the 4-0 loss. His second appearance that season came in another relief effort – a 24-save performance in a 6-5 loss to the Kelowna Rockets.
Program of Excellence
The following summer, he was amongst Canada’s most distinguished goalies as part of the Program of Excellence under-17 class for 2014. He was brought back to the program in 2015 as an under-18 invitee.
Kubic is also following in the footsteps of other locals who have been through the Program of Excellence already.
Fellow Manitoba native Chris Driedger – currently a promising prospect in the Ottawa Senators system – entered the camp in 2013. Kubic’s former Giants teammate Lee was also amongst that year’s crop.
Last season, Kubic graduated from Manitoba AAA yet was still rather unfamiliar to the sights and sounds of top-tier junior hockey. His reassigning to the NAHL’s Brookings Blizzard ultimately prepared him for the WHL, a wise management decision that further advanced his career in such a short period.
He finished the season in Brookings, S.D. with a 10-15-5 record, 2.74 goals against average, a 0.907 save percentage and even earned his first shutout as a junior goaltender.
“Playing in the NAHL was a great experience,” Kubic said. “I managed to crack a spot as the starter and got a taste of junior hockey. You learn so much playing hockey away from home.”
“The most important thing I learned was how to handle such a long season and how important it is keep working hard no matter how you are feeling.”
Undoubtedly the pressure of playing fulltime junior hockey to crack an NHL roster can get to some teenagers. For Kubic, it’s a non-factor.
“I handle pressure by not worrying about it,” He said. “I just take it one day at a time and focus on the task at hand.”
The future looks bright
On Nov. 5, the Giants dealt number-one Lee to the Edmonton Oil Kings for a sixth-round selection in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. Lee will suit up for his new team immediately, after an injury to Alec Dillon, an LA Kings prospect.
Following the trade, the Giants acquired Daniel Wapple from the Regina Pats. Since the 1995-born goaltender is considered an over-age junior player, he might not be around the WHL for much longer.
In a short amount of time, the reins could be there for Kubic to control. There might be lofty expectations for the 17-year-old, especially considering his realistic opportunity to be the Giants’ number-one by the end of this season.
The goaltender of three WHL seasons has only seven career games to credit, yet his impressive track record warrants more minutes in a league known for honing elite-quality goaltenders.
While Kubic’s main task at the moment is contributing to the Vancouver Giants, there is no doubt his dream for the future is to play in the NHL.
With the 2016 Entry Draft approaching, it will be time for many promising CHL players to prove their potential to NHL scouts. Goaltenders usually take a backseat until the later rounds, though the honor of having their name called to the draft floor is very much the same at any pick.
Manitoba has fairly been well-represented at the NHL level, especially with the men behind the mask such as Ed Belfour, Terry Sawchuk, and Trevor Kidd. If selected in this summer’s draft, Kubic will be just the second NHLer to hail from St. Andrews after Detroit’s Darren Helm, and the very first netminder to represent the municipality of 12,000 people.
“Obviously it is every kid’s dream that plays hockey growing up to one day play in the NHL,” Kubic said. “I hope to accomplish that dream someday, but for now I have to just keep developing and believing in my game.”