PLYMOUTH, Mich. — Dylan Duke might have already competed in a Under-18 World Junior Championship, but for him, the work to fine tune his game is far from finished.
Just one of the familiar faces for the Michigan hockey team at USA Hockey’s National Junior Evaluation Camp, the rising sophomore forward understands that this offseason and development camp is instrumental to not only improving his game, but expanding his role on Team USA, the Wolverines and beyond.
Though he’s been in this position before, Duke remains hungry for more.
“Obviously, it’s a tryout,” Duke said. “I’m coming here to work as hard as I can and showcase what I can bring to the World Junior Team in 2023.”
Duke — who logged four points (3 goals, 1 assist) in five games on the United States’ 2021 U-18 team — has already demonstrated his ability to compete on the international stage. Now, he looks to roll a successful camp into this upcoming season for Michigan, building upon an already strong freshman campaign. Duke posted 19 points in 41 games, ending the season on a tear with four points (3G, 1A) during the Wolverines’ Big Ten Championship and Frozen Four runs.
Now, with the departure of a plethora of Michigan’s biggest names in recent memory, Duke has the opportunity to expand his niche on the Wolverines.
Already, the forward has made a name for himself this past season, carving out a reputation for the nitty-gritty. Though his size may not initially seem imposing, Duke engages all of his 5-foot-10 frame. Chasing into the corners and diving into scrums down low, he helped lead the physical charge for a Michigan team that often struggled to find adequate aggression and physicality.
Most notably, Duke will inevitably return to the Wolverines’ power play where he was a mainstay last season. He notched only three power play goals, yet his presence on the ice was qualitative in nature. His game was more than only lighting the lamp, as Duke lived in front of the net when Michigan’s second unit took the ice, opening up scoring opportunities for his teammates.
And he doesn’t plan on changing anytime soon.
“Being in front of the net and playing down low is a huge part of my game, and I think a huge part of what makes me a successful hockey player,” Duke said. “I’ve been working on it all summer. Definitely going to continue and build off last year.”
It was a feature that his teammates certainly thanked him for. Duke’s integral dirty work supported the likes of sophomore defenseman Luke Hughes, Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Nick Blankenburg, and Vegas Golden Knights forward Brendan Brisson — who combined for 15 power play goals.
But Duke isn’t a stranger to statistical success either. His hard work earned him a plus-seven rating by the end of the season. A testament to his quiet support. A testament to the necessity of the work he puts in. Work he expects to see flourish at World Juniors in late August.
“At the same time, you’re playing hockey against unbelievable players,” Duke said. “So you’re going to get better too at the same time. If you work hard, and do what (the coaches) tell you to, then you’re going to get better.”
And while Duke is prepared to double down on the skills he’s already used to make a name for himself, he’s ready for whatever next season may bring. With the Wolverines sporting a new-look roster starring the skilled freshmen forwards Adam Fantilli, Frank Nazar III, and Rutger McGroarty, Duke’s position will inevitably change.
But wherever his teams go, Duke will follow.
“Whatever coach decides to do, I just work as hard as I can and do whatever I can to help the
team be successful.” Duke said.
And as Team USA and Michigan both work toward success, they can worry less about Dylan Duke’s game.
Because he’s been working too.