When Dylan Duke skates up the ice, there’s no question who it is.
You can hear the crunching ice under his skates. You can see the sweat flying off his jersey. And you can see him skate to the bench exhausted, every ounce of energy poured into his shift.
But that might not be the case anymore. After retooling his wheels this offseason with skating expert Tracy Tutton — focusing on using his energy efficiently — Duke might end fewer shifts so tired. And as the forward enters what could be a breakout sophomore season, that could make him a key weapon for the Michigan hockey team.
“(Tutton is) like one of the best in the business, she’s unbelievable,” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato told The Daily. “She did a great job with Duker and same with Rutger (McGroarty) too. I think his skating’s improved. They both want to keep it going, but they put a lot of work in.”
Tutton is a former figure skater who works as a skating coach for both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings. With the former, she often worked closely with Naurato, then a Detroit player development consultant who worked with players’ on-ice tools. Her 12-year list of alumni includes plenty of high-end NHL players who came through the Lightning’s pipeline, and it was in that capacity that she helped Duke overhaul his skating.
This summer wasn’t the first time Duke trained with Tutton either. The two have known each other since Duke’s days with the US National Team Development Program. Needless to say, there’s been plenty of growth since then.
“His feet are underneath him when he’s moving and his patterns are fast footed,” Tutton told The Daily. “Whereas previous to that he would be going like great guns and his effort was always a huge greatness to him, but it was not efficient and it was not on top of his feet.
“It was to the point where you never know if you’re going that fast up the ice and you gotta change direction or cut an angle or tight turn, stop and start, his feet might go flying out from under him.”
That relentless — sometimes even reckless — effort lies at the core of Duke’s game. Last season, he was often the hardest worker on the ice and flew all around the rink with determination. But skating back from those shifts, he often grew visibly tired as he exerted tons of energy to move around the ice. His goal this offseason was to use that energy efficiently through better skating technique.
So Duke and Tutton embarked on this summer’s training journey with intensity.
“I’ve been working with the coaches in Tampa Bay … they came down to Detroit a couple times, I got to skate with them at development camp (in Tampa),” Duke said. “So just being able to kind of continue my progress and skating with them has been huge for me this summer.”
During all those trips, Tutton focused on seemingly-simple adjustments to Duke’s skating foundation. Tutton worked on his stride, starting position, body alignment, joint flexion and weight distribution, to name a few. It seemed like nitpicking, but it all served a larger purpose.
“It’s almost like practicing a golf swing,” Tutton said. “You’re trying to train something to feel fluid and feel natural, your upper and lower half working in sync.”
Tutton emphasized repeatedly how much Duke bought into the process. This wasn’t just Duke going through the motions to get his offseason training in — he poured his heart into it.
It also helped to have other people assisting his development, namely Tampa’s functional mobility specialists. Along with Tutton, they analyzed videos to note the intricacies of Duke’s stride, then figured out a strength regimen that reinforced the individual adjustments he needed to make. It was a step-by-step process, and Duke checked every box.
“His stride to start off with was the main focus,” Tutton said. “But then it got way more interesting once he got better and better at it, because then we can start applying a lot of patterns and sequences that were game related.”
Combined, all those little adjustments led to a skating regenesis. Duke has flown around the past few weeks of the Wolverines’ practices with a noticeably quicker stride, putting him in position to kill defensive plays and score on offensive drills. Working on positioning and forechecking, Duke consistently gets to his spot early and makes the right play. And — perhaps most importantly — he’s using up far less energy to get there in the first place.
By building a firm foundation through Duke’s skating, the rest of his skills can be put to better use. His offensive toolkit made him a valuable third line scorer for the Wolverines last season, but better skating could make him a lethal weapon in the top six.
Because if this summer’s training journey is any indication, Duke would run through a wall if it made him a better player. He’s full of the kind of energy that drives lines and scores goals. Now Duke can be more than just the hardest worker on the ice.
He can also be the most efficient.