The underdog story is an oft-spread saga in sports, chronicling a player who was once overlooked but eventually fought his way to glory. While the vast majority of underdogs slip quietly into the night, Providence College left winger Jack Dugan is ready to make some noise.
After posting 53 points in 49 games in his first year at Northwood Prep in Lake Placid, N.Y., the 6-foot-2, 192-pounder was disappointed when all 30 teams passed on him at the 2016 NHL draft. The following year, he drastically improved his output with 80 points in 47 games, yet he garnered just a smidgen of attention from scouts. He waited until 142nd overall before being selected in the fifth round by the Vegas Golden Knights in the organization’s first draft.
In 2017-18, a 19-year-old Dugan put up 66 points in 54 games with USHL Chicago, finishing third in league scoring. But even that wasn’t enough to gain the attention he felt he deserved. Going into his first year at Providence, he was rarely found on any pre-season list highlighting the top NCAA freshmen. All of this kept weighing on Dugan, culminating in a Hulk-like eruption on the ice that finally caught the attention of the hockey world.
After scoring 10 goals and 39 points in 2018-19, which ranked second among freshmen, Vegas approached him – for the second time – with an entry-level contract. (The Golden Knights also tried to sign him after his 2017-18 season in the USHL.) Dugan politely declined. “The time wasn’t right for me,” he said.
Dugan’s goal was to improve upon his explosive first year and help lead Providence to a national championship before turning pro – a realistic goal, considering the Friars berth in the Frozen Four last season.
Dugan, 21, identifies as a power forward, a playmaker who can shoot the puck effectively when called upon and get physical in the corners – similar to another once-overlooked fifth-round draft pick, the Dallas Stars’ Jamie Benn, to whom Dugan compares himself. “He has an NHL frame and he has continued to fill that out and gotten stronger,” said Vegas director of player development Wil Nichol. “He’s got really good vision and he’s a very good passer, a good distributor of the puck.”
The chip on Dugan’s shoulder from constantly being overlooked is evident, but plenty of players with axes to grind never make it to the NHL. What sets Dugan apart is his ability to channel that energy into his on-ice play. “He’s the type of player that wants the puck on his stick when the game is on the line,” Nichol said. “He feels that he should’ve gone higher in the draft, and instead of using that as a negative, he really uses that as a positive, and he uses that to drive himself every day and get better.”
Dugan’s confidence, on and off the ice, has both the Golden Knights and the Friars licking their chops at his potential to be an offensive leader. At the other end of the ice, he has developed a defensive game that allows his Friars coach, Nate Leaman, to use him in all situations. Whatever his team has asked of him, he has done with authority. “The sky’s the limit for Jack,” Leaman said. “He has big potential. The elite players in college hockey are consistent across a weekend. It’s very tough in college hockey to be great in both games, but that’s what we’re going to push Jack to be.”
Regardless of what happens this season, you can bet Vegas will offer him yet another entry-level deal next summer. Perhaps the third time’s the charm. “Every kid’s goal since they started playing the game is to play in the NHL and win a Stanley Cup,” Dugan said. “Vegas has a really good shot, and I think I’ll be able to help them do that in the future.”