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How the Silver Knights are trying to unlock Jack Dugan’s game

Jack Dugan has had the same approach when joining a hockey team since he was 5 years old.

Don’t be the guy that doesn’t pass the puck.

It takes time for the Golden Knights forward prospect to get comfortable enough to be selfish and shoot when needed. It doesn’t help that he’s an impressive playmaker, either.

But the Silver Knights coaches have been on Dugan recently to use his shot when he’s open. The 23-year-old responded with his first two-goal game of the year April 9 on a season-high four shots on goal.

The team hopes that’s just the beginning.

“If he does that, it opens up other areas of his game like his passing, which is one of the strongest areas,” coach Manny Viveiros said. “He’s got to continue to keep doing that to be a double threat. Not just a passer but a shooter.”

Dugan’s passing ability has long been the hallmark of his game. The 2017 fifth-round pick led Division I college hockey in assists last season at Providence with 42 in 34 games. He had eight more than the next-closest player. He is second among American Hockey League rookies in assists this year with 17 in 24 games and is tied for fourth overall.

That pass-first mentality can be a double-edged sword, however, especially on the power play. Defenders aren’t going to get close to him if they don’t think he’s a threat to shoot. That affects the spacing for the Silver Knights and makes it harder for Dugan to find passing lanes.

Him being a willing shooter forces opponents to come to him and opens up other areas of the ice. In other words, shooting more will likely make him a better passer.

“I always kind of revert to passing first,” Dugan said Tuesday. “Now I think (23) games in I feel more comfortable and am more comfortable shooting the puck. I think I have a good shot, and I think my teammates want me to use it as well.”

Dugan’s been effective when he shoots. He ranks eighth on the Silver Knights in shots on goal (32) but has five goals for a shooting percentage of 15.6. He likely won’t be able to keep up that pace if he keeps putting pucks on net.

But his team will gladly live with the potential trade-offs.

“Teams are starting to know he’s not going to shoot so they kind of take it away,” Viveiros said. “We’ve got him to shoot a few times so now they have to respect that.”

Compact stretch run

The pace of the Silver Knights schedule picks up the final month of the season.

The team played its first 24 games over 63 days. It will play its final 15 over 32 days.

“It’s an exciting challenge for us,” center Jake Leschyshyn said. “We haven’t really seen a schedule like this this year. But we all want to play in the NHL, and if you look at any of their schedules right now, it looks pretty much like that the whole year. You have to be able to adapt to more and more games.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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