Somewhere in Artemi Panarin’s home is a $3,000 bottle of Louis XIII cognac that is waiting for a special occasion. It was a present to Panarin from his linemate, Pierre-Luc Dubois, who picked up the liquor after last season when he hit some of his performance bonus thresholds and added $425,000 to his first-year stipend.
“Jonesy (teammate Seth Jones) actually got it for me because I can’t buy it,” said Dubois, who was unable to skirt the Ohio legal drinking age of 21. “I just signed the check to pay for it. I joke around with (Panarin) about it, but we don’t want to open it yet.”
If the two are waiting for the perfect moment, they might not have much time. Of course, they could crack it open to celebrate the big-money, seven-year contract Panarin signs with the New York Rangers after this season. Then again, perhaps the way Dubois’ line is playing, they might be able to break the seal shortly after the Stanley Cup parade down High Street.
(Of course, there will be no parade if the Blue Jackets play the way they did against the Toronto Maple Leafs Monday night in a 4-2 loss. We bring you this interlude in this Pierre-Luc Dubois story only because John Tortorella was so darn entertaining. Let’s start with the game-winning goal, which came off a faceoff deep in the Columbus end. The Blue Jackets had iced the puck and had to keep their fourth liners on the ice, while Toronto trotted out its A-list. Zach Hyman won the draw, went to the net and tipped in a shot/pass from Morgan Rielly. “Dumb. Dumb. The coverage. It’s peewee coverage and we didn’t handle it. It’s frustrating. We played well enough and not to win off just a simple coverage off the faceoff, it just pisses you off. It’s dumb.” Then, let’s go on to the tying goal, which came when Mitch Marner was stopped, then managed to tip a pass back to John Tavares, who beat Zach Werenski to the puck and scored. “It’s a soft goal. Marner makes a good move on (defenseman Scott Harrington) and Harry recovers, then he’s soft on Marner, then ‘Z’ (Werenski) is soft on Tavares. Got outworked off the puck.” Oh, Torts, please don’t ever change.)
Back to Dubois, the 20-year-old who just passed the 100-game mark for his career. He felt he needed to compensate Panarin and his success with him because Panarin had been so pivotal in Dubois’ emergence as a rookie. “I started playing with him in November when I had, I think, three goals,” Dubois said. “And I got to 20 and him and Cam (Atkinson) and Andy (Josh Anderson) were a big part of it, but I started playing with him in November and he helped me a lot, not only in games, but in practices, making sure I had the right mindset going into games. So it was just a little thank you.”
As pivotal as Panarin was to Dubois’ development, it would give Dubois the short shrift to not recognize his own part in the ascension. There were draft observers who were apoplectic when the Blue Jackets took Dubois third overall ahead of Jesse Puljujarvi in the 2016 draft, despite the fact that GM Jarmo Kekalainen knew Puljujarvi from Finland and assistant GM Bill Zito’s former company represented him. So they obviously knew something about both Dubois and Puljujarvi that has made those critics look awfully bad. Zito was asked which of Columbus’ scouts pounded the draft table and insisted the team take Dubois over Puljujarvi. “Nobody had to fight for Dubois,” Zito said. “Just watch him play!”
Doing that is a sight to behold. In a league where super lines are becoming all the rage, the Blue Jackets have one of their own in Dubois between Atkinson and Panarin. After a slow start, that group is on fire and has been one of the few constants in the Blue Jackets’ rotation since it was formed almost a year ago. Dubois, meanwhile, has become a beast, both in terms of his strength and his impact on the game. “I keep telling people that they don’t realize how young he is,” Atkinson said. “He’s 20 years old and he plays like a moose out there. It’s amazing to see what he can do with the puck and how strong he is down low. He’s only going to continue to get better and mature as a player.”
Dubois did not silence his critics when he showed up to his first training camp and was entirely overwhelmed. But he emerged as a much more mature player by the time camp opened before last season and, after a slow start, began to make his mark in the league. There is still a lot of room for Dubois to grow and become a dominant and swift-skating power forward. Anze Kopitar is a pretty good comparable for Dubois when he hits his apex in a couple of years. “I took a long time last year, but it’s a game of confidence and once I start making plays, it feels like the game gets slower and I feel really good out there,” Dubois said. “I think I have a lot of room to grow.”
As far as the Blue Jackets’ top line is concerned, they might not be quite there with the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak line in Boston or the Gabriel Landeskog-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen unit in Colorado, but it’s close. “There’s no question we’re just as skilled as any line in the league,” Atkinson said. “As long as we’re producing and helping our team win, that’s all we care about.”
And led by one of the league’s emerging power forwards, they might just give the Blue Jackets a reason to celebrate.