Big, versatile forward Pierre-Luc Dubois could shake up the draft board, whether he climbs or tempts some team into trading up to get him.
BUFFALO – Weird. Vincent Lecavalier retired. You’d swear it was him, or a magical teenage version of him, sitting on a podium overlooking Lake Erie. That’s what it felt like talking to elite 2016 NHL draft prospect Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Dubois, a friendly, rosy-cheeked tank of a youngster at 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds, carries himself like a young Vinny. It’s a strange coincidence, as the last time the draft went down in Buffalo was 1998, when Lecavalier went first overall. Dubois was calm yet confident, exuding the poise of a man many years older, seemingly enjoying the questions as he sat outside on a windy Thursday. The novelty hadn’t yet worn off.
He was endearingly wide-eyed about the draft experience. He said his old QMJHL teammate, Red Wings 2015 first-rounder Evgeny Svechknikov, told him to have fun and not waste the experience. Dubois was gracious about his off-season workouts, in which he encountered the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Alex Killorn and Andrej Sustr and eventually worked up the courage to approach them for advice. Dubois can’t wait to face his childhood idol, Henrik Zetterberg, and couldn’t believe his eyes when, while he attended the Stanley Cup final in San Jose, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby approached and said, “Maybe I’ll see you soon.”
Dubois, however, typically earns comparisons to a more modern star than his doppelganger Lecavalier or his idol Zetterberg. Scouts most commonly liken Dubois to the Dallas Stars’ Jamie Benn. Like Benn, Dubois is lauded for his responsible, complete, pro-style game at both ends of the ice. Like Benn, Dubois can fill the net and projects as a front-line NHLer. And, like Benn, Dubois has one hell of a mean streak. Enough that it got him into trouble earlier this season with the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, when he got suspended for boarding Saint John Sea Dogs’ blueliner Luke Green.
“I try not to go too far,” Dubois told THN Thursday. “I like to be hard to play against, not just with the puck but without the puck and on the forecheck. It’s a big part of my game, especially being a center. Being big, in the ‘D’ zone, it helps a lot. I’m not scared to get dirty in the corners and go to the net and get cross-checked.”
The other trait Dubois shares with Benn: positional swingman ability. Dubois is often listed as a left winger but says he much prefers the right side if asked to play the wing. He switched to center around Christmas time this season with Cape Breton and hasn’t looked back since.
“I’m a little bit more used to wing, but in the long run I have the skill set to play center in the NHL,” he said. “My favorite position is center, so I want to learn more about the position so I can play there full-time.”
And that, coupled with a monster year in which Dubois ripped off 42 goals and 99 points in 62 games, is why he seems to be climbing up many a draft board approaching the big night Friday at the First Niagara Center. Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi occupy the top spots, but Matthew Tkachuk’s hold on No. 4 is no vice grip. Dubois has the size advantage, and his versatility could scupper teams’ original draft plans. The Edmonton Oilers, for example, need a defenseman more than anything, but Dubois may be too unique of a talent to pass up at fourth overall. Same goes for the Vancouver Canucks at No. 5. They’ve picked high-ceiling forwards three straight years in the first round, but Henrik and Daniel Sedin aren’t getting any younger, and a best-available approach probably places Dubois and Tkachuk above defensemen such as Olli Juolevi, Mikhail Sergachev and Jakob Chychrun. Oilers and Canucks media swarmed the podium when Dubois spoke today. Hardly a coincidence.
Of course, while pretty much every prospect from picks No. 4 to 10 knows the Western Canadian gauntlet of Edmonton, Vancouver and, at No. 6, the Calgary Flames could take him, speculating might be moot. If the rumors of Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban being available end up yielding fruit, we could see the Oilers or Canucks trade out of their spots anyway. It’s no secret the Canadiens covet Dubois. Juolevi sees no point in trying to predict how things play out or where he goes tomorrow.
“I have some ideas (of who might take me) after the combine, of course, but you never know what’s going to happen,” Juolevi told THN Thursday. “There’s always going to be some trades made or something like that.”
And Juolevi represents a different kind of pick in the No. 4 of 5 spot. Most draft boards rank him a bit lower than that, but there’s no denying he’s an extremely safe choice, a mobile and well-rounded defenseman who should find a home on a team’s top pair. The Oilers and GM Peter Chiarelli could decide to eschew the best-available mantra and decide that, all things being almost equal, they should pounce on their positional need, especially if they can’t swing a blockbuster trade for a veteran defenseman. Same goes for the Canucks.
The 2016 first round should be extremely interesting, and all the chaos will start at No. 4. It’s in large part due to promising talents like Dubois and Juolevi, who could tempt teams to shake up their draft boards and erase them like Etch A Sketches.
“Now that we’re getting 24 hours pretty much to the draft, I’m getting really excited,” Dubois said. “I’m not gonna lie. I don’t even know if I’m going to sleep tonight.”
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin