Two young stars got new addresses today - and now we see if the change of scenery pays off. The Winnipeg Jets acquired center Pierre-Luc Dubois and a third-round pick in the 2022 draft from Columbus in exchange for right winger Patrik Laine and center Jack Roslovic.
Dubois had been in the headlines for much of the young season as it became public that he did not want to stay in Columbus. The intensity was magnified on the ice when he was benched after a lacklustre shift against the Tampa Bay Lightning. There had also been loud rumblings about Laine's displeasure in Winnipeg, so at the least, both franchises were on even ground during the trade talks.
And make no mistake: this is a blockbuster deal. Laine is one of the most dangerous goal-scorers in the NHL, having already posted a 44-goal campaign in his young career. Meanwhile, Dubois is an excellent two-way center who has shown himself capable of putting up nice offensive numbers while also shutting down the opponent's top centers.
In terms of fit, this initially seems like a win for Winnipeg. The Jets are now flush down the middle with Dubois joining Mark Scheifele and fellow veteran Paul Stastny. And while it's hard to find high-end talents such as Laine, Winnipeg still has Kyle Connor, Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers as top-six wingers. For a team that has struggled with team defense recently, Dubois is a massive upgrade from Laine and while he's not the blueliner Winnipeg needs, he will help overall.
As for Columbus, the Blue Jackets have been hot on Laine since the 2016 draft - unfortunately, they picked third and the Jets grabbed the powerful Finn second. For a team that has succeeded thanks to structure and work ethic under coach John Tortorella, Laine is a peculiar addition. Having said that, the Blue Jackets have suffered under one of the worst power plays in the NHL for years and Laine brings a big shot that can really open things up for Columbus.
"Patrik Laine is a pure goal-scorer," said Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen. "I've known him since he was 16, watched him win the championship in Finland, be a top scorer and MVP of the world juniors when he won gold and watched him in the NHL and do what he's done - and he's still young. He's an excellent power-play player. Often people think of him as a shooter - and he is a great shooter - but he's also a great passer and those things excite me a lot. We have a weapon for the power play that we may not have had before."
In Roslovic, the Jackets get a young asset looking to take the next step in his career after failing to do so in Winnipeg - and as an added bonus, he was born and raised in Columbus. While Roslovic can play center, he may be more effective on the wing (where he was great as a member of the U.S. NTDP as a junior), though with Dubois gone the Jackets need options - and Kekalainen believes Roslovic's speed, skill and hockey sense would allow him to play center in Columbus.
That's the biggest risk in this deal for Columbus: the team is suddenly incredibly thin down the middle. Max Domi can play center but isn't a natural at it; neither are Nick Foligno or Boone Jenner. Alexandre Texier or Liam Foudy may be answers in a couple years, but not yet. Mikko Koivu, in the twilight of his career, is an option but not a sure thing. Kekalainen is confident, however.
"Our depth at the position is fine," he said. "And the roles will go depending on how the guys perform."
The biggest X-factor may be the relationship between Laine and Tortorella, a coach who always demands accountability and maximum effort. Laine has never been a strong defensive player and that deficiency has certainly landed players in Tortorella's doghouse before. If the Jackets do get buy-in however, Laine will be a beast.
As for Winnipeg, they get their own beast in Dubois and a player who undoubtedly will want to wash away the first week of his 2020-21 season. Due to Covid precautions, Dubois will have to wait two weeks before he suits up for the Jets. Roslovic is already getting tested in what could be a 48-hour process, while Laine is day-to-day with a minor injury and also needs a U.S. work visa.