Win or lose, Pierre-Luc Dubois’ experience in the playoffs this spring is the capper on a very successful rookie campaign. The Columbus Blue Jackets center has already removed a lot of doubt from the minds of folks who questioned GM Jarmo Kekalainen taking the developing center over Jesse Puljujarvi with the third overall pick in the 2016 draft and Dubois’ impact on the Columbus roster is obvious.
“It certainly solidified it,” said coach John Tortorella. “We were going to start Luc on the wing this season, allowing him to get his feet wet. But through injuries and guys not playing well, we made the change.”
Indeed, it’s pretty remarkable to see Dubois’ rise, considering he played left wing for half his junior career in the Quebec League. But the Jackets saw him as a center (which he converted to during his draft year) and after one more season split between Cape Breton and Blainville-Boisbriand, Dubois has worked his way up to Columbus’ top line with Cam Atkinson and Artemi Panarin.
“I look at him being one of the main puzzle pieces in us being competitive in the playoffs,” Tortorella said. “Did I see him playing with Cam and Bread? No. But he gets an opportunity and simply gets better and better.”
It’s a shame, really, that Dubois wasn’t a finalist for the Calder Trophy (Matt Barzal, Brock Boeser and Clayton Keller got the nods) and to be honest, he probably wasn’t top-five. But that’s only because Dubois’ responsible, two-way game isn’t as sexy as that of his peers, where points and flash catch the highlight reels.
What we’ve seen in the first-round series against Washington is a rookie center who is playing more than 24 minutes per night. Amongst Columbus forwards, only linemates Atkinson and Panarin have played more. Not only that, but Dubois’ attention has mainly been focused on Washington’s big line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson.
If Dubois stays on this path, he will be a true No. 1 center on a team that craves one. Dubois has the size, edge, talent and 200-foot game to fit the bill and clearly he can play with talented linemates already. Should Dubois fulfill his destiny, the Columbus roster really looks good for next season. Alex Wennberg is a perfect No. 2 center, while the Blue Jackets have two of the best young defensemen in the game with Seth Jones and Zach Werenski (do I even need the ‘young’ in that descriptor? Maybe not). Sergei Bobrovsky is your ace in net and the team has a great complement of veterans surrounding this framework.
And while Columbus fans are still waiting to see what the second round of the post-season tastes like, this series against the Capitals is another link in the chain of development for the team (has it been way too long? Yes. But you can’t change the past, so here we are).
The fact that four of the first five games went into overtime, with Columbus winning the first two, is valuable. Should the Jackets come back to win the series, obviously the development strides will be huge. Should they fall to Washington, there will be lessons learned, particularly for young folks like Dubois, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Josh Anderson.
“It’s a game of attrition and we’re still in the infant stages of playoff hockey,” Tortorella said. “It’s a great situation to find things out, because you can’t get tired.”
Naturally, the Blue Jackets’ goal is to push things as far as possible. Thanks to Dubois, they’ve got a chance to do so now, but also in the future. This kid has just begun his NHL journey.