Artemi Panarin dazzled fans night in and night out with his lethal offensive talent. Seth Jones stepped up and became the franchise defenseman he was always touted to be. Sergei Bobrovsky was Sergei Bobrovsky.
None of that would have mattered without Pierre-Luc Dubois.
The Columbus Blue Jackets spent all of last offseason searching for a top six center to free up Alexander Wennberg to do what he does best. Turns out, they had one all along in Dubois. Let’s take a look back at how we got to this point.
Jarmo Kekalainen sent shockwaves through the hockey world when selecting Dubois over Finnish junior star Jesse Puljujarvi with the third overall pick of the 2016 draft. Some of the reactions are, in hindsight, hilarious.
Yes, that’s a Florida Panthers fan using a Crying Jordan meme. Remember, 2016 was a wild time. Things didn’t look much better after the draft, as his 2016-17 season didn’t go according to plan. Let’s check in with /r/hockey again.
[Ron Howard voice] He didn’t go back to the QMJHL.
Instead, Dubois made the opening night roster – as a wing, to start – and scored on opening night against the New York Islanders. A scoreless stint over the next 11 games led coach John Tortorella to put him at center – but on the fourth line, alongside Sonny Milano and Markus Hannikainen. His CF% was a hilarious 95.7% (22 for, 1 against!) that night.
Dubois emerged as a legitimate option to stabilize what had been a weak position for the Blue Jackets. He was more than just serviceable – he found a home as the team’s top center, and one of the best young forwards in the league.
— 1st Ohio Battery (@1stOhioBattery) March 7, 2018
By season’s end, his 55.64 CF% ranked ninth in the league among forwards who played more than 1,000 minutes. Going by unblocked shots (Fenwick), Dubois’ 56.49% share was the league’s third best, behind Panarin (57.01%) and Sidney Crosby (57.58%).
He’s not just a #FancyStats darling, either. His 20 goals and 48 points are both franchise rookie records. While the jury is still (rightly) out on Puljujarvi, Dubois more than doubled his 20-point output this season while emerging as one of the game’s best possession players.
— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) March 30, 2018
Suddenly, the Blue Jackets had another bright young star to flaunt alongside Zach Werenski, Seth Jones and Artemi Panarin, forming a quartet of skaters any GM would envy.
Where would this team be without Pierre-Luc Dubois? Likely out of the playoffs or severely cap-constrained due to a trade. Make no mistake about it – Dubois’ sudden development was likely beyond anyone’s best case scenario for him this season.
In 2016, he was seen as a draft reach. One year later, he was seen as a probable bust. In October, he was a fringe roster player. November saw him turn into a useful center, and by April, he was the top center on a playoff team – and owner of the most successful rookie season in franchise history.
First round playoff exit aside, that’s one hell of a lasting memory from the 2017-18 season.