Pierre-Luc Dubois Emerges As Potential Option At Center, While Two Top Trade Targets Nearly Get Dealt In Blockbuster

By Kyle Morrison on November 4, 2017 at 9:30 am
Pierre Luc Dubois looks intently across the ice before a face-off at Nationwide Arena
Aaron Doster–USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jackets almost lost out on two trade targets at center in one fell swoop last night – in the same trade, no less.

TSN’s Darren Dreger reported talks for a blockbuster three-way trade between the Senators, Avalanche and Predators. Two names we’ve talked about extensively – Colorado’s Matt Duchene and Ottawa’s Kyle Turris – were set to be part of the deal. Elliotte Friedman had more insight.

On paper, the Blue Jackets still have a big hole at center.

Nick Foligno’s filled in admirably, anchoring a top line that’s had a nice go of it lately. Brandon Dubinsky has struggled (still goalless), and Lukas Sedlak is still on the shelf with a lower body injury. Alexander Wennberg’s numbers are good, but there’s room for him to improve, as John Tortorella recently relegated him to the second power play unit.

All summer long, it appeared as if Matt Duchene was the team’s top target at the center position. Nothing materialized, though. Whispers that Turris could be moved at the deadline presented the team (and fans) with an alternative option, and when Vegas started moving Vadim Shipachyov up and down like a yo-yo, some saw him as another potential option.

Shipachyov is back in Russia. Turris and Duchene almost came off the market in the same deal. There were a few somewhat uninspiring internal options, who either haven’t gotten a chance at center (Boone Jenner – but that’s probably for the best – and Tyler Motte), got a chance and got scratched (Zac Dalpe) or haven’t gotten called up yet (Jordan Schroeder).

That leaves one feasible internal option – one who was penciled in at center on just about everyone’s lineup sheet all offseason.

Pierre-Luc Dubois flew up draft boards two years ago, posting 42 goals and 99 points for Cape Brenton while primarily playing left wing. His production fell last year as he adjusted to center, but he impressed in camp, and made the roster – as a winger. The NHL game is grueling, and according to Tortorella, Dubois didn’t quite have his legs in the last couple of games.

So, Tortorella did what Dubois’ own father did when he coached the talented youngster: he put him at center.

“[Dubois] said when his dad coached him, his dad always put him at center when his legs weren’t moving,” Tortorella said. “His legs haven’t been moving, so I said it’s a perfect opportunity."

Dubois anchored the fourth line the other night in Sunrise and delivered a strong performance. His whole line did, actually, and shot metrics paint an encouraging picture.

Some quick context – among players with more than 30 games played, Brandon Saad led last year’s Blue Jackets team with a 54.68% Corsi. That’s really damn good.

Pierre-Luc Dubois on Thursday night? 95.45%.

No, that’s not a typo. That’s not meant to be 59.45% – that’s just four percent and change shy of the hockey nerd equivalent of a perfect game. Over the span of the game, Dubois was on the ice for 21 Blue Jackets shot attempts and just *one* Panthers shot attempt. He played just 11:12; only Ryan Murray (24) and Markus Nutivaara (22) were on the ice for more Blue Jackets shot attempts, and both played over 14 minutes that night.

"I thought we had some favorable matchups – every time I put my fourth line out, [Panthers coach] Bobby [Boughner] put his fourth line out,” Tortorella said at practice yesterday. “So I didn’t have to worry about him being mismatched. I thought it worked out well and he played one of his better games."

The early returns on Dubois in the middle were good, but let’s remember that he’s still a rookie and the NHL has a way of catching up to rookies who catch fire. Another caveat: the Panthers defense has been capital-B Bad this season. Can he replicate that success against some of the deeper teams in the Metro? 

Given the volatility in the trade market, it’s nice to know that the solution to the Blue Jackets center depth woes may have been under their noses this whole time.

"It just clicked for us, I think,” said Tortorella. "We’ll see where it goes, but I thought he played really well."

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