Boy, does that 2014 game-tying goal against the Penguins in Game 4 feel like forever ago. It certainly hasn't been the ideal campaign for Brandon Dubinsky. He's been injured often, and he's averaging his lowest time-on-ice (12:47) since his rookie campaign. His last two years have been dominated by injuries and his play has suffered as a result, which has not exactly been beneficial for the Blue Jackets, a team whose results are often dictated by the play of their centers.
Columbus needs Dubinsky to be healthy and play an important role, but is he capable of producing like he has in the past? After a slow, injury-filled start to the season, his play has improved significantly after being placed on a line with Eric Robinson and Riley Nash. However, with the Blue Jackets' recent acquisitions of Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, Columbus now arguably possesses the most offensive depth they've ever had.
So, has Dubinsky's recently improved play merited him becoming a key part of the Jackets' lineup? Let's take a look.
This season, just 22% of Dubinsky's even-strength zone starts have come in the offensive zone, which is far away from his career average of 45.2%. This is an obvious roadblock in the way of him registering points (only 5-7-12 this year), and a new role for him as well. Due to all the firepower that the Blue Jackets have accrued, Dubinsky has become a defensive zone specialist, as well as a force on the penalty kill (which has always been the case). His play on the penalty kill is very important for the Blue Jackets' outstanding unit, which is currently ranked third in the NHL, killing penalties at an 83.9% rate.
As a utility player, Dubinsky has to adapt to what John Tortorella needs of him each game, and his responsibilities may be different every night. While that's not easy for a player to adapt to, Dubinsky's versatility is one of the reasons he is still a key player for this Blue Jackets team.
One of Dubinsky's best attributes is his skill in the face-off circle. This season, he's currently winning 56.3% of face-offs, good for the second-best year of his career if he can maintain it. This year, Nick Foligno is the only Blue Jacket who has a higher face-off percentage (57.3%) than Dubinsky.
In overtime situations, Dubinsky has been used to take the opening draw, and then he will quickly hustle off to yield the ice to a more skillful center (see: Pierre-Luc Dubois). In several of these situations, his face-off win, and subsequent control of the puck by the Jackets have led to game-winning goals. In past years, it may have Dubinsky himself scoring the overtime winner, but his role has changed.
Unlucky With Injuries
Dubinsky has been incredibly unfortunate with injuries the past two years. In December of the '17-'18 season, he fractured his orbital bone in a fight against Zack Kassian and was out for six weeks.
Then, right before this season started, he was placed on IR on October 8th with a strained oblique muscle. It was well-known that Dubinsky had trained hard all summer and was in excellent shape going into the season, so this was a crushing blow.
After he recovered and rejoined the lineup in early January, he was placed back on the IR a few days later with a hamstring issue.
As soon as he recovered from his oblique issue, in a cruel twist of fate, he injured his hip a couple of games later and was placed on the IR again.
It's not easy to maintain an NHL level of fitness, speed, skating, and puck control when a player is injured as often as Dubinsky has been the last two years. When he's healthy, his bruising, aggressive play-style is quite effective.
Hopefully, Dubinsky will be able to get 100% and stay there for the stretch run. If he can get his legs back under him, he will be an integral cog for the culmination of the Blue Jackets' season. Center play is crucial, and the Blue Jackets need Dubinsky in full strength — if he's able to fully recover his old form.
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