Saturday, July 2, 2016

Whether he No. 1, 2 or 3 Pierre-Luc Dubois is climbing fast

By Larry Wigge

So much for those favorite TV lists.

Going into the NHL Entry Draft last weekend somebody listed Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi were the Top 3 picks in the draft.


Do your own scouting. Don't take for granted that the Top 3 players are right there for you to scoop up.

"Everybody keeps assuming, everybody keeps asking me the same question," explained Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen. "For me, it's the excitement of picking the best possible player for the Blue Jackets that counts."

It's funny because Kekalainen is from Finland and Laine and Puljujarvi both are former countrymen.

"I'm proud of country," Kekainen continued. "I'm not giving up my citizenship."

Kekalainen has worked to Ottawa, St. Louis and now Columbus. He and Ville Siren, his chief scout who also comes from Finland, so they are not going to give you the stock answer.

"That's all right, I don't need to go to Helsinki and walk around the city," Kekaainen answered. "I really don't think of that, to be honest with you. I work for the Columbus Blue Jackets and I want to get the best possible player for the Columbus Blue Jackets. That's my only priority."

The question not was speculative and Kekainen doesn't buy into that. If the Blue Jackets had the No. 2 pick in the draft would they have passed on Laine.

I'll answer it for Jarmo. He would have taken Pierre-Luc Dubois second after Auston Matthews.

Dubois showed me Jamie Benn is a Cape Breton uniform last season -- 42 goals and 57 assists for 99 points with 112 penalty minutes and a +40 plus/minus rating in 62 regular season games. He's a Benn-like attacker, a big, fast, skilled guy with some real determination and savvy, especially when he gets the pucks on his stick. He's at his best on the rush or making a quick stickhandling move to free himself for a shot.

But the major aspect of his game is stickhandling, deking and getting off shots. Dubois has excellent stickhandling skills, absolutely fantastic, and he flashes them now and then to great advantage.

Now, Jarmo you can answer:

"We believe in skill and character -- and Dubois has it," Kekainen said. "To me, character and skill make a player stand out. That's why are here today."

The Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec native has recorded 52-92-144 with 170 penalty minutes and a +44 plus/minus rating in 116 games since making his junior debut with Cape Breton in 2014-15.

Futhermore ...

"It's harder to find centermen and defensemen, that's for sure, and we always take the best player available in our opinion," he said, "so I don't think we would have taken a center just to get a center if we had a winger ahead of him. He was No. 3 and that's why we picked him and that's why we didn't want to take any chance of moving down unless we knew for sure we were going to get him."

"Everyone talks to you about rumours and stuff like that and you try not to pay attention to it that much," added Kekalainen.

The big news was the rise of Cape Breton left wing-center Pierre-Luc Dubois from No. 7 among North American skaters in the mid-term to No. 1.

Dubois has blossomed into a two-way forward who depends as much on his size and snarl as his skill in patrolling all 200 feet of ice.

"In the corners, I had to out-think the opposition, out-skill them," said Dubois. "Now, I can outsmart them and be doing it with my strength. It helped a lot."

In his second season in the QMJHL, Dubois finished third overall in scoring with 42 goals and 99 points. The strong finish came after a post-Christmas position change from the wing to center. That's a position now that he feels very confident in playing at the NHL level.

"I'm a fast learner," Dubois admitted. "I'm a guy that can play any position anywhere on the ice in any situation. In the long run I think I have the skillset to play center.

"I haven't touched my ceiling and my potential is still far away. You're drafting for what you're going to be -- not for what you are now."

His coach Marc-Andre Dumont said, "He takes care of his body. He's a smart player. What does that tell you? His hockey IQ is outstanding."

"He's a big man and I really like the presence he brings to the room when he enters and the leadership qualities he has at that age," said Kekalainen. "Everything screamed, 'This is our guy.' "

Hockey runs in the Dubois family. Eric Dubois played 11 seasons in North American minor leagues and in Europe. He met his wife Jill while he was playing for Atlanta in the International Hockey League. As a child Pierre-Luc played baseball, soccer, golf and football, but he loved hockey the most.

"I am a dual citizen, Canadian and American. My mother was born and raised in Georgia," says Dubois.

"Right from the start you could see he had a passion for hockey," his father said. "You tell he loved being around the rink."

Pierre-Luc's earliest hockey memories were skating in Germany, where his father's pro career ended. He also recalls the different coaching stops Eric has made in the QMJHL, from Baie-Comeau to Acadie-Bathurst to Rimouski, where he's been since the 2012-13 season.

"I grew up in junior rinks with my dad, watching his teams play," he said. "I'm still like that today, even though he's in Rimouski and I'm in Cape Breton. I still follow pretty much everybody in the CHL."

Eric Dubois said he watches his son via the Internet as much as his job allows. He said he's learned to pick his spots when it comes to fatherly advice.

His son may be a left-shot forward while he was a right-shot defenseman, but Eric knows the game. He was selected by the Quebec Nordiques in the fourth round (No. 76) of the 1989 NHL Draft, and in 1990 he helped Laval of the QMJHL advance to the Memorial Cup.

"First and foremost I want to relate to my son as a dad, not a coach," Eric said. "He has a coach. If he wants to talk about hockey, ask me for advice, then we will talk. But I'm not going to force the issue."

Dubois' favorite player is Claude Giroux. Though now he likes to study the game of Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn. Benn is listed at 6-2 and 210 pounds, so there's a similar build to Dubois. Dubois said he likes the two-way game of last season's Art Ross Trophy winner.

"I think I'm working in the right direction," he said. "I see myself as a power forward with strong offensive ability. I like using my size to drive the puck to the net. I’m a competitor who likes to be a difference-maker in a game.

"Every week in the summer, I take part in four power-skating sessions in Rimouski and another one in Quebec City. I'm also planning on taking part in a clinic organized by Pierre Aubry later this summer in Shawinigan."

Jamie Benn look out. Pierre-Luc Dubois has the rest of the NHL in his sites for 2016-17.

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