Every hockey fan has heard of them. They’re the very best, the all-time greats, and one of the reasons why we adore and are so very captivated by this truly beautiful sport we call hockey. The likes of Wayne Gretzky, Dale Hawerchuk, Adam Oates, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Ron Francis, Pavel Datsyuk, Mike Modano, and Sergei Fedorov.
The list goes on and still resonates today with players such as Sidney Crosby, Anze Kopitar, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Toews, Evgeni Malkin, and Patrice Bergeron. Extend it even further to the “young guns” with a list of names that includes Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Matthew Barzal, Sean Couturier, and Aleksander Barkov, and that’s quite the comprehensive list, to say the least.
Catch the common denominator yet? They’re all centermen, and pretty good ones too if I do say so myself. One name, in particular, that’s rarely alluded to in the same breath as the aforementioned list of NHL superstars, grew up in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec. Several French-Canadian players have made their mark throughout NHL history, but when you think of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, it doesn’t really scream “hockey hotbed” now does it?
But it is in this city, located in the heartland of Quebec, where the next bidding NHL superstar was born and raised. That player, ladies and gentlemen is Pierre-Luc Dubois, centreman for the Columbus Blue Jackets, and poised for greatness and superstardom at the National Hockey League level.
Poised for Greatness
Every NHL player has a backstory. From backyard rinks to street hockey with friends to late nights on a frozen pond to mini sticks in a hotel room as a pre-teen, all hockey players have a story. What’s non-negotiable is that it takes hard work, dedication, discipline, attention to detail, sacrifice, and a willingness to “go the extra mile” to make the jump and be one of the lucky few to play in the National Hockey League. Historically speaking, this is a feat that so few junior players from across Canada, the United States, and Europeans are ultimately able to accomplish.
Now 21-years of age, Dubois was no exception to this unwritten rule. His God-given talent, size, and skill level were brought to the next level through sheer hard work. His time in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), more commonly referred to as “The Q”, saw Dubois suit up for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles for two-and-a-half seasons, before finishing his junior career with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. A career was launched, but not before a few speed bumps along the way.
On Dec. 1, 2015, Dubois was one of 30 players invited to Team Canada’s selection camp for the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championships, set to take place at the end of the month in Helsinki, Finland. Unfortunately for Dubois, he did not make the team. Seeing players such as Brayden Point, Anthony Beauvillier, Jake Virtanen, and Mitch Marner go on to represent their country was a kick in the teeth for Dubois to say the least. For many players, being cut from such a prestigious team in such a massive tournament played annually and watched by millions of viewers worldwide would spell the end of the world.
Dubois, however, did not let this shortcoming affect his path to the NHL. Dubois told Kevin MCGran in the Toronto Star, “Nobody likes to get cut. But I don’t think coming back here at 18 years of age is a bad thing that will hurt my career long-term.” (from ‘Dubois cuts to the chase with Team Canada Juniors,’ the Toronto Star – 12/14/16).
Lesson learned. Dubois would go on to be a key member of the 2017 World Canadian World Junior Hockey Team, posting 5 five assists in the tournament, as Canada fell to the United States in a shootout in the gold medal game. It was only a matter of time before Dubois would be suiting up in an NHL game.
Draft Day: “Jump to the Pros”
In those crucial months leading up to the NHL Entry Draft, Dubois was viewed as the top North American skater. His two-way dominance and ability to drive play was just too good to be disregarded, and duly noted among prospective NHL general managers. It was Dubois’ winning pedigree, and his propensity for consistently playing the game the right way that prompted Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen to proudly select Dubois, third overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. To put the icing on the cake, the day of the draft (June 24, 2016) was also Dubois’ 18th birthday. How’s that for a birthday gift?
Two years later as a rookie, Dubois suited up for his first full season in the NHL with the Blue Jackets and put up some impressive numbers. 20 goals, 48 points and a plus-eight rating down the middle of the ice will definitely put you in the good books with your teammates and coaching staff. Year two saw his point totals jump to 61, with 27 goals and 34 assists.
With the NHL on standby due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dubois was in the middle of yet another solid campaign in the blue, white, and red. To date, in 70 games, Dubois posted 18 goals, and 49 points, with the Jackets being in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. In just a few short seasons, Dubois has single-handedly placed his mark on the NHL and has become the true and undisputed face of the franchise in Columbus.
Human Dynamo Down the Middle
Dubois’ game is worth so much more than mere statistics and production. Without question, the multiple 20-goal seasons are a big part, especially in today’s NHL where offensive production carries so much weight and pull with regards to contracts and how a team is structured. Dubois is a powerful skater, who excels when placed in pressure-filled situations.
His size, stature, reach, and wingspan are all above-average when it comes to other centermen across the NHL. Add this to his forechecking prowess, and his ability in the defensive zone to eliminate passing/shooting lanes, which are all exceptional. Not only does Dubois have the will to work for the puck when he doesn’t have it, but he also excels in transition, one of the most underrated feats of his game.
Along with the likes of Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli, Jake DeBrusk, and Mathew Barzal, Dubois is slated to become a restricted free agent (RFA) at season’s end. Over the past few seasons, the talk surrounding RFAs has been a hot topic, to say the least, with names such as Brayden Point, Kyle Connor, Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, Patrick Laine, leading the pack. Oh, and let’s not forget the infamous holdout of Maple Leafs forward William Nylander who signed mere minutes before the 4:00 P.M. deadline back on Dec. 1, 2018.
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Given the track record of Dubois, his value to the Blue Jackets, and his projection as a bonafide stud in the NHL, I think it’s fair to say that he’s in for a significant salary increase this offseason. If recent history is any indication, this summer is sure to be a stressful and exciting time for Jarmo Kekalaien and the Blue Jackets faithful. Columbus fans have the gift that keeps on giving and the pleasure of seeing Dubois perform on a nightly basis, but it’s a matter of when, not if, the entire NHL landscape realizes that the next superstar centre is none other than Pierre-Luc Dubois.