Without Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel, the Columbus Blue Jackets will spend a lot of time searching for offense. They failed to add (or retain) any big fish from the 2019 free-agent market, so they will have to look internally for a boost in scoring if they have any hope of staying relevant. All eyes will be on Pierre-Luc Dubois in 2019-20 as the 2016 third-overall pick enters his third professional season after posting seasons of 48 and 61 points, respectively.
The Blue Jackets watched Dubois take off offensively in 2018-19 with Artemi Panarin by his side for over 76% of his 5-on-5 ice-time. Dubois went from a scoring rate of 1.54 points-per-60 to 2.22. It’s realistic that he would have seen an uptick in scoring with or without Panarin simply because of his age and how skilled he is, but there’s no denying the impact that a player like Panarin has on his linemates.
Dubois was a gifted offensive player in the QMJHL, putting up 42 goals and 99 points in his draft year with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. He was drafted to put up points and last year he noticeably excelled. It’s worth noting that he had just as much success in generating chances in his rookie season.
Defensively, though, Dubois had mixed results. While they were together, the Blue Jackets saw fewer shot attempts against (likely due in large part to how dominant they were offensively). When Dubois was away from Panarin he was placed in slightly more defensive situations, and he struggled to find any success with that usage.
If we go back to his rookie season, Dubois saw more defensive starts and was able to generate success over a long period of time. He was still in a more sheltered role than others, but it was less than his time with Panarin. It’s almost as if he was asked to play two different ways in each of his NHL seasons.
Overall, you could argue he had more success without Panarin while he was a rookie. His expected-goals-for (xGF) and expected-goals-for-percentage (xGF%) went down in his second season. More stock should be put into his rookie season numbers (outside of actual point production) if you really want to find a potential baseline to use since Panarin will be suiting up for the New York Rangers.
Dubois’ own expected growth is also something worth betting on. Since his draft year, it’s been known that Dubois is a talented player. He’s also proven through his first two seasons that he can play both offensively and defensively at the NHL level.
Combining Both Sides of the Puck
The Blue Jackets need him to combine the two skills for the 2019-20 season. Expectations should be that he performs at least equal to his offensive output from last season (in total points), as well as improve his defensive numbers more towards season one.
If both of those things are to happen, he will need a little help from the coaching staff. He needs to remain somewhat sheltered, but it has to be acknowledged that he’s a center who is supposed to be a general impact player for the Blue Jackets this season.
You don’t accidentally score 2.22 points-per-60 at 5-on-5 over 82 games. That number puts him among some of the best names in the league and the Blue Jackets will be looking to Dubois as a primary producer in 2019-20 and, no matter how good you are, you need a boost of offensive zone starts to achieve that.
Even though they know they have a superstar in Dubois, the Blue Jackets should still exercise caution with how he is used early on in 2019-20 as he adjusts to life without Panarin again. With the roster weakened up front there’s potential for a young player to try and do more, which usually results in an added risk if the play begins in the defensive zone. The Blue Jackets have enough problems as it is just by their personnel losses over the off-season. They don’t need the added stress of a coaching staff improperly using their best player while they try to lean on his skill.
*all stats via Natural Stat Trick.