In some respects, comparing Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin to Pierre-Luc Dubois of the Winnipeg Jets is unfair. They are completely different players after all. That’s the point, though.
Dubois Hypothetically on the Trade Market
One and a half years after the Jets acquired Dubois (and a draft pick) for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic, he may reportedly be available once again, according to Elliotte Friedman. The reasoning is simple: Dubois will be a restricted free agent looking for a raise from his current $5 million hit.
Dubois’ also approaching unrestricted free agency in a few years. So, the Jets have the option of extending him with a short-term contract, after which he could leave on his own, or open the vault and sign him long term, which is always a risky proposition, but especially so in Dubois’ case, who, while having shown his potential in a 60-point 2021-22 season, has arguably yet to establish himself as a star.
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Alternatively, as has been highly suggested in the media, the Jets can trade him. If that’s the case, his name is inevitably going to come up in the Canadiens rumor mill. It did back then, anyway.
And there’s every reason to believe the Canadiens would be interested this time around too.
Dubois vs. Drouin
Whenever a Quebec-born talent becomes available, the local media tends to get worked up at the prospect of them coming to town, at least. But sometimes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire, just as the Drouin trade proved back in 2017.
Related: The Myth of the Canadiens Hometown Discount
Obviously, the Drouin trade hasn’t worked out as ex-general manager Marc Bergevin envisioned. While Bergevin has never said as much, the tale of the tape says he gave up an up-and-coming left-shot defenseman that he needed in Mikhail Sergachev for a(nother) winger in Drouin that the Habs initially slotted in at center to solve their issues down the middle.
Fast-forward a half-decade. Not only did the Canadiens fail to fit the square peg that is Drouin into the round hole, but their depth at center is still an issue. That’s where Dubois would come in, as someone who actually has experience playing the position at the NHL level. With some success as well.
Dubois Fills Need(s) for Canadiens
Is Dubois the No. 1 center some analysts proclaimed him to be early this season? Maybe not, but, with Nick Suzuki filling that role, the Canadiens don’t need him to be. They would just need him to stabilize the second line, hopefully dropping Christian Dvorak down to the third line. While there had been hope Jake Evans would break out on the third line, his coming-out party as an offensive force hasn’t come to pass and the Canadiens simply look much deeper with him on the fourth instead.
In theory, you can also play Dubois on the wing on the first line beside Suzuki and Cole Caufield. Assuming, knock on wood, the Canadiens still finish with one of the top two picks at the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, it would still make sense to draft a center like Shane Wright or Logan Cooley in such an instance. However, playing Dubois down the middle, the Canadiens could instead address the other gaping hole on the roster, the right side on defense, by drafting someone like Simon Nemec (trading down to do so).
Either way, Dubois (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) fills a need, bringing more physicality in theory than Drouin, who only has one year left under contract before unrestricted free agency hits, has. So, comparisons between the two (coincidentally) Ste. Agathe natives are inevitable, considering how much local, French-Canadian talent is a focal point of the media (and politicians).
Really, there’s no reason why current-GM Kent Hughes shouldn’t consider acquiring Dubois as an option. He checks all the boxes, including some Drouin was never able to, all due respect to the latter as a still-legitimate top-six forward. In that sense, any trade for Dubois can be considered a do-over for the organization, a chance to get things right… meaning there’s also a chance the Habs get things wrong again.
Lessons Learned from Drouin Deal
As valuable as Dubois would be, the Canadiens can’t overvalue his services the way Bergevin seemed to those of Drouin, who had been far from universally regarded as a prized forward, having failed to report to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s American Hockey League affiliate once upon a time.
For the record, Dubois didn’t get traded by the Columbus Blue Jackets for giggles. He and his ex-head coach John Tortorella did have issues. So, there is some baggage there too (although Tortorella isn’t exactly known as the easiest person for whom to play). What it all comes down to is what will Hughes have to give up to get him (if things get to that point, of course)?
The price tag will likely be higher than Drouin’s, seeing as Dubois has more NHL experience at this point than Drouin did then. However, anything should be considered, at least on a few conditions, i.e., if Hughes can avoid giving up:
- That top first-round pick this season (one of two the Canadiens have at their disposal),
- Next season’s as well (Connor Bedard)
- And anyone currently in the projected top six (so they actually add to their depth up front and don’t move in parallel)
Hughes likely already knows all this. Up to this point, he’s made savvy moves as the team’s new GM, but that was true of Bergevin too at one point, with the Drouin trade going down as one of his biggest mistakes. The Canadiens have to learn from it so as not to sacrifice someone they’re going to need more down the road. If Dubois is that elusive center though, that’s admittedly a pretty high bar to hit.