This is the final post in breaking down the prospects the Blue Jackets selected at the 2016 NHL draft. You can view the previous profiles here:
The Blue Jackets stunned the hockey world with their third overall selection. They elected to pass on consensus number three pick Jesse Puljujarvi, to take Cape Breton Screaming Eagles forward, Pierre-Luc Dubois. The reason for this was they felt Dubois has a better chance to play centre in the NHL. Dubois is said to have played well in his time at centre this past season and impressed the Blue Jackets enough to draft him with their number three pick.
The question people want to know is “did the Blue Jackets make the right pick?” To answer that question it really boils down to can Dubois play centre and will he become an impact centre in the NHL.
Without having watched every Screaming Eagles game this season it’s hard to say how much centre Dubois really played. What’s been talked about in the media is how he made the switch late in the season and was particularly strong in the playoffs. The stats however don’t really bear that out. Here is a graph of his points per game by month.
Stats courtesy of theqmjhl.ca
*The April data is all playoff games, including those played in March. The March data is just regular season games.
Dubois had his “worst” month in April where he “only” scored at a point per game clip. That doesn’t really jive with the narrative that he had a fantastic playoffs at centre. His strongest months were November, December and February where he was around two points per game. Those were the months were it looks like he was predominately a winger. Over the course of the season he averaged the fewest face-offs per game in December, second fewest in November and fourth fewest in February.
Taking it one step further here are his splits when he took over 20 face-offs in a game (likely games where he played centre) vs. when he didn’t (likely games where he played wing). This is an arbitrary end point but from the looks of it Dubois played centre on and off throughout the season before settling in full time for the playoffs. I felt this would be a decent indicator of how he played at centre over the full season.
Well that is not what I was expecting at all. Dubois was fantastic when he was a centre, scoring at a higher clip than as a winger. For a player who is new to the position this is simply incredible. He has played wing for the majority of his hockey career and has clearly made a smooth transition to the middle. This definitely fits the narrative that he thrived at centre. Taking this and looking at his scouting profile, it’s clear why people think he can become a franchise centre.
I saw Dubois play five times and each game I was impressed with his speed. For a guy as big as he is (6’3), it’s very impressive he can skate as well as he does. He has good hands and has a quick release on his shot. He’s a very good passer as well, setting up numerous chances in my viewings. He’s a physical player not afraid to go to the corners or battle in front of the net. He is also praised for his hockey IQ and smarts. The Hockey Prospect Black Book
Hockey Prospect Black Book described his hockey IQ as “excellent” and had a quote from an NHL scout stating “I think he is one of the smartest players in the draft.” Those smarts help him in the defensive zone where he is quite strong. He can anticipate plays and break up opportunities before they even get started. He even played a bit on the Cape Breton penalty kill.
He clearly has the size teams want in a centre. He has the smarts and coupled with his tools you can see why the Jackets made this pick. It’s not hard to envision him as a top centre in the NHL in the future. He still has a ways to go but the potential is there.
He scored 42 goals, 57 assists for 99 points this past season. He finished third in the QMJHL in scoring; just two spots ahead of fellow Blue Jacket draft pick Vitali Abramov. In previous posts this is where I would show his Draft Expect Value chart from Prospect-Stats.com
. Dubois though has such a rare combination of scoring and size, DEV found no comparable players for him; he’s in a class of his own. Just using his points per game bring up some great names. Among U18 players in the QMJHL, Dubois’ 1.60 points per game rate is comparable to that of Jonathan Huberdeau (1.57), and Nikolaj Ehlers (1.65), and ahead of players like Claude Giroux (1.49) and Jakub Voracek (1.46).
Dubois is not only putting up massive point totals, but he's scoring points in ways that we expect to be repeatable and you can foresee continuing in the future. As I touched on in the post on Abramov, it is very important for players to get to that high danger area of the ice, because that is where the majority of goals are scored in the NHL. Players can boost their scoring totals in junior by taking plenty of low danger shots, but as they progress the goalies get better and those shots stop going in. Looking at Dubois shot chart from Prospect Stats, you can see Dubois excels at getting to those high danger areas.
Dubois finished fifth in the QMJHL with 170 dangerous shots and fourth with 2.74 DS per game. He has that strong shot and when fired from that close it’s nearly impossible to stop. That is a big reason why his shooting percentage was 17.8%. Normally you would expect regression from a percentage that high, but in junior it’s not uncommon for players to carry high shooting percentages. Dubois’ percentage was high but only ranked 22nd among player who played in 30 games. Considering the amount of shots he takes (3.8 per game, 15th in the ‘Q’) and the area he takes them from he should be a player that maintains a high shooting percentage, throughout his junior and NHL career.
What is somewhat of a concern with Dubois and something people haven’t seem to talk about much is his line-mates. With Matt Tkachuk, many people (myself included) talked about how he played with two elite players and that helped boost his scoring. Dubois wasn’t playing with Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak, but he did have a pair of great players in Maxim Lazarev and Evgeny Svechnikov on his line. Svechnikov is the more known of the two players, a first round pick by the Red Wings in 2015. He had a great season with 79 points in 50 games. Lazarev has gone undrafted twice, but has been a very good player for a couple of seasons, receiving numerous NHL camp invites. He also had a strong season with 75 points in 52 games.
Both players definitely played a large role in the success Dubois had. As he was learning centre his coach gifted him with the two best wingers on the team. The best way to isolate Dubois’ production is look at how he performed when Lazarev and Svechnikov were not in the line-up vs. when they were.
Well we can eliminate that theory. 10 games isn’t the largest sample but it didn’t seem to matter who Dubois played with this season. He was virtually the same player in the 10 games without Lazarev or Svechnikov as he was in 56 with them. This again is a testament to how strong Dubois is a player. He has the speed and the skill to play with other highly skilled players, but also has the smarts and awareness to play with players who aren’t as skilled.
Overall it looks like Dubois has all the makings of becoming the number one centre for the Columbus Blue Jackets. He has elite level tools including high end smarts and skating. His performance this season was nothing short of spectacular leading his team in scoring and finishing third in the QMJHL. For the first time in his career he played a large chunk of games at centre and was incredible, scoring at a higher rate than as a winger. He had two very good line-mates but performed equally as well whether or not they were in the line-up. Don’t expect Dubois to step into the NHL right away, he still needs more reps down the middle, but if he keeps up on the path he's on it won’t be long until he's an impact player and will have Jacket fans forgetting all about that player Edmonton picked.
You can follow me on Twitter @PaulBerthelot