When I think back to the COVID year of hockey, it brings me a surprisingly fond memory. The Blue Jackets knocked the Toronto Maple Leafs out of the first round on the back of an emerging star center named Pierre-Luc Dubois.
I can’t tell you the exact words I used when he completed his hat trick in game three of that series, I’d like to keep this article G-rated. But, paraphrasing, I shouted loudly in my living room that “Luc was a MAN”. I wasn’t wrong; in that series he went up against the league’s most highly paid offense, helped shut them mostly down, and stole the show as the star of the series. I still get chills watching this highlight reel.
Unfortunately, as we all know, he quit on the team at the beginning of the next season. This prompted his trade to Winnipeg for Patrik Laine, a move that I don’t have any regrets about – Patty has been everything we wanted in a scoring winger since Artemi Panarin left, while Jack Roslovic has scored at a pretty similar pace to Dubois. But, it does make me wonder: what could have been with this team, had Dubois not pouted his way out of town?
Since the trade, he went on to score 143 points in 195 games for Winnipeg, before dropping his shoulders and forcing a trade again – this time to the LA Kings. He just signed an 8-year deal with an $8.5m AAV to play there, finally finding a place where it seems like he can be happy. He’s emerged as one of the premier physical/power two-way centers in the NHL; a guy who plays hard on both sides of the puck, and can play up and down the lineup as needed.
Had he stayed in Columbus and signed long-term, I think this rebuild would look a lot different than it does at this moment. We probably wouldn’t have some of the players/prospects we have, but for just a moment, imagine the other pieces here; and having PLD step onto a top line with Johnny Gaudreau and Kirill Marchenko. Look at what this does to the rest of the roster:
Line 1: Gaudreau – Dubois – Marchenko
Line 2: Johnson – Jenner – Laine
Line 3: Texier – Fantilli – Chinakhov
Line 4: Robinson – Kuraly – Danforth
Extras: Voronkov, Olivier
Defense pair 1: Werenski – Boqvist
Defense pair 2: Provorov – Severson
Defense pair 3: Bean – Gudbranson
Goaltenders: Merzlikins, Tarasov
Adding Dubois to that top line would give the Jackets easily the best top-six forward group they’ve ever had. That top line would be a nightmare for opposition defenses; with Dubois and Marchenko both creating havoc on the forecheck, buying time for Gaudreau to make plays at will. By season’s end, you could be rolling him out with Fantilli on the second line, Jenner on the third, and Kuraly on the fourth. That’s a playoff caliber lineup for sure, and for that reason; whether you love him, hate him, or have just outright forgotten about him: Pierre-Luc Dubois would be perfect for this team.