Battalion Breakdown is a closer look at the Blue Jackets' past season on a player-by-player basis. Today, BlueJackets.com continues the series by looking at Pierre-Luc Dubois' season and how it impacted Columbus in the 2018-19 campaign.
Birth date: June 24, 1998
Height/Weight: 6-3, 207
Nickname: "PLD" or "Duber"
Stats (Games, G-A-P, point shares): 82 GP, 27-34-61, 7.2 PS
Contract: Signed through 2019-20 season (RFA)
The question no longer is if Pierre-Luc Dubois will be good.
It's just a matter of if he will be great.
By now, there's little debate if the Blue Jackets got it right by taking the big Quebec native third overall in the 2016 draft. While it was widely assumed at the time that Finnish winger Jesse Puljujarvi would be the third pick, Columbus broke a little with the NHL orthodoxy at the time and went with Dubois.
The Blue Jackets have been rewarded with a player who looks the part of a No. 1 center for years to come. Described this past year as the driving force of a line that featured star wingers Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson, Dubois had an excellent second campaign and appears poised on the brink of being one of the NHL's premier pivots.
And there's still plenty of room to grow, as Dubois will be just 21 going into the 2019-20 season.
"One thing you always want and look for in players is a willingness to learn, to listen, the desire to get better every day, and I think he's one of those guys who wants to get better," general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said this year. "He's hungry for information, he's hungry for a way to get to the next level. He's got a lot of ability, skill and talent, physical attributes and all that, but I think that his drive to get better is one of the biggest reasons why he's been improving at such a rapid rate, if you want to call it that.
"We were very, very excited when we earned the third overall pick (in 2016). It sort of assured us that the guy we wanted was going to be there since it was pretty much the consensus that (Auston) Matthews and (Patrik) Laine were going to be gone. When we moved up in the lottery and got the third pick, we were thrilled to know for sure we were going to get Pierre-Luc Dubois."
Entering the season: Dubois had an impressive season at age 19 as a rookie, posting a 20-28-48 line. The challenge for him was to keep getting better in a league where his strengths and weaknesses would be picked apart more and more on a nightly basis as he would be counted on to move up the lineup and keep producing.
What happened: That's exactly what happened -- Dubois kept moving up the lineup and kept producing. His stats got better across the board, including bumps up to 27 goals, 34 assists and 61 points while spending most of the season on the CBJ top line.
For much of the year, he centered the line with Panarin and Atkinson, and the trio proved to be one of the best in the NHL and was elite at producing offense. Dubois' strength on pucks, strength along the wall, speed coming off of it, and ability to play with skill that matched his size was crucial, as his presence proved to be the perfect compliment to the creativity of Panarin and the goal-scoring wizardry of Atkinson.
Dubois still has room for improvement in some areas -- he won just 43.5 percent of his faceoffs and had a lengthy cold stretch from February into March -- but with him now finally able to have a legal drink in the United States, he has plenty of time and opportunity to continue to get better.
For now, though, Dubois has proved to be one of the top young centers in the game. He's also a key member of the team's power play, is plus-24 over his first two seasons, had 115 hits to highlight his physical game, and has positive possession numbers in each of his two campaigns.
Dubois had five game-winning goals on the season but one of the better ones came in overtime in the team's first game after Christmas on Dec. 27 in New York City against the Rangers. After Zach Werenski's tying goal late in the game, the Jackets won the draw in overtime, and the game ended when Dubois came in strong along the left wing and flipped the puck over Henrik Lundqvist to give the Blue Jackets a fifth straight victory.
Video: CBJ@NYR: Dubois pots OT winner for Blue Jackets
By the Numbers
82: For the second year in a row, Dubois played in all 82 regular-season games, and he is yet to miss a game in his NHL career.
2: Dubois finished second among players age 20 or younger during the 2018-19 season in points. Only Vancouver rookie Elias Pettersson (66 points) had more.
17: Dubois finished with 17 multi-point games, including a season-high four on New Year's Eve vs. Ottawa.