John Tortorella wasn't always sold on rookie center Pierre-Luc Dubois, whom the Blue Jackets took with the No. 3 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.
In fact, the Blue Jackets' head coach once confided to general manager Jarmo Kekalainen that he wasn't seeing the same things in Dubois that Kekalainen did - things that prompted the GM to use that high of a pick on him.
"I go back to Jarmo," Tortorella said Tuesday, after watching Dubois help him win his 100th game as Columbus' coach, a 3-2 shootout win against the Carolina Hurricanes at Nationwide Arena. "He tells me, "He does this, he does that, he does this …' Early on, I said, 'Jarmo, I don't see it. I haven't seen him like you have.' Jarmo says, 'Watch.'"
One word, plus Dubois gaining confidence as a 19-year old, was enough for Tortorella. Dubois, the kid from a Montreal suburb, has become his de facto top center after the first 25 games of his NHL career.
His combination of speed, size, strength and skill are coming out now, and chemistry with power forward Josh Anderson, 23, is fanning that flame. The same effect is helping Anderson, who's developing into a legitimate top-six power forward - the kind that makes a coaching staff drool.
Video: CAR@CBJ: Anderson pots Dubois' slick one-handed feed
The goal they combined to score against Carolina, 1:10 into the game, was a great example.
Dubois stormed his way into the Hurricanes' zone with the puck on his stick. He carried it hard to the net, holding off a defender, and slid a one-armed pass across the crease for Anderson to tap in.
"It's one of the things [Kekalainen's] talked about, as far as bringing pucks to the net," Tortorella said of Dubois. "You can see he's getting more and more confident. He's 19. He's still going to get stronger. He's still going to learn how to protect pucks better. I think he's improved in that area. It makes it really interesting having him in the middle of the ice, doing the things he's doing right now, as far as what I can do with other guys."
What it allowed Tortorella to do Tuesday was shift captain Nick Foligno out of a center role and put him back in a wing spot, where he's allowed to focus more on offense. The Blue Jackets also got center Alexander Wennberg back from a six-game injury absence, which also gave Tortorella options.
Coaches love options, especially when they're quality choices. Dubois, at center, has been a quality option in the middle thus far.
It's only been five games since he and Anderson were paired with dynamic Russian left wing Artemi Panarin, but that's an eternity this season, when Tortorella has placed his line combinations into a blender more often than a beach bartender.
"We're a fast line, hard to play against when we get going there in the offensive zone," Anderson said. "It kind of reminds me of [Brandon Dubinsky's] line. You've got the two grinders there [Dubinsky and Boone Jenner], and [Cam Atkinson's] a skilled guy. We bring a lot of that."
Atkinson was on the third line against Carolina, with rookie Sonny Milano and Wennberg, but his point remains. The Blue Jackets' top line, despite two young forwards leading it, is capable of playing the heavy sort of game Tortorella demands.
It's not perfect, but it's the best group the Blue Jackets have right now - when they've won seven of their past eight games and strung together a six-game winning streak that came to a close Monday in Montreal.
Dubois scored the lone goal for Columbus in that game.
"That's been our top line here the last little while," Tortorella said. "Offensive-zone face-offs, you see who I'm putting out there. That line is going out there probably 80 percent of the time. They deserve it too."
Panarin hasn't meshed as well as the other two, but the potential is there for him to make them even more dangerous. It may take time for that to develop, but Tortorella said he's willing to wait a little while.
"I think it's a good line," he said. "I think [Panarin] fits on that line. For him, the two younger players have to be there a little bit longer and have them talk amongst one another, and I think it'll even be better."
News & Notes
CLOSE CALLS: Columbus was fortunate to get out of the game against the Hurricanes without losing anybody else to injury.
After losing defenseman Ryan Murray to an upper-body injury against the Canadiens, the Blue Jackets had three scares against Carolina. Zach Werenski and Anderson each took spills in the first period, and Foligno was struck in the mid-section by Seth Jones' slap shot late in the second.
All three were hobbled, but remained in the game.
Anderson's tumble into the end boards, off a rush to the net, was the most worrisome.
After getting his foot tangled with Hurricanes defenseman Josh Jooris, he slammed hard into the boards behind the Carolina net. His right arm and shoulder absorbed most of the impact, and he initially stayed on the ice.
"I got my arm up as fast as I could, so I think that protected me from any injury to the head, but everything's OK," Anderson said. "As soon as I got tripped, there was only a split-second, but my first instinct was getting my arm up to protect my head, because I was going face-first into the boards there, so I did a good job at that."
Head athletic trainer Mike Vogt attended to him on the ice, but Anderson eventually got to his feet and skated off. He left for a stretch, but returned.
"Honestly, it was just pain throughout the body," Anderson said. "I couldn't really move for a second there, and then [Vogt] got out there as fast as he could. I was actually shocked how fast he got out there, but everything was good."
Foligno left the game and returned, as well, after taking Jones' shot off his lower abdomen. It left a welt, where there wasn't protective padding.
"Just a rocket off the hip, slash, stomach," he said. "I said [to Jones], 'I'm giving you a screen, and you hit me. What the hell is that?' He laughed. He said, 'I was just trying to hammer it,' and I said, 'You did that.'"
HARRY GETS A GAME: Murray's injury prompted a chain reaction of things to happen.
Defenseman Gabriel Carlsson was recalled from the Cleveland Monsters on an emergency basis, forward Markus Hannikainen was assigned to Cleveland and defenseman Scott Harrington got to play his third game of the season.
Harrington had logged just 15:41 over two previous games, biding his time as a healthy scratch and trying to stay sharp in practices and drills run by assistant coach Kenny McCudden.
"You can't get down on yourself," Harrington, 24, said. "You have to stay positive. It's not easy, it's not fun, but you have to make the most of it and keep trying to develop your game every day."
Harrington prefers his current situation to being sent to the minors, but even that move is unlikely. It would require the Blue Jackets to place him on waivers, which might lead to him being claimed by another team. Columbus doesn't want to lose him, so Harrington's role likely won't change without a lengthy injury void to fill.
"I don't know how all that would play out [with waivers], but I still have a lot of confidence in myself and my game," said Harrington, who played 11:36 and had a minus-1 plus/minus rating. "I know how hard I worked in the summer, and where my game is at, so I'm just kind of waiting for a chance to show it."
SHORT SHIFTS: The Blue Jackets tied a franchise record with nine wins through their first 13 home games of a season, which was also done last season. … Columbus has 33 points through 25 games, which is second-highest in team history next to last season's 36. … The Blue Jackets are 4-0-0 at Nationwide Arena in games that last past regulation this season, and they lead all NHL teams with an 8-0-1 mark in games decided in overtime or shootouts. … Atkinson and Panarin scored in the shootout for the Blue Jackets. It was Panarin's third shootout goal in four attempts this season (75 percent). It was Atkinson's first shootout goal in two attempts.