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Dubois among prospects in win-win situation

by Adam Kimelman / Columbus Blue Jackets


PLYMOUTH, Mich. -
Competing at the IIHF World Junior Championship is a dream for most young Canadian hockey players. And so is playing in the NHL.

Canada forwards Dylan Strome (Arizona Coyotes) and Pierre-Luc Dubois (Columbus Blue Jackets) almost certainly will get to live at least one of those dreams this season.

They are taking part in the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Mich., this week and are favorites to play for Canada at the 2017 WJC in Toronto and Montreal from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.

That's if they're not otherwise occupied with the Coyotes and Blue Jackets, respectively.

It's a win-win situation for both players.

"There's positives to every situation," Strome said Tuesday. "I'm going to do my best to make the NHL and go from there. But it would be a tremendous opportunity to play for Canada at the World Juniors. It's something I haven't gotten to experience, playing [WJC] in Canada. I think it would be cool."

Strome, the No. 3 pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, played for Canada at the 2016 WJC in Finland. He had four goals and two assists in five games but Canada lost to Finland 6-5 in the quarterfinals and finished sixth.

As one of eight returning players at the camp, Strome said he's trying to be a leader.

"I think all the returning guys are [trying to lead]," he said. "Just makes it a little easier for the first-year guys to come in there and have a good camp. For the returning guys it's showing how hard this tournament really is and the grind that it actually is. Got be a leader out there. You're a second-year guy and you've still got to show your worth. Anyone can get cut from this team so there's no given spots of who's going to make it."

Dubois, the No. 3 pick of the 2016 draft, knows that well; he was one of the final cuts from last year's team.

He said he's taken the lessons learned from that disappointment and channeled it into a push to make the 2017 WJC roster.

"Just stay yourself," he said. "The reason they invited you here is the player they saw during the season. Just stay the same player, be confident in your skills, confident in what you bring to the table. I think I can bring a two-way game, lot of offense but also physical play and defense. That's what I'm trying to bring to the table."

Dubois plans on showing that same skill set at Blue Jackets training camp in September. The 6-foot-2, 201-pound forward has played mostly left wing during junior evaluation camp but is versatile enough to play all three forward positions. Columbus certainly has a need for a top-line center after trading Ryan Johansen to the Nashville Predators last season.

"In Columbus [development camp] they had me maybe center a little bit more," he said. "But to me doesn't make a difference. I think I bring a different game when I play center versus when I play wing. Just depends what the team's coaching staff thinks of me. Any position, right wing, left wing, I don't care. Center, not a big deal to me."

Dubois said he knows what's possible this season in the NHL but right now his focus is on World Junior camp.

"I'm a one-step-at-a-time type of guy, so right now I'm at the World Junior camp so I'm trying to make the team for the World Juniors," he said. "The next step is Columbus [training] camp. When I get there it's going to be trying to make the team."

Strome has a similar attitude but might be closer to a full-time roster spot in the NHL. He was one of the final cuts from Coyotes training camp last season. On Monday, the Coyotes bought out the final year of veteran center Antoine Vermette's contract, potentially opening a roster spot for Strome.

"I'm sure when you go into [training] camp they don't have the rosters set," Strome said. "You have to go into camp looking to win a job. If you play well you're probably going to be there, and if you don't you'll go back to junior. It's about playing good. Hopefully I do my best and they find a spot for me."

While Strome and Dubois harbor their NHL hopes, Canada coach Dominique Ducharme said he's seen full buy-in from both players during camp, which started at MasterCard Centre in Toronto on July 30 and shifted to USA Hockey Arena on Tuesday.

"I don't see anyone thinking or acting like 'I'll be in the NHL, I won't be back,'" Ducharme said. "I'm really happy with the way they handle everything and the way they came into the week."

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