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Dubois hopes to flex his muscles in third season with Blue Jackets

Carrying the puck, helping the team at the top of the 21-year-old's to-do list

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

Look around the NHL and there are few players who have done as much in their young careers at the highest level as Pierre-Luc Dubois. 

As a 19-year-old rookie two years ago, his 20 goals tied for third among all NHL teenagers. A year ago, Dubois had more points (61) than anyone in the NHL who was age 20 or younger than Vancouver's Elias Petterson, who was the league's rookie of the year. 

Yet while the 21-year-old can now legally raise a glass to his first two impressive seasons on this side of the border, he's not resting on any laurels.

After all, there's chatter that without one of the game's elite wingers next to him in Artemi Panarin, he might not be capable of approaching the same level of production that includes 47 goals and 109 points in his first two seasons. 

It's skepticism Dubois has heard before, of course. When Columbus head amateur scout Ville Siren stepped up to the microphone at the 2016 NHL draft and announced the Blue Jackets had chosen Dubois third overall instead of Finnish forward Jesse Puljujarvi, many across the NHL were left with mouths agape. 

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For months, the conventional wisdom was that Puljujarvi was one of three elite players in the draft, but time has proved the Blue Jackets to be wise. While Puljujarvi is beginning the season in Finland after three lackluster years in Edmonton, Dubois has established himself as one of the game's top talents. 

When looking at this summer's talk, Dubois can't help but be transported back to that summer of questioning.  

"I mean, it is what it is," he said. "I know what I can do. I know what type of player I am. I remember when I got drafted here, everybody was shocked about me being drafted and everybody doubted it. And then I played and everybody kept saying after 12 games, 'See, this is what you get.' 

"And then after that, I started playing better. All my life, it's kind of always been the same conversation around me. I just want to play and whatever everybody wants to think, they can think it. You just play and help the team win, and at the end of the day, that's what matters most."  

In fact, there's an avenue for Dubois to have an even bigger impact this year with the Blue Jackets on the team's top line, which should pair him with longtime winger Cam Atkinson and fellow talented youngster Alexandre Texier. 

Panarin is one of the best players in the game with the puck on his stick, and he used that talent often to create offensive opportunities for the Blue Jackets. With Panarin gone, some of the puck carrying responsibilities will likely fall to Dubois, especially when it comes to possessing the puck down low, carrying it off the wall and feeding his talented wingers.  

"He will," Tortorella said when asked if Dubois will naturally see the puck more often. "With Bread gone, he had the puck quite a bit. Just thought that alone he's going to have the puck. I think Luc is a better player and I think he gets more involved in the game when he has the puck more. It brings a little more of his power game into it as far as coming off the boards, protecting pucks, so he'll certainly have it more this year." 

Dubois said he spent the offseason working on puck protection, studying such players as Leon Draisaitl, Anze Kopitar and Jamie Benn to see how the league's sturdy power forwards use their size and reach to keep the puck away from opponents.  

"You look at the best guys in this league, they all have a couple of elite skills that they have that sets them apart from the rest of us," the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Dubois said. "If I can become elite in a couple of things, that would be good for me and good for everybody. Puck protection is one of those things.  

"Guys like them, you know physically it is going to be hard to get the puck away from them, but also that long reach, and they're smart, it gives them that extra second to find a play maybe and find that guy that's open." 

The learning curve for Dubois over his first two NHL seasons has been a strong one. He's focused now on consistency and not letting his slumps - like last year's 11-game streak without a point in March - affect him, two of the most difficult mental hurdles for young players to clear. He's also more in tune with how the day-to-day grind of the league can impact his body and how important it is to converse energy throughout the season.  

Dubois avoided the sophomore slump that affects many players across the league. Now he's looking for a full-fledged leap as he enters his third season, and he'll do it by getting better in all aspects of his game.  

"I'm not the flashiest guy," he said. "I don't put up the most points and I don't score the most goals. Some guys, you can just look at just goals, assists, points, and figure out who they are as a player. 

"I don't think I'm one of those players. I think I do a lot more than that. It's not the flashiest, it's not the most fun if it's your first time watching hockey, but it's who I am as a player. If I can help the team win, that's my main job." 

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