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NHL Draft

Blue Jackets surprise with Dubois at No. 3

Columbus passes on Puljujarvi to select QMJHL forward

by Chris Stevenson / Correspondent

BUFFALO -- Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen put the first wrinkle into the 2016 NHL Draft when he passed on Finland prospect Jesse Puljujarvi with the No. 3 pick and selected Pierre-Luc Dubois of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The consensus before the draft was Puljujarvi was part of a group of three forwards, including Auston Matthews, taken No. 1 by the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Patrik Laine, selected by the Winnipeg Jets at No. 2, who were above the pack.

It was a bit of surprise when the Blue Jackets selected Dubois, especially with Puljujarvi and Kekalainen sharing a Finnish connection. Kekalainen chuckled when he was asked if he feared becoming public enemy No. 1 in Finland for not selecting his countryman, who was taken with the next pick by the Edmonton Oilers.

Video: Blue Jackets draft F Pierre-Luc Dubois No. 3

"I'm not too worried about that," Kekalainen said. "I'll go to my cottage and nobody will find me in Finland. I don't need to go to Helsinki and walk around the city there. I really don't think of that at all, to be honest with you.

"I work for the Blue Jackets, so I want to get the best possible player for the Columbus Blue Jackets. That is my only priority."

Asked if he knew something about Puljujarvi others didn't because of his connections in Finland, Kekalainen replied, "There might be, but it's not about negative things. It's about us building our list and believing in our order of preference, and Pierre-Luc Dubois was No. 3 on our list.

"We watched [Dubois] and we followed him around," Kekalainen said. "We did a lot of homework on him. Very seldom [do] you get a player where everything checks, where you are all excited about him on the ice, but then you go through the testing, you go through the psychological testing, you go through the interviews, and everything screamed that, yes, this is our guy."

Dubois, who celebrated his 18th birthday Friday, said he was a little surprised to hear his name announced even after his agent gave him a bit of a warning about a minute before.

"Just really happy. It was an honor," Dubois said. "Maybe a little bit surprised, but mainly because everyone was talking about Matthews and the two Finns right after."

Dubois was shifted to center this season by Cape Breton coach Marc-Andre Dumont and made the transition quickly.

"He's a natural winger that we converted to a center. He adjusted like that," Dumont said. "What does that tell you? It tells you his hockey IQ is outstanding."

That impressed Kekalainen.

"It's great to have versatility. He started excelling when he moved to center, and I think he played his best hockey at center, and that's what he acknowledges too," Kekalainen said. "He had no problem doing it. Usually it's not an easy transition, especially from the defensive point of view, but he showed us that he has tremendous hockey sense in smoothly moving from wing to center.

"He could play wing for us. He could play center for us, but I think we see him as a future centerman and see a lot of potential in him that way being able to play both center and wing."

Dubois (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) said, "I think I can play center in the NHL. It was a new position at Christmas, but I learned fast. I'm a fast learner. I'm a guy who can play any position anywhere on the ice any situation. In the long run, I think I have the skillset to play center.

"I want to be the go-to guy on the team. I want to be the guy you can count on for [penalty kill], faceoffs or power play or anything. Honestly, my goal is just to help the team, whether it's center, right wing, left wing, I'm willing to do anything."

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