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NHL Draft

Dubois looking to prove Columbus right

Blue Jackets made Canadian forward surprise third pick at 2016 NHL Draft

by Craig Merz / Correspondent

COLUMBUS -- Pierre-Luc Dubois, the third pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, said he likens his game to that of Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn. But on the first day of Columbus Blue Jackets development camp Monday, he acknowledged he'll draw more comparisons to the player selected right behind him.

Dubois, an 18-year-old forward out of Cape Breton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, was the surprise pick for many Friday when the Blue Jackets chose him instead of Finnish forward Jesse Puljujarvi, who was projected by many to be in the first three picks. 

But Columbus let Puljujarvi slip to No. 4, where Edmonton selected him. Now it's up to Dubois to prove the Blue Jackets made the right choice at No. 3.

"Some people might always link us together," Dubois said. "For me, the way I went about it this year is you can't compare yourself to anybody. You're your own player. It's not just about stats. It's the small details in your game."

Dubois admitted to being taken aback when he heard Columbus was selecting him with the third pick. He also heard rumblings he could be taken as low as sixth.

"Everyone was talking about the Finns going two, three," Dubois said referring to Patrik Laine, who went to the Winnipeg Jets at No. 2 after the Toronto Maple Leafs made American Auston Matthews the No. 1 pick. "In the long run I think I can be one of those guys in the top three.

"I was a little surprised at first but the way the season went on I got better and better. I worked really hard. I got stronger and faster. My ceiling is really, really high."

Dubois finished third in league scoring with 42 goals and 99 points and became the first QMJHL player since Sidney Crosby (Rimouski, 2005) to place first among North American skaters in the NHL Central Scouting's final rankings.

Sonny Milano, the Blue Jackets' top pick at No. 16 in 2014, said Dubois can't worry about being linked to Puljujarvi.  

"I don't know if the comparison with Puljujarvi will be there his whole career," he said. "I'm sure it will fade away. He can't worry about that stuff, honestly.

"Being a high draft pick they put a lot of pressure on you. They expect you to be a player one day. First or seventh round, no matter how good you are, you have to put pressure on yourself to make the team one day."

Dubois said one reason he was not in the top three in many draft boards is his game picked up late in the season after moving to center.

"Everybody has their opinions," he said. "I was more of a late bloomer. Nobody knew a lot about me at the beginning of the year. As I got better throughout the year, people started paying attention. 

"I think the fact I played center showed a different part of my game nobody knew about. Also, I gained 40 pounds the last three years. I grew three inches. I'm getting stronger and faster."

The physical changes altered his game.

Video: Top CBJ draft pick Pierre-Luc Dubois joins Sportsnet

"Before, I played with my hockey sense, played with my smarts," he said. "In the corners I had to outthink the opposition, out-skill them. When I grew, now I can outsmart them and be doing it with my strength. It helped a lot."

Dubois is 6-foot-2, 201 pounds and hopes to add up to five pounds before Blue Jackets training camp in September by working out under the tutelage of Mark Lambert, the strength and conditioning coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning who also runs the Axxeleration Performance Centers in Montreal.

The Blue Jackets need a top-line center, though it's expected that Dubois will return to Cape Breton for the 2016-17 season. He knows it's a leap from juniors to the NHL but is not lacking confidence that his time is not far off.

"I can play all three forward positions," he said. "I can add depth at first. In the long run I think I can be a top talent on the team."

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