The season is still young, and sample sizes small, but there is one player that many are discussing: Pierre-Luc Dubois. He was a ‘surprise’ pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft with the Columbus Blue Jackets opting to take him overly highly touted Finnish forward Jesse Puljujarvi.
It seems that has been a pretty big win so far for Columbus.
A Pleasant Surprise for the Columbus Blue Jackets: Pierre-Luc Dubois
The first way that many people like to compare players to their peers is looking at their draft class. While that tends to be a bit too vague, it is a useful first step to outlining the picture ahead.
Dubois vs 2016 Draft Class
The first overall pick is a tough one to match up with. Auston Matthews was hyped up to be the ‘next big thing’, and he has lived up to that. After that the next two names that were being hyped up were Patrik Laine and Puljujarvi. One has lived up the the hype, the other not so much.
It would be foolish to compare a player just a handful of games into his career to two players who were top three in Calder Trophy voting. So, for the sake of showing the difference in skill between those two and the rest of the draft class we will write them off as a different level (for now).
So, the next name to compare to would be that of Puljujarvi. The Finnish forward was the one that many Blue Jackets fans expected to end up with, and it was nothing short of a surprise when the name of Dubois came through the speakers.
Dubois vs Puljujarvi
Puljujarvi has not lived up to the hype he had, to say the least. He played in 28 games during his rookie season, scoring one goal and adding seven assists, before being sent down to the AHL to play with the Edmonton Oilers AHL-affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors. He has been there ever since, failing to make the Oilers roster out of camp in 2017.
Despite his lack of production in regards to points, one argument can be made for Puljujarvi: he had a really good Relative Corsi-For Percentage (Rel.CF%) of 2.87 over his 28 games last season. The problem that many have had with him is his inability, or unwillingness, to play in every zone.
The second name in the 2016 draft class that probably plays the most comparable style to that of Dubois is Matthew Tkachuk. Both are strong and physical, but have the ability to produce points.
Dubois vs Tkachuk
Tkachuk came into the NHL last season and made a name for himself with the Calgary Flames. He showcased his physicality and gritty style of play with his 105 penalty minutes. He definitely left a few of his opponents less than pleased.
On top of his hard play style he produced at a solid level for a rookie. In 76 games he had 13 goals and 35 assists. When you take into account that he wasn’t on the ice for 105 minutes throughout the season, that makes it all the more impressive.
The impressive production doesn’t stop at goals and assists for Tkachuk. He is rocking a massively impressive 7.52 Rel.CF% over 89 games. This is a big enough sample size to make the determination that Tkachuk is likely going to be a 50-plus point player for a long time ahead.
It’s safe to say that Dubois has some stiff competition in the players drafted after him. This doesn’t even account for the season that Clayton Keller is currently having on a pretty poor Arizona Coyotes team either.
The Numbers Behind Dubois
The level the playing field and compare him to the aforementioned Tkachuk and Puljujarvi, we will look at the base stats and Rel.CF%.
While the one goal and one assist that Dubois has in his first 13 games doesn’t compare favorably, it’s no reason to worry. Dubois has spent most of his time on the Blue Jackets third line this season, with a bit of time on the second and fourth lines sprinkled in here and there.
The one number that does show he is performing just as good, if not better, is his Rel.CF%. While he is just off the ridiculous pace that Tkachuk is performing at, his 7.23 Rel.CF% is firmly above that of Puljujarvi.
Another point in favor of Dubois is his PDO of 96.46. This is well below the low end of average, which is generally .970, and points to him being more unlucky than unproductive. This is the fourth lowest PDO on the Blue Jackets roster this season. To point to the unluckiness, his xPDO (expected PDO) according to Corsica is 101.18, which is just slightly above average.
As said above, the point production isn’t something to worry about. If Dubois continues to perform at the level he has, it will come with time.
How Dubois Fits in with Columbus
The most impressive aspect of this is that whether he has been with Dubinsky and Jenner or Panarin and Foligno, he hasn’t looked out of place. He has shown he has the ability to play the ‘in your face’, physical style that Dubinsky and Jenner like to play just as well as the fast paced and end-to-end style of Foligno and Panarin.
This versatility is something that not only plays in his favor among the fans, but with head coach John Tortorella. As coach Tortorella has said many times since coming to Columbus, he wants to play an end-to-end style of hockey.
This makes the selection of Dubois over Puljujarvi even clearer, and definitely more justifiable.
Dubois Will Continue to Prove His Worth
While it may be some time down the road before the final verdict on selecting Dubois is finalized, early signs point to it being a very smart selection by Columbus. With an iSF/60 (individual shots for per 60) of 6.82 and a shooting percentage of just 6.7%, the lack of points is, for lack of a better word, unsustainable.
Dubois might not have a first full season in the NHL to compare with the likes of McDavid or Matthews, but he will assert himself as a solid selection with the other players selected around him.