On December 31, 2020, Pierre-Luc Dubois signed a two-year contract extension with the Columbus Blue Jackets worth $10 million. The first season will see him making $3.35 million, while the second will see him making $6.65 million. Despite this, it’s an open secret in the hockey world that his time in Columbus is on a lifeline. The Blue Jackets’ award-winning and boisterous head coach John Tortorella recently acknowledged that Dubois wants out of Columbus.
The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline also wrote that Dubois’ camp preferred a bridge deal because it would give general manager Jarmo Kekalainen “time to seek a trade for Dubois and get a return that is commensurate with his value” and “keeps Dubois from being locked in with Columbus long-term.” (From ‘Pierre-Luc Dubois signs new deal with Blue Jackets, but desire for trade remains’, The Athletic, 12/31/20).
TSN insiders recently discussed the possibility of a Dubois trade, and Pierre LeBrun stated that the LA Kings could be interested in acquiring the young center and they have the assets to do so.
“They have a lot of young assets. Pierre Luc-Dubois with his age and skill set, will be a player of interest I believe for the Ducks. Just down the highway, across town with the LA Kings, another team with a lot of young assets now. They’re pretty deep at centre in terms of prospects, but that just might be something that Columbus needs in return”.
If LA does make an effort to acquire Dubois, there would be both good and bad aspects of the deal. I will be starting with the bad and then looking at the good for the Kings in a potential deal.
LA Already Has an Abundance of Centers
LA already has an abundance of centers. Currently, they have one of the league’s elite centers in Anze Kopitar, who has four years left on his contract, which carries an average annual value (AAV) of $10 million. As of today, he is a better center than Dubois, which would cause Dubois to pencil in on the second line.
Gabriel Vilardi will also be on the team’s roster this season. A potential Calder Trophy contender, he posted seven points in the final 10 games of the 2019-20 regular season, guiding the Kings to the best stretch of hockey they played last year. He skated on the Kings’ second line during that time. Dubois is a more proven NHL commodity than Vilardi and would get more playing time, but would it be a good idea for LA to reduce Vilardi’s role when he played exceptionally last season?
This would knock longtime King Jeff Carter down to the fourth-line center role. Having Kopitar, Dubois, Vilardi and Carter all playing center would be completely unnecessary. This would cause at least one of these players to switch and become a winger. The Kings have lots of centers in the pipeline, including 2020 second overall pick Quinton Byfield and 2019 fifth overall pick Alex Turcotte. LA also has Tyler Madden who has good upside, but I think he’d probably be shipped off in a Dubois trade.
Although center is the most important forward position, acquiring Dubois would create a logjam at the face-off dot for the Kings.
What They’d Give Up
Dubois is a proven first-line caliber center with tons of upside. The Quebec native was the third overall pick in 2016, and Columbus would want a great package to ship him away. Madden would likely be a part of this package, but Kekalainen would probably at a minimum ask for a first-round pick and a player who can immediately fill in on their roster to go along with the prospect.
Although LA would have a logjam at center and would have to give up lots to get Dubois, trading for him isn’t all doom and gloom, as he would also help the team out.
The Kings Want to Make the Playoffs
Numerous people within the Kings organization have publicly declared they want to be a playoff team in 2020-21. This includes general manager Rob Blake, coach Todd McLellan and veterans on the team, such as Drew Doughty and Kopitar. This would be a challenge, as LA would be competing for the fourth playoff spot in their division alongside the Sharks, who are looking for a bounce-back season, the Coyotes, who hope to make the playoffs for a second consecutive year, and the Wild, who are always in the mix.
Adding Dubois who has posted a 0.74 and 0.70 points per game ratio in each of the last two seasons respectively and had a breakout 2020 playoffs with 10 points in 10 games, would definitely help LA achieve this goal.
Dubois Could Switch to Left Wing
Despite being a center, Dubois is lacking in the faceoff department. His career face-off percentage (FO%) is 43.9. In all three of his NHL seasons, he’s hovered between a 43.5 and 44.6 (FO%). This doesn’t paint a very impressive picture. However, both Kopitar and Carter have won over 51% of their draws throughout their careers, while Vilardi had an impressive 53.3 FO% last season. This would allow Dubois to switch to the winger position, where he would certainly steal the first-line winger spot from Alex Iafallo.
Dubois posted 10 points in 10 playoff games in 2020. This shows off his potential to be a point-per-game player, as he has all the tools to do so. He has the potential to be a 30-goal scorer (he scored 27 in 2018-19) and he has great passing ability. He has good hands and is fast, while also possessing a large frame (he’s 6-foot-3 and weighs 218 lb). He was drafted third overall for a reason, and getting to play on a powerplay with players such as Doughty and Kopitar should definitely help him hit his offensive potential.
He Plays the Style Todd McLellan Likes
Dubois plays a game largely focused on “the little thing,” just like what McLellan had LA focused on in 2019-20. According to CJ Turtoro’s model, Dubois’ possession exits per 60 minutes are on the 98th percentile, while his entries are at the 82nd percentile. This means Dubois exits his own-zone with possession of the puck more often than 98% of the league’s players and he enters the offensive zone better than 82% of them.
Dubois holds the puck in the offensive zone, making sure he doesn’t give up much defensively. While he skated at even-strength last year, Columbus took 52.30% of the shots on goal (SF%) and generated 53.77% of the scoring chances (SCF%). Impressively, with him skating they had 55.99% of the high-danger scoring chances.
He also is a physical player, as he’s never had a season with less than a hit per game. In 234 games he’s thrown 327 hits (1.4 per game), showing he buys into Tortorella’s forechecking system, suggesting he’d follow McLellan’s forechecking system were he in LA.
Although there are some pitfalls with attempting to trade for Dubois, the positives outweigh the negatives. Trading for him could cause a logjam at center and losing a number of assets. However, LA has the best prospect pool in the league, and he could switch to being a winger. He’d help the Kings make the playoffs, he plays a smart style of hockey, he’s a proven first-line player and he still has yet to reach his full potential. It would definitely be a good idea for the Kings to inquire about him.