Dubois past playing it safe, ready to crack Blue Jackets roster

Canada's Pierre-Luc Dubois looks on during the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Chris Young/CP)

When the Columbus Blue Jackets tabbed Quebec native Pierre-Luc Dubois with the third-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, expectations for the young centreman took a sharp turn north.

Coming off a strong 42-goal, 99-point campaign for the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, Dubois’ potential was undeniable. But his presence among his draft class’ top three still surprised many, especially with expected top-three pick Jesse Puljujarvi – who fell to the talent-rich Edmonton Oilers – sitting available for the taking.

A tumultuous 2016-17 season followed, one that saw Dubois get sent back down to juniors by his NHL club, traded from Cape Breton to Blainville-Boisbriand, and defeated in the gold medal game of the 2017 world juniors by rival Team USA.

Now suiting up for Team Canada at the World Junior Summer Showcase as he prepares for his second chance at cracking an NHL roster, Dubois said he has a better understanding of what’s required for him to take the next step.

“I want to go there this year and make the team like last year, but I think now knowing all the staff, knowing all the players, I’m not nervous anymore,” Dubois said to Dhiren Mahiban of IIHF.com on Saturday. “Last year, I wanted to prove I can play the 200-foot game a little too much, played too safe, whereas this year I want to go there and have fun, play my game, play how I usually play.

“I think one of the big things that hurt me last year is I wasn’t myself at camp. …I was playing a game that I don’t usually play. This year, I’m not going to do the same mistake twice.”

While playing at safe may have stymied his chances of breaking into the big leagues as quickly as the two players taken above him – Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine – Dubois’ roller-coaster 2016-17 season turned out to be a useful one, as he helped his club battle to the QMJHL finals while further developing his all-around game.

“To go to a new team, new systems, new everything (was good),” Dubois told Mahiban. “I think we play a more defensive game so maybe it helped my play without the puck – being centre that’s really important. I think I benefitted from it.”

Dubois posted a goal and an assist in Canada’s 7-5 loss to Team USA in the Summer Showcase finale on Saturday. He’ll report to Columbus’ training camp in September to try for a spot in the Blue Jackets’ lineup once again.

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