Auston Matthews. Patrick Laine. Matthew Tkachuk. Clayton Keller. Charlie McAvoy. There certainly were some splashy names taken near the top of the 2016 NHL draft. Oh, and by the way — Pierre-Luc Dubois, too.
In a dynasty league startup rookie draft I participated in two years ago, an (experienced) owner convinced an (inexperienced) owner to trade him Patrick Laine for Pierre-Luc Dubois and some other nominal piece. His argument to his inexperienced partner was it was just the #2 NHL pick for the #3 NHL pick, no big deal. Predictably, owners revolted. Laine is the next Ovechkin, many said, and Dubois is just a guy. I hate trade vetoes and league outbursts and accusations of uneven trades, but I’ll admit even I was a bit relieved when the Laine-grabber was shamed into improving his offer to complete his trade.
(pictured: Wile E Coyote trading Laine for Dubois.)
Well, two years later, I still wouldn’t take Dubois for Laine. I still perceived Dubois near the back end of the list of players mentioned above. As I dug into the numbers, though I became more and more impressed at what I saw. I had clearly underrated his play.
PLD stayed in the QMJHL his first year post-draft, and worried some observers by slowing down from a sizzling pre-draft scoring rate. Blue Jackets fans and fantasy players alike learned last year PLD was legit, as the rookie put up 48 points (15 PP) in a full 82 games along with 127 hits, 165 shots, and 46 blocks. He finished 8th in Calder voting.
His start this year has been even better. In his first 19 games, PLD has 9 goals and 6 assists. His hit pace is down a bit to just over one a game, but he’s at nearly a block per game and over 2.5 shots a game. Moreover, PLD’s minutes played has increased from 16:38 last year to 18:13 this year.
What’s under the hood?
I looked at the 404 skaters with at least 1000 minutes at even strength since the beginning of 2017-18. PLD was 34th in shot attempt percentage for (Corsi), 10th if you go up to unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick). That’s dominant offensive play. To be fair, his percentage of offensive zone starts was also 20th among those 404.
The official editorial position of Monday Thursday Dynasty Sports, as many readers have no doubt realized by now, is multi-category contributors are critical to winning category leagues. DuBois gives hits (and takes them too) in the top 20 percentile of skaters. His 64 blocks over two seasons are also very high, especially for someone with as many points as PLD. Let’s play the arbitrary stat sorting game for a moment. If you look at forwards with more than 60 points, more than 60 blocks, and more than 150 hits over this season plus last, PLD was one of five (along with fave of the blog Vincent Trochek, Gabriel Landeskog, TJ Oshie, and Jamie Benn).
PLD’s strong play comes with one significant asterisk. Since early in his rookie season, he has enjoyed the luxury of Artemi Panarin on his line. For a couple of months, they were joined by Josh Anderson, then later by Cam Atkinson. Artemi Panarin is the unquestioned ace of the Columbus power play, and Dubois is generally on the top unit with him, registering the team’s 7th most PP minutes last year and 5th most this year.
One thing to consider for a young player with very limited career statistics is the need to factor in lower performance in the first few weeks of play, when his time on ice and linemates were both a bit below the levels he hit later in the year. Check the monthly chart of points per game and minutes on ice. December is when he and Panarin got together.
This all builds to question of how much of Dubois’s potential we have seen to date, and what might happen if Panarin leaves Columbus. Panarin’s underlying stats have no doubt been worse without Panarin, but some of that damage has come from a putrid .952 PDO. And again, PLD is only 20. I don’t see him scoring like Laine or… everythinging like Matthews, but his value is already substantial. I am buying on Dubois in hopes other owners do not yet see him as the star he is becoming.