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Building off a breakthrough: Pierre-Luc Dubois

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Columbus Blue Jackets.

June 24, 2016 seemingly marked a rare occurrence: the Edmonton Oilers might have outmaneuvered someone else.

With the third pick of the draft, Jarmo Kekalainen – the first Finnish GM in NHL history – passed on consensus third choice Jesse Puljujarvi (yes, a Finn), instead selecting Pierre-Luc Dubois. Many believed that the Oilers were again lucky in the draft by selecting Puljujarvi at fourth, while some wondered if Kekalainen was going too far to prove that he doesn’t merely favor Finns.

And then they played the games.

[Looking back at 2017-18]

Now, look, it’s more than plausible that there could be more twists and turns in the saga of PLD vs. Puljujarvi. They both turned 20 fairly recently.

So far, though, Dubois flipped the script in a big way, providing a useful bullet point for Kekalainen to use the next time us simpletons doubt his expertise.

An extremely quick learner

During a loaded 2017-18 for rookies, PLD didn’t finish as a Calder finalist, yet he settled for re-writing some Blue Jackets records. His 20 goals and 48 points both set new franchise marks for rookies. He also collected his first career hat trick:

Dubois didn’t just generate some nice point totals for a first-year player.

He skyrocketed up the Blue Jackets’ depth chart, eventually forcing his way to become Columbus’ first-line center. John Tortorella marveled at his rapid growth in January, as Sportsnet’s Luke Fox noted.

“We think we’re smart — the coaches, the managers. We have all these ideas about developing players and worry about too much,” Tortorella said. “He has blown us away as far as how he has handled the situation.

“He has grabbed a hold of it and wants more.”

Beyond collecting nice point totals, the Quebec native generated some resoundingly impressive possession stats for a player of any age. You can plainly see why PLD basically gave Torts & Co. no choice but to deploy him in a prominent role. It stands to reason, then, that Dubois will carry that clout into 2018-19.

Some caveats

There are a few reasons to pump the brakes a bit, at least as far as penciling him in for even bigger things.

To start, there are some areas of improvement, as you’d expect even for a rookie who seemed to skip a few steps in his learning curve. As you might expect, Dubois struggled on draws, winning just 43.8 percent of his 1,052 faceoffs in 2017-18. Such issues sometimes get blown out of proportion, but there’s the worry that key losses in the dot might prompt the occasional demotion.

Dubois also couldn’t ask for a much cushier situation than what he enjoyed as a rookie, even beyond heavy starts in the offensive zone.

Merely glance at his most common even-strength teammates from Natural Stat Trick and you’ll see a who’s who of Blue Jackets players. Artemi Panarin easily leads the pack, also joined by star defensemen Zach Werenski and Seth Jones.

Plenty of NHL teams try to spread the wealth by asking prominent forwards to carry their own line, rather than loading up on one or two packed ones. Such a situation could be a drawback to PLD’s meteoric rise: he might be asked to do too much, which may entail fending for himself with lesser linemates.

(Of course, there’s the grim possibility of Panarin skating with a totally new set of teammates after being traded, but let’s not linger on that … at least not in this post.)

More to come?

Those concerns are real, yet there are also some counterpoints for why even bigger things could come for PLD next season.

Most obviously, he’s just 20. While his climb in prominence means that opponents will “gameplan” against him more often, he’s also that much more comfortable with NHL life. These are the years of rapid improvement for more talented players such as Dubois.

Again, he also could receive richer opportunities.

Dubois averaged 1:56 PP TOI per game, less than Panarin, Cam Atkinson, Alexander Wennberg, and Nick Foligno. Maybe he’ll get a boost in that area, or failing that, more than the 16:38 he averaged overall in 2017-18? His massive playoff deployment (23:09 per game!) implies that he has Torts’ trust.

***

One could see Dubois stumble as a sophomore, or take off to even greater heights.

Either way, the big picture is awfully bright for a player who’s more than justified being picked third overall in 2016. For a Blue Jackets team dealing with playoff letdowns and frustrations regarding retaining star players, Dubois’ dazzling development must feel that much more refreshing.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Petersen gets first win for Kings; Skinner scores again for Sabres

AP
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Three Stars

1. Cal Petersen, Los Angeles Kings. With injuries to Jonathan Quick and Jack Campbell, the Kings have had to resort to their third-and fourth-string goalies Cal Petersen and Peter Budaj. On Friday night in Chicago it was Petersen getting the start and he was absolutely fantastic in a 2-1 shootout win over the Blackhawks stopping 34 shots through regulation and overtime to pick up his first NHL win. This is only the sixth win of the season for a Kings team that has struggled from the start. It also snapped what had been a three-game losing streak. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, have now lost nine of their past 10 and have managed just four goals in their past four games.

2. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres. Things are starting to look good for the Buffalo Sabres who have now won four in a row and five of their past six thanks to a 2-1 shootout win over the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night. At the center of this recent surge has been Jeff Skinner, their biggest offseason acquisition. His goal early in the third period on Friday was the game-tying goal and his 14th of the season, which keeps him in second place in the league’s goal-scoring race. He has been especially hot lately with five goals in his past four games and 13 goals in his past 12 games. He has been everything the team hoped he would be when they acquired him from the Carolina Hurricanes over the summer.

3. Ryan O'Reilly, St. Louis Blues. After his 10-game point streak came to an end on Wednesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, Ryan O’Reilly was able to get back on the scoresheet with a pair of goals on Friday in a 4-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights. O’Reilly has been the Blues’ best player by a substantial margin this season and is already up to 10 goals and 23 total points this season in only 17 games.

Highlights of the Night

The Washington Capitals were 3-2 overtime winners in Colorado on Friday night and it was Devante Smith-Pelly getting them on the board by finishing this beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play.

Morgan Rielly continued his incredible season on Friday night with the game-winning overtime goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs. With the win Toronto takes over the top spot in the NHL standings while Rielly continues to pace all defenders with 25 points in 20 games. Ottawa Senators rookie Thomas Chabot and San Jose Sharks defender Brent Burns are the only other players at the position with more than 20 points so far this season.

Factoids

This is a tremendous stat from the Washington Capitals-Colorado Avalanche game, where both Avalanche goalies are former long-time Capitals netminders, and the Capitals two goalies on Friday have barely played for the team.

The Dallas Stars win over the Boston Bruins did not have a lot of offense, but it certainly had a lot of excitement thanks in large part to Brad Marchand. Still, it was the Stars getting the 1-0 overtime win. That is something that had never happened in Stars franchise history.

 

Scores

Dallas Stars 1, Boston Bruins 0 (OT)

Buffalo Sabres 2, Winnipeg Jets 1 (SO)

Los Angeles Kings 2, Chicago Blackhawks 1 (SO)

Washington Capitals 3, Colorado Avalanche 2 (OT)

St. Louis Blues 4, Vegas Golden Knights 1

Toronto Maple Leafs 2, Anaheim Ducks 1 (OT)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Brad Marchand pulls a Roger Neilson, waves ‘white flag’

Fox Southwest
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It was another eventful for night for Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

After a series of penalties in the second period of his team’s 1-0 overtime loss in Dallas, he decided to pull a Roger Neilson and wave the white flag by sticking a towel on the blade of his hockey stick and … well … waving it from the penalty box. This was presumably a form of surrendering to the referees.

Or simply Brad Marchand doing Brad Marchand things.

His adventure started in the second period when he was given a double-minor for roughing Radek Faksa after Marchand came to the defense of his linemate, Patrice Bergeron, who was sent flying into the boards at the hands of Faksa. Bergeron briefly exited the game before returning.

Here is the entire sequence.

After serving his four minutes for that altercation, Marchand returned to the ice and was almost immediately sent back to the box for slashing stars goalie Ben Bishop.

Nobody from Boston liked the call at all, with Marchand at being at the top of the list.

That was when he waved the white flag and was sent off for 10 additional minutes.

That might look familiar to you because you might recall former long-time NHL coach Roger Neilson doing something similar during the 1982 playoffs when he was coach of the Vancouver Canucks.

Marchand has been in rare form this season, even for him. Earlier this month he was given a 10-minute misconduct for mocking Nashville Predators forward Colton Sissons for embellishing a high-sticking call, which came after he bloodied Washington Capitals forward Lars Eller in the season-opener after Eller taunted the Bruins’ bench.

In the playoffs the NHL had to instruct Marchand to stop licking opposing players.

No matter what you think of Marchand as a player you at least have to admit this: It is never boring with him around.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Josh Archibald suspended two games for hit on Ryan Hartman

via NHL DoPS
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After holding a hearing with Josh Archibald earlier on Friday, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety suspended the Arizona Coyotes forward two games for his “high, hard hit” on Ryan Hartman of the Nashville Predators.

The league’s explanation video explains that Hartman’s head was “the main point of contact” and that contact with the head was avoidable.

During the game itself (a 2-1 win for the Coyotes on Thursday), Archibald received a minor penalty. He doesn’t have a history of supplemental discipline at the NHL level, which may have prompted a lighter punishment. Hartman eventually returned to that loss for Nashville.

Here’s the explanation video via the NHL’s DPoS:

Archibald will be eligible to play for the Coyotes again on Nov. 23.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Penguins’ Matt Cullen fined $1,000 by NHL for dangerous trip

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NEW YORK (AP) — Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cullen has been fined $1,000 by the NHL for a dangerous trip of Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Miller.

The infraction came during the first period of Thursday night’s game, a 4-3 victory by Tampa Bay. Cullen was assessed a minor penalty for tripping.

In announcing the fine, the league said Friday the money will go the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.