Being drafted third overall behind Calder Trophy nominees Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine comes with plenty of pressure and expectations.
The process has made for a roller-coaster last 11 months for 18-year-old Pierre-Luc Dubois, who was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2016 NHL draft, only to be cut at the end of training camp. A slow start and a trade threatened to derail his major junior season, but now Dubois is back on top and will lead the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada into Game 1 of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League final Friday in Saint John, N.B.
“It was a big year physically but also emotionally too,” Dubois said. “Getting sent down and then getting traded and then losing at the world juniors.
“I learned a lot this year from ups and downs and I’m really happy with where I’m at right now.”
Dubois said coming back from the Blue Jackets’ training camp was tough. The struggle was apparent, as he had six goals and 12 assists in 20 games with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles â€” well off his 99 points in 62 games in 2015-16 â€” before being dealt to the Armada.
“I got back, my team was 10 games into the season already. Our systems from last year to this year changed a lot so I had to get used to that again,” Dubois said. “It was tough getting used to everything again kind of restarting your life again, well your life kind of restarting.”
Dubois’s early season struggles didn’t deter Armada general manager Joel Bouchard from making the trade to get the six-foot-three, 202-pound power forward. Bouchard knew that despite a strong start to the season for his team, they were without high-octane players.
“When I made the trade, that morning, personally I felt the players and the fans deserved to have a player like that,” Bouchard said. “Not that my players aren’t any good, I love them, I really like our players, but they needed some help.”
The move to bring in Dubois along with Alex Barre-Boulet from the Drummondville Voltigeurs before the trade deadline has paid immediate dividends for the Armada. Blainville-Boisbriand finished the regular season with a 43-19-6 record before disposing of Drummondville, Acadie-Bathurst and Charlottetown in the QMJHL playoffs.
The Armada take on the top-ranked Sea Dogs for the President Cup, with the winner representing the QMJHL at the Memorial Cup from May 18-28 in Windsor, Ont. It’s Blainville-Boisbriand’s first league final while the Sea Dogs were back-to-back winners in 2011 and 2012.
The Armada, who split the two-game season series against Saint John, will have to try and slow down star players such as Thomas Chabot along with forwards Julien Gauthier and Mathieu Joseph. Chabot, picked 18th overall in the 2015 NHL draft by the Ottawa Senators, leads all defencemen in playoff scoring with 19 points in 14 games.
Barre-Boulet leads all playoff scorers with 29 points while Dubois is tied for third with 21.
After the slow start with Cape Breton, Dubois rebounded down the stretch with 15 goals and 22 assists in 28 regular season games for the Armada.
“You don’t have 99 points at 17 years old and all of a sudden you’re not a good player at 18, right?” Bouchard said.
“We’re really proud of him to be honest with you. For players to go through adversity or to go through pressure situations and life situations, it’s OK. It’s normal, it’s going to happen again.
“What happened before Christmas, pfft, it’s just a capsule in the life of somebody that will struggle, will happen in life.”
Dubois said that he learned a lot from his time with Columbus and added that the team wanted him to gain more experience playing centre â€” a position he had played for just around six months leading up to camp.
One of the ways that he learned the position better this season was by watching a lot of the Blue Jackets games.
“Right now I’m focusing on playoffs,” Dubois said. “But this off-season, I’m going to get ready for that camp again.”
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Ryan McKenna, The Canadian Press