Expectations were high for Pierre-Luc Dubois in the season following his being drafted third over-all by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2016. Coming into 2015/16 as a relative unknown, Dubois put together an absolutely dominant draft eligible season for Cape Breton, finishing with 99 points in 62 games, and other numbers that put him at the top of many CHL draft-eligible leaderboards.
According to many, the Columbus Blue Jackets took a big risk in passing up a more “surefire” bet in Jesse Puljujarvi to pick Dubois third over-all at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, but they were confident in the decision.
One year later, at least some of that confidence has to be wavering. Puljujarvi underwhelmed in the NHL – the youngest player in the league managed just a goal and 8 points in 28 games – but put up 28 points in 39 games in the AHL as the youngest player in THAT league – and should be nearly locked in to an everyday NHL job in 2017/18.
Meanwhile, Dubois followed up his campaign with a season where he put up 55 points in 48 games in the scoring-heavy QMJHL. That 1.15 points-per-game rate was a far cry from the 1.60 put up in his draft year. He was fairly miserable during his 20 game stint with Cape Breton, putting up just 18 points, before being dealt to a superior Blainville-Boisbriand Armada squad. There, with improved linemates and less pressure to single-handedly carry the offense, Dubois showed a bit more promise, finishing the regular season with 37 points in 28 games. Even with that improved mark, it was still a massive drop from his previous season, especially at even strength.
But is that drop from 1.60 points-per-game to 1.15 points-per-game really damning of Dubois’ chances to become an impact NHLer?
Before digging too deep, I simply looked at Dubois’ 18-year-old points-per-game rate in comparison to all other 18-year-old CHL forwards between 2005 and 2016 with 25+ CHL games played. Dubois ranks 266th out of 2,613 forwards in this sample – comfortably in the 89th percentile. That’s not awful! Maybe there’s no reason to fret! Story over!
Of course, going back one season, Dubois’ 1.60 points-per-game in his draft year is in the 99th percentile, so, you know, red flag. We should probably look into this further.
In order to attempt to contextualize this drop in production, I took all CHL forwards from 2005 to 2016, and compared their draft years to their draft +1 seasons. I filtered out all skaters with less than 25 games played in either half of the sample. Thus, players like Alex Galchenyuk were excluded – he had just two games played in his draft year – as were players such as Connor McDavid, Nail Yakupov, Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Matthew Tkachuk, and others who stepped directly into the NHL following their draft year.
After all of this, we’re left with a sample size of 1,886 forwards. I added columns to show the change in production by goals, primary assists, secondary assists, and per-game rates in all situations between the two years. Next, I sorted by the Draft Year-to-Draft +1 Change in Points/Game.
With the sample of all 1,886 forwards, the median for raw change was a +0.13 increase in points-per-game from draft year to D+1, and the average was +0.16. This includes the toppest of top NHL regulars on the list, and the worst of the worst. If we only use the 263 forwards who have played 1+ NHL game, the median and average both are at +0.25.
At the top of the list of “improved” players, there is a mixed bag. A few notables – Christian Dvorak, Kevin Labanc, Mathieu Perrault – and quite a few guys who haven’t had the chance to play in the NHL yet, such as recent picks like Sam Steel, Morgan Geekie, Cliff Pu, Conor Garland, and twice-undrafted Kevin Hancock, but no real stars. This is obviously because most of the highest CHL draft picks were already ultra-productive players in their draft year, so to be able to nearly double their points-per-game is almost unfathomable. That, or they immediately went to the NHL.
Keep that in mind as we go ahead and take a look at the BOTTOM end of this list – the players with the biggest drops in points-per-game from their draft season to their draft +1 season:
Here’s where the dread really starts to set in. Of our 1,886 skater sample, Pierre-Luc Dubois sits 1,883rd in points-per-game change. That is not good. Look at the guys around him. They’re all pretty much nobodies. With the median way up there at a lofty +0.13 pts/gm change, there is no way to make this number look better for Dubois.
The one NHLer on here is Sam Reinhart, who was the lone standout on an absolutely abysmal Kootenay team in his draft year. He was picked second over-all by Buffalo, forced into 9 NHL games where he was woefully out of place, before the Sabres finally sent him back to the WHL in early November. And even after a slow start there, Reinhart managed to put up a very strong 1.38 points-per-game by the end of it.
Dubois doesn’t really have these excuses: he was the top player on his Cape Breton squad, floundered, was either lackluster or outright terrible (depending on who you ask) during his play for Team Canada at the World Juniors, and then bucked up his play once he moved to a far stronger Armada squad upon his return to the QMJHL. Everything was put into place for Dubois to, at the very least, put up relatively similar production to his draft eligible season, if not smash it.
If we switch our ranking to percentage of draft year production, Dubois fares no better.
There were 297 players in the sample that put up less than 90% of their draft year points-per-game in their draft +1 season. Of those 297 players, only 13 went on to play a single NHL game, and only four became NHL “regulars”: the aforementioned Reinhart, Logan Couture, Zack Kassian, and Radek Faksa. All four of those players had a better points-per-game change % and raw points-per-game change. Dubois was only able to muster a points-per-game rate that was 71.76% of the rate he’d accomplished the year previous:
Couture might be a relatively interesting and best case scenario comparable. He was touted as having a bit of a lackluster draft+1 season. He suffered a bout of mono during his draft year and missed a few games, and under-produced when he returned. During his draft+1 season, he had back-to-back concussions and missed almost a third of the year, and once again under-produced. At that stage, some had begun to wonder whether Couture would be an impact player at the NHL level. But hey, everything turned out well for him! It’s certainly not a perfect comparison, but may be the best successful one from this sample size. And let’s not discuss the unsuccessful ones, because I don’t want to compare Dubois to Eric O’Dell just yet.
This piece may seem like a downer – and I suppose it is, because the facts are the facts. But I want to make it clear: this is NOT me saying that I personally believe that Pierre-Luc Dubois is an unequivocal bust. This isn’t me saying that he will be one in the future. I am not trying to pass judgement on him forevermore.
As a fan of the Blue Jackets, and someone who felt that he was absolutely the fourth best player available in the 2016 draft, I want him to succeed! I want him to be the guy who breaks this more-than-a-decade-long trend. I would love him to make the Blue Jackets out of camp and serve as a useful, productive third line centre in 2017/18, only to move up in the line-up as he gains experience.
But looking at this, the chances are not in his favour.
We’ll have to wait and see if Pierre-Luc Dubois can beat the odds.
– Jeremy Crowe
Follow me on twitter, @307x.