SAN JOSE — Pierre-Luc Dubois is the leading scorer for the Columbus Blue Jackets, a 21-year-old forward whose production has increased each season. He is approaching restricted free agency this summer and what should be a lucrative second NHL contract.
He’s also someone who really likes images of Baby Yoda in streetwear. More on that in a bit.
We caught up with the Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec, native last week during the Blue Jackets’ West Coast swing.
Dubois: It was weird.
ESPN: How so?
Dubois: After my first year [in the NHL], I went on vacation. And he was at the same hotel as us in Barcelona, with all his friends. We saw each other a lot there. He came over and introduced himself. Again, it was after my first NHL season, so I was starstruck. We went out to dinner one night with him and his friends — he had a couple of guys that spoke French — and had a great time. He’s a great guy. But when we play against each other, it’s competitive.
He instigated the fight. He dropped. A lot of people think I dropped, but he dropped. And I was surprised when he dropped the gloves and couldn’t really get a good grip on him. It’s not like I fight that often, either. Once I got a good grip, I think he was done. So he just tried to flip me or something to stop the fight. I was just in shock, basically.
And then in the penalty box, he looked at me and just started laughing.
Dubois: I was like, “I don’t really know what to say or do right now.” So I started laughing, too. It was one of things where … we’re not friends, but it’s one of those things where we both know we’re not fighters.
ESPN: The Blue Jackets seem to play their best when everyone’s counting them out, huh?
Dubois: It seems like it. You know, last year it was in the playoffs, and this year losing a couple guys at the start here. A bunch of injuries right now, too. In the NHL, nobody feels bad for you. Nobody comes in thinking that you have a bunch of injuries or that guys are gone. They just want to beat you, so we don’t have time to think about that.
Ever since my first year, we talked a lot about being the underdogs because that’s how it is. People follow other teams, and the teams they don’t follow, they write them off. Since my first shift, we’ve had that attitude. That [playoff] win over Tampa was a huge boost for our organization. This year, we’re just following up.
ESPN: You mentioned the “losing a couple guys” thing. Your team said goodbye to Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene over the summer. You played with Panarin. How much did you take it upon yourself to up your game after he left?
Dubois: I know year to year I want to improve, especially as a young guy. You have to get better and better. So when a big piece like Panarin leaves, you’re kind of pushed into that to that position where, you know, it’s kind of now or never. I still have a lot to improve, so I have to work hard. But I have to take a step this year.
I learned a lot from [Panarin], whether it was on the ice or off the ice. I can’t thank him enough for what he did for my career. He’s one of the hardest working players I’ve ever played with. Always looking to get better, always talking to his teammates. I can’t thank him enough for what he did for me.
ESPN: Can you think of a moment when you were afraid of John Tortorella?
Dubois: [Laughs] Afraid? There’s been a lot.
Probably my first season, after my 12th game. I wasn’t playing that much. I wasn’t playing well. I just went to his office just to see what I could do better to help the team because I felt like I wasn’t really playing that well and I wasn’t helping the team. So I just wanted to ask him. I was expecting, you know, some kind of encouragement type of thing. And it was more of … an aggressive “what you aren’t doing well” type of thing.
But it helped me so much because after that, he said, “Next game, I’m going to give you a chance. I’ll put you back to center. Give you a chance to play well. But there are things you have to be better at.” To me, that’s when my season started. I was afraid at that moment, but it was the best thing that could have happened.
ESPN: Players have told us that they have to interpret what their coaches are saying sometimes. Do understand everything Torts says and how it would translate for another coach?
Dubois: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. He’s got some words sometimes. And we don’t know what they mean, ever after two-and-a-half years.
ESPN: What’s an example of one of those words?
Dubois: Like, “There’s a schmozzle in the neutral zone.” I don’t know what it means. There are some words like that where if you don’t understand them while he’s yelling, you just try to figure it out on your own.
ESPN: You’re in the top 10 among forwards in penalties drawn this season. Is there an art to that?
Dubois: Oh, I think just it’s about getting body contact. Not being afraid of trying to go one-on-one. I mean, if it doesn’t work, maybe he has to hook you. Maybe if you beat him, he has to hook you or trip you or something like that. It’s definitely not something I go into [a] game thinking, “OK, now I’ll try to draw two penalties.” But if you’re in the battles, if you’re in front of the net, if you’re around pucks, sometimes guys have to hold on to you. And more often than not, it ends up being a penalty.
ESPN: Of course, being someone who draws penalties can be seen in a different way.
Dubois: Yeah, and you don’t want to be noticed like that exactly. I don’t want to be known as that guy that refs look out for. It’s a reputation type of thing — especially as a young guy, you know. I have a lot of years left in the league. I don’t want to be known as the guy where I go down too easy to draw a penalty.
But like I said, if you’re around the puck, around the body, he might have to cheat in order to beat you.
ESPN: Do you ever think back to your draft year in 2016? You went third overall. Things could have gone differently.
Dubois: Yeah, honestly, I think about it … not often, but I think about it every time I see a picture or somebody talks to me about it. It’s interesting to think what could have happened. Because going into that day, I had no idea what was going to happen. You heard rumors, but rumors are rumors for a reason. They could have been made up by someone in his basement. I’m happy with how it played out, with me here in Columbus.
ESPN: Let’s shift gears and talk about something really important: Baby Yoda. It’s your profile photo on Instagram. What’s that about?
Dubois: I saw it one day. It’s Baby Yoda wearing a Nike track suit, with a beanie and Air Pods. I love Baby Yoda, and I love streetwear, so I thought it’d be perfect.
ESPN: What did you think of “The Mandalorian?”
Dubois: I didn’t watch it.
ESPN: But Baby Yoda’s your Instagram profile?
Dubois: I just remember I saw the meme, and I had no idea where it was from. Then I did some research and saw it. I think it’s hilarious. And like I said: I like streetwear. So when I saw him with the hat and the track suit and the Air Pods, it was perfect.
ESPN: Also, according to your IG, you’ve become a bit of a Cleveland Browns fan.
Dubois: Yeah. My mom’s American. She’s from Atlanta. So growing up, it was Braves and Falcons and the University of Georgia. So it’s kind of a mix of, you know, Georgia sports. Then I come to Columbus, and I become a Browns fan and become a Buckeyes fan. Still root for the Braves, though.
ESPN: Do you prefer college football over the NFL?
Dubois: It’s definitely more interesting. I think because, you know, they’re younger, not as experienced, make some more mistakes. In the NFL, it seems like everyone is perfect.