KK Will Stay, Hooray!
January 23, 2021
By Grant McCagg
This very silly person on Twitter yesterday didn’t think Winnipeg would be crazy enough to trade Patrik Laine for Pierre-Luc Dubois:
Okay….granted…the silly bunt was me…but I was still right in insisting that there’s no way Columbus gets Laine, Roslovic AND a pick for Pierre-Luc Dubois from Columbus.
There was a mutual parting of the ways between Roslovic and the Jets. They didn’t think he could be a top-two center and weren’t sold on him having the grit to play a bottom-line role either. Roslovic wasn’t fetching any more than a third-round pick on the open market or they would have dealt him a couple of months ago when he first requested a trade. So it was essentially Dubois for Laine.
Roslovic gets to go to his hometown, and two other disgruntled players get moved for each other. In several ways; it is a trade that made sense even if I think the Jets got taken to the cleaners. It should have been Dubois and a high pick for Laine IMO, never mind throwing in Roslovic, too.
PLD is ideally suited as a second-line center on a contender. Winnipeg has Wheeler, Ehlers and Connor on the wings…with young first-round picks Cole Perfetti and Kristian Vesalainen in the system, so they could afford to part with Laine, I suppose, for the last long-term top-six piece. Laine wasn’t quite as good a fit for Columbus, but to me he can be your go-to offensive guy. Now they “just” need a number-one center. Good fit for Winnipeg with Dubois, substantially better player for Columbus with Laine.
This will give Columbus centers an opportunity to step up. Max Domi, Alex Texier, Liam Foudy, Jack Roslovic and Boone Jenner are a half-decent quintet who all have the ability to play middle-line roles. The question will be whether any have the upside to be impactful number-one centers. Domi did it for one season, and one of Texier or Foudy could possibly have the talent to one day fill the role. They are the best bests of the five, but it’s a big ask for both of them.
Funny how things have gone in Columbus. Jarmo Kekalainen dealt what was supposed to be his number-one center in Ryan Johnasen for a stud #1 defenceman in Seth Jones. He drafted PLD to be the top center…and now deals him for a stud #1 winger. Jarmo is likely back to searching for a bona fide number-one center.
You have to love Columbus on the wing and defence now, though. Both present day, and in the future, if Laine signs long term. Some cornerstone pieces to build around at both positions.
I asked an NHL scout who saw a lot of Dubois in junior what he thought of the trade, and he initially had a “wait-and-see” response:
“Hopefully we see the full potential of both now that they are out of their previous situation,” said the scout. “Spoiled players.”
I agreed with his take to a certain degree, but told him I thought Laine had a better reason for disgruntlement. Paul Stastny your center instead of Mark Scheifele? Laine is a first liner all day, and I can only be so upset at a guy for having confidence and belief in his own abilities. Doobs was handed a first line role at 19…and he’s still not happy because…heaven forbid…he was yelled at once for being a dog in an important playoff game.
“For sure,” said the scout in agreement. “Dubois may get yelled at again at some point. He was the same in junior. He had a lot of marginal nights. And he let his team down in Columbus. He has a lot to prove…or disprove.”
Dubois has been on the big stage three times – the U-18’s, the U-20’s, and the QMJHL finals. In those 17 games, he scored one goal. In the QMJHL final he got swept, had one point and was -5. He is living off of the hype of having one three-goal playoff game against a porous Leafs’ defence three months ago. Hockey memories can be short, and that was to the advantage of Kekalainen when Dubois made it readily apparent that he wanted out.
Second-line center is the ideal role for Dubois on a team that contends. Not the offence driver but a key secondary piece. Jets will have one of the top one-two punches at center and still have at least three wingers going forward who can play impactful top-six roles until Perfetti is ready to step in.
I understand why the Jets did it – trying to fit pieces in the right spots in their top six. They have very good wingers both on the current team and in the system. I suppose it “helps” both teams in that sense. But IMO this is highway robbery for Columbus. I think that coach Tortorella and Laine will get along just fine, he will warm up to being “the Man” and sign long term in Columbus, and become a perennial 50-goal scorer who makes whatever center he is paired with a point-per-game player…or damn close to it.
I do not agree with the narrative that Torts won’t get along with Laine. He is a lot more competitive and well-rounded than a lot of folks give him credit for. I do not foresee Torts disliking a future 50-goal scorer. Laine proved to me game after game in the WJC, Finnish league playoffs and the World Championships at age 17
I think Torts will be ecstatic to get Laine. He is clutch in big games, and has the resume to show it. Way more competitive and better defensively than many think. Laine has a similar personality to Torts actually…he wears his heart on his sleeve. I see the marriage being less rocky than many assume.
Scouts often kid around about Kekalainen’s disdain for drafting Finns. Ironically; the most ardent example of that was in 2016 when he surprised many and chose Pierre-Luc Dubois instead of Finnish winger Jesse Puljujarvi.
Almost five years later, Jarmo trades Dubois for the player chosen one spot ahead of him in that draft…..a Finn. The oft-unpredictable circle of hockey life.
But….enough about THEM. What about “US”? Our beloved Habs. Are we happy that none of Suzi, the Tsar or KK are residing in Columbus the rest of the season? I say yes!
Here was my Twitter position this morning, when it was becoming evident that Dubois was close to being dealt:
Within an hour, the trade between Winnipeg and Columbus was official. KK, Suzuki, Romanov and Caufield were still Montreal Canadiens. Hallelujah!
Trading KK or Suzuki to me would have been a sideways move while also further complicating the salary cap issue…both today and in the future.
Will Dubois be better than Kotkaniemi over the next two years under his current contract? Hard to say he will not. Will he be better in three years?
Here’s what I told another NHL scout who asked me that in a text soon after the trade had been announced.
“Three years from now in a big playoff game…do I want KK or PLD to help me win? I hafta think the answer is KK.
“Dubois has been underwhelming in big-game scenarios in the past, be it the QMJHL finals or on Canadian junior teams. Kotkaniemi won the U-18 world’s carrying Finland on his back and outplayed Jack Hughes in the Gold Medal game. I think PLD is out for number one…plays well some big games…dogs it in others. KK is all about the team and winning. Give me KK.”
Even if Dubois end up being more productive than Kotkaniemi for the remainder of his career, I do not think it will be by much…likely less than ten points per season.
It is not always the most talented team, or player, that wins, either. Do you think the Flyers in 1974 or the Flames in 1986 were anywhere close to being as talented as the Big Bad Bruins of ’74 and the mid ’80’s Oilers? Not a chance. But they were a tight-knit group that had chemistry and a fervent desire to win. So if it just so happens that Kotkaniemi is a 50-point regular-season scorer while Dubois starts hitting the 70-point mark, it does not necessarily mean that he will be more valuable come playoff time.
This young Canadiens’ core…presently being mentored by Weber, Gallagher, Byron , Price and Petry? They have the will to win, and they are all high-character kids in addition to being talented. Scrambling up that jigsaw puzzle to add another piece from a different puzzle because it is shiny, new, and manufactured in a Quebec puzzle factory… certainly does not guarantee that all of those pieces will still fit together.
I think that KK has more character than Dubois. He is less selfish and has a burning desire to win.
Dubois? His trade demands at age 22 despite being handed a top-line role at 19 and winning playoff series the past two seasons tells the world he’s more concerned about PLD than the W. Yes…Torts yelled at him on national television one time, and it embarrassed him. To never forgive your boss for wanting more out of you demonstrates selfishness. What hockey player that has toiled at the competitive level has never been yelled at by a coach? I may well be old school in that thinking, but I don’t want “me” players on my team. I want KKs, Suzukis and Romanovs.
So…yes. I am darn glad that I no longer have to worry about losing one of the key future pieces on the Canadiens…or two, as was rumoured.
I also think that this is the last time we’ll have to worry about hearing those rumours for the next decade. Laine and Dubois were elite players that Bergevin had definite interest in, and those don’t come along very often, especially the young Quebecois stars.
Let’s take a deep breath, get back to focusing on this rather impressive start to the season, and keep cheering on Montreal’s exciting young core. The future remains quite bright, indeed!