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SportsColumnistsColin Stephenson

Rangers don't land Pierre-Luc Dubois, but sometimes the best trades are ones you don't make

Pierre-Luc Dubois  of the Blue Jackets celebrates

Pierre-Luc Dubois  of the Blue Jackets celebrates his overtime goal against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 27, 2018. Credit: Jim McIsaac

When Columbus coach John Tortorella benched his first-line center, Pierre-Luc Dubois, for two-plus periods in the Blue Jackets’ 3-2 overtime loss to Tampa Bay Thursday night, it essentially forced the issue for Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen. The situation had become toxic, and Kekalainen had to get rid of Dubois immediately.

The 6-3, 219-pound Dubois would have looked mighty good in a Rangers uniform, and the Rangers did inquire about him. Rangers president John Davidson had been president of the Blue Jackets, of course, and certainly knew Dubois well. The 22-year-old would have given the Rangers a formidable 1-2 punch at center, along with Mika Zibanejad. He would have looked great skating alongside former Columbus teammate Artemi Panarin.

But Dubois, who scored 20, 27, and 18 goals (in 70 games) in his first three seasons with Columbus, was instead shipped on Saturday to Winnipeg, along with a third-round draft pick, in exchange for Finnish sniper Patrik Laine and holdout RFA center Jack Roslovic, a Columbus native. Oh, well.

After watching Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko play for the Rangers in Friday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh, though, "Oh well,’’ may turn out to be "Oh well, it’s just as well,’’ for the Blueshirts.

Because as desperate as Columbus was to trade Dubois, a player like him was not going to come cheaply. And the Rangers would never have had a chance to get him if all they were willing to offer were the likes of the struggling Ryan Strome or the out of favor Tony DeAngelo. Kekalainen would have demanded some young talent back – young talent like the 19-year-old Kakko, the No. 2 pick overall in 2019, and/or the 21-year-old Chytil, the 2017 first-rounder who is (for now) the third-line center for the Rangers.

Chytil and Kakko each scored a goal Friday, and both – along with their linemate, Phillip DiGiuseppe – look like their games are taking off.

Winnipeg could afford to pay the price they did for Dubois because the Jets have been trying to trade Laine – who has scored 36, 44, 30, and 28 goals in his first four years in the league (plus two goals and an assist in the one game he’s played this season) – for some time now. And Roslovic, the Columbus kid who had 12 goals in 71 games last season, was unsigned. So the Jets gave up a player they didn’t want, and one they didn’t have, to get Dubois. The Rangers would have needed to give up a player (or players) they wanted to keep.

It’s unknown what Kekalainen would have wanted back from the Rangers to ship Dubois to New York, and it’s also unknown how seriously Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton might have considered giving it to him. Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make. Certainly, Dubois is a star, and he would have likely been a great fit with the Rangers. But right now, Chytil and Kakko look like they fit just fine.

Strome showing signs

About Strome, he has yet to score a point through four games, and coach David Quinn moved the red hot Pavel Buchnevich down from the first line to the second line, with Strome and Artemi Panarin, in an attempt to try and get him going. The line did not score Friday, but Buchnevich had several great chances, and Strome had a breakaway saved by Pittsburgh goalie Tristan Jarry. Afterward, Quinn said he saw some signs from Strome that his game is picking up.

"He had some chances (Friday), more so than he had the first three games combined, so that's really what you're looking for,’’ Quinn said. "The goals will come, and the points will come. I thought he had a better night tonight. I thought he was certainly more engaged, and more involved. So, once we have that going consistently, that line will certainly be more productive.’’

Strome, who signed a two-year, $9 million contract in the offseason, has maintained his spot on the first power-play unit, even as there are lefthanded shooters (like Buchnevich or Kakko) who are playing better at the moment and would seem a more natural fit for that right wing circle position than the righthanded-shooting Strome. Strome had 3:51 in power play ice time Friday; Buchnevich had 2:42, Kakko had 2:23, and Chytil had :46.

Quinn has shown in his three years as coach that he rewards players who are playing well with ice time, and Chytil got a good amount (18:21) Friday, including two shifts in the 3-on-3 overtime. But Strome still got more (20:21). Could Chytil be deserving of a shot at the second line center position sooner, as opposed to later? Maybe, but would that then leave Kakko to play on the third line with Strome? Would that work?

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