New Kings center Pierre-Luc Dubois moved around a lot as a kid. He spent the first year of his life in England, then lived in Germany, Montreal, and in the Quebec cities of Baie-Comeau and Rimouski while his father, Eric, pursued a hockey career that crested short of the NHL. Pierre-Luc was 15 when he moved again, leaving Rimouski to advance his hockey prospects.
“A lot of places,” he said, “but I think it helped me and prepared me for this life of hockey, where you can potentially always be on the move.”
Good thing the 25-year-old has had practice at adapting to new situations. When he wears a Kings jersey in September he will be playing for his third team in seven seasons, a lot of movement in a short time for a power forward who’s near or at his projected prime.
Before the 2020-21 season he requested a trade out of Columbus, where he’d landed as the No. 3 pick in the 2016 draft. His wish was granted in January 2021, and he was dealt to Winnipeg. After less than three full seasons he didn’t see a long-term future there and worked with the Jets to be traded. They obliged, arranging a sign-and-trade with the Kings so he could get a maximum eight-year deal. The Kings gave up Gabe Vilardi — who was finally hitting stride — plus Alex Iafallo and Rasmus Kupari.
Dubois’ contract is worth an average of $8.5 million per year, leaving the Kings so little salary cap room that they’ll likely have to go “light,” as general manager Rob Blake put it, and sometimes carry fewer than 23 players on the roster this season.
They’ve already gone the bargain route on goaltending by signing Cam Talbot for one year at $1 million to pair with backup Pheonix Copley. But it’s possible to win the Stanley Cup without a superstar in net, as shown by reigning champion Vegas (Aidan Hill), 2022 champion Colorado (Darcy Kuemper) and 2019 winner St. Louis (with then-rookie Jordan Binnington). And the cap should rise in the next few seasons, which would give the Kings more overall flexibility.
One last note about Dubois’ contract: according to capfriendly.com, after the first season he has a no-movement clause for four seasons. In each of the last three seasons he can submit a list of no-go trade destinations.
What, moving again?
Not for now, anyway. This is where he wants to be for a long time, he said during a recent visit to Los Angeles that included whirlwind visits to Dodgers and Galaxy games and a jolt of house-hunting sticker shock.
“Honestly, I think it’s just an opportunity for me to be who I am. I think I’m misunderstood at times,” he said. “I think now it will be a fun opportunity for me to just be who I am and not show anybody, not prove to anybody but just fully be me.
“There’s always going to be people that aren’t happy. There’s always going to be people that disagree with what you do. But that’s just part of our business. And at the same time, I’m not trying to live my life for how others think I should do it. I have my goals, my dreams, what I want, and I’m just extremely happy to be here and to be here for a long time and just show really who I really am and not just an image of what people think.”
If he’s truly committed, the Kings should be well equipped to compete in the West. They’ll be formidable down the middle with Anze Kopitar, Phillip Danault and Dubois, who collected career-best totals in assists (36) and points (63) last season in 73 games.
But if they struggle, will he have the patience to be part of the solution? If he feels an itch to move on after a few seasons, they could be in trouble with Kopitar turning 36 next month and Danault just past 30.
Blake swung for the fence after two straight first-round playoff exits, hoping Dubois can help carry the Kings to the next level. Dubois must prove that when the going gets tough, he won’t ask to go somewhere else.
“He’s been through a lot, I think, in his short life,” said Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille, the Kings’ president. “For me, when I was a player, I started with the Kings and by the time I was 25, I was still with the Kings.
“This kid’s been through quite a bit with situations. I think he’s learned a lot and he’s probably going to be, or seems to be, appreciative of things you sometimes take for granted.”
The question becomes why did Dubois leave Winnipeg to take his talents to the South Bay? And before that, why did he say goodbye, Columbus?
He’s a little mushy on those points. It’s his right to ask for a trade and to use his leverage to go elsewhere if he’s unhappy. Columbus had “a lot of good moments but some moments were a little bit tougher,” he said. The Blue Jackets were starting a rebuild that loomed as a long process.
“A career doesn’t last 50 years. A career is short. When it came down to it, for myself and the team, I didn’t think that signing a deal and thinking about wanting to play somewhere else was right for them and right for me,” he said. “You want guys that are fully committed and I didn’t think that I could do that. It wasn’t easy but I think it had to be done.”
Winnipeg was different because he was approaching free agency, and he gave the Jets advance notice he wouldn’t re-sign. “All my life, in the hockey world you get told where you’re going to go and where you’re going to live and what’s going to happen and as we got closer and closer to free agency, I saw an opportunity to be able to decide where I wanted to go, make a decision for myself and have the power to do that,” he said. “And that was something that really interested me.”
Dubois, who’s involved with a foundation that funds kids’ sports activities in Rimouski, will be marketable here. He’s pleasant and articulate. He has almost no French accent thanks to his mother, Jill, who’s from Atlanta and spoke English with him at home. She met his father when Eric played for the minor-league Atlanta Knights. His parents live in Winnipeg, where Eric is an assistant coach with the Manitoba Moose, the Jets’ farm team.
During Pierre-Luc’s time with the Jets, his mother would often stop in for random visits. That won’t happen here. But he said his family plans to start a tradition of visiting him in Los Angeles for the opening weekend of the Kings’ season. They could have eight years to make it a habit.
“A lot of years and opportunities for that and a lot of family members coming in and out of the house,” he said.
That is, if he makes Los Angeles more than just another stopover.