Dubois will be best teammate I can be with Blue Jackets

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Pierre-Luc Dubois would not confirm a report that he wanted to be traded, but the Columbus Blue Jackets center instead said he will focus on this season after signing a two-year, $10 million contract Thursday.

“I’m going to be the best player I can be, the best teammate I can be and the best person I can be,” the 22-year-old center said Sunday. “I don’t want it to be a distraction, so I think that’s the only way. I think if I go out there and I work hard in practices with a good attitude, and I go out there and work hard in games and play well, I think it’s not a distraction.”

The Athletic reported Thursday that Dubois, who was a restricted free agent, “may be looking for a change of scenery.” The Blue Jackets announced later that day that they had re-signed Dubois, allowing him to report on time for a physical at training camp Sunday.

Dubois declined to discuss the report or whether he wants to remain with the Blue Jackets.

“Our goal was to get a contract before camp,” Dubois said. “The team, my agent, and myself have held talks, private talks, and they’ll remain private.”

General manager Jarmo Kekalainen also wouldn’t address the report or say whether he will try to trade Dubois, who led Columbus with 49 points (18 goals, 31 assists) in 70 regular-season games and 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 10 Stanley Cup Playoff games last season.

“We’re just concentrating on the team and getting to work here, and that’s what we do and the rumors, they’re always out there about players,” Kekalainen said. “General managers talk about trades all the time, and sometimes rumors start from there. As far as I’m concerned, those conversations are always confidential and they won’t go anywhere else, but that’s part of the business that we have to accept.

“I always say this, that Wayne Gretzky was traded, so anybody can get traded. That’s just part of the business, but we go along and just concentrate on the team here.”

With training camp practices beginning Monday, coach John Tortorella said the Blue Jackets will handle Dubois’ situation in the same open manner they did when forward Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky each was in the final season of his contract in 2018-19. Each player made clear his desire to explore the unrestricted free agent market after that season, but Columbus kept its focus, qualified for the playoffs and upset the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Presidents’ Trophy winners as the NHL team with the best regular-season record, in the Eastern Conference First Round.

“We’re transparent about everything, not just [Panarin] and [Bobrovsky],” Tortorella said. “There’s a number of things that go on during a hockey season that I think it’s important that it belongs in the room where everybody’s involved with it and understanding of what’s going on. So this situation, I’m not sure, I haven’t spoken to [Dubois] or anything like that, but not only this situation but others as the year goes on, we talk about it as men and we talk about in a group setting.”

Kekalainen said the Blue Jackets also discussed three- and eight-year contracts with Dubois and his agent, Pat Brisson, but they preferred two years. When asked if he thinks Dubois wants to remain with the Blue Jackets long-term, Kekalainen said, “I think that’s a question for him, not for me. Like I said before, we want players that are proud to be Blue Jackets, proud to represent this organization, the city and the state, and that doesn’t change.”

With contract talks behind him, Dubois said he wants to focus on the upcoming season. That was one of the reasons it was important for him to re-sign before training camp began.

“I’m a hockey player first and I’m a teammate, I’m a player for the coaching staff,” he said. “That’s not going to change. I’m going to try to be the hardest-working guy out there. I’m going to be the best teammate possible, be the best player possible. That will never change throughout my entire career, so it doesn’t change today or in the next couple months.”

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