Top line found: Dubois, An­der­son, Pa­narin

The Columbus Dispatch - - Nhl - By Steve Gorten sgorten@dis­patch.com @sgorten

Pierre-Luc Dubois laughed, con­ced­ing that he doesn’t know the source of his syn­ergy with Josh An­der­son and Artemi Pa­narin.

“When I get the puck at a cer­tain place, I know and have a feel­ing of where they’re go­ing to be,” Dubois said, try­ing to ex­plain their co­he­sion. “We don’t think — we just play with our in­stincts. That’s why we’re dan­ger­ous.”

It took about a quar­ter of the sea­son, but the Blue Jack­ets have found their top line. That’s what coach John Tor­torella termed the trio Tues­day after a 3-2 shootout win over the Carolina Hur­ri­canes. An­der­son scored his team-lead­ing ninth goal on a pass from Dubois, and Pa­narin suc­ceeded in the shootout.

It’s a du­bi­ous com­bi­na­tion at first glance: a 19-year-old rookie cen­ter who ar­rived at train­ing camp as a wing try­ing to make the ros­ter, flanked on the left by a sniper — the team’s prized off­sea­son ac­qui­si­tion — and on the right by a for­mer con­tract hold­out who was pro­jected to be a sec­ondary scorer in his sec­ond full NHL sea­son.

Tor­torella will read­ily ac­knowl­edge that the Pa­narin-DuboisAn­der­son line — the best of sev­eral bold, ex­per­i­men­tal blends this sea­son — wasn’t a grand combo he de­vised. Rather, it was born of des­per­a­tion.

The coach was search­ing for a cen­ter to pair with Pa­narin after the first two op­tions, Alexan­der Wennberg and Nick Foligno, didn’t work out, so he tried Dubois. It has re­sulted in a line Tor­torella said he has sent onto the ice for 80 per­cent of face­offs in the of­fen­sive zone, and de­servedly so, he added.

An­der­son de­scribed his line as “fast” and “hard to play against” in the of­fen­sive zone.

“It kind of re­minds me of (Bran­don) Du­bin­sky and Boone (Jen­ner’s) line where they have two grinders and then Cam (Atkin­son), the skilled guy,” An­der­son said. “We bring a lot of that same thing.”

Although An­der­son char­ac­ter­ized him­self as a grinder, Tor­torella deemed him the team’s “most con­sis­tent for­ward” of­fen­sively. An­der­son has av­er­aged five min­utes of ice time more per game than last sea­son, when he notched 17 goals and 12 as­sists in 78 games, and he is val­i­dat­ing the three-year, $5.5 mil­lion con­tract ex­ten­sion he re­cently re­ceived after the ne­go­ti­a­tions caused him to miss all but three days of the pre­sea­son.

“You can see Andy is feel­ing it, too,” Tor­torella said. “He thinks that he should be do­ing these things (and) that he needs to take it to an­other level. … Be­cause there is an­other level with Andy. That’s what’s ex­cit­ing to me.”

The chem­istry be­tween An­der­son and Dubois is clear, but there’s some doubt about whether Pa­narin, who boasts a teamhigh 16 points but just five goals, meshes with them. Tor­torella in­sisted that Pa­narin “fits on that line.”

“Pa­narin is a dif­fer­ent type of player” from Dubois and An­der­son, Tor­torella said. “But he’s all over the scor­ing sheet ev­ery game. … He does things that peo­ple don’t see some­times. He makes some good lit­tle plays that make that line bet­ter.”

“He’s one of the most skilled guys in the NHL,” Dubois said. “He finds open space, and if you give him the puck, he’ll make the right play.”

An­der­son has notched a point in a ca­reer-high four con­sec­u­tive games, and Dubois has two goals and an as­sist in the past five games. Tor­torella said Dubois is mak­ing the types of plays that gen­eral man­ager Jarmo Kekalainen promised but that Tor­torella ini­tially didn’t see.

Said Tor­torella, “It makes it re­ally in­ter­est­ing hav­ing him in the mid­dle of the ice, do­ing the things he’s do­ing right now, in terms of what I can do with other guys.”

[FRED SQUILLANTE/DIS­PATCH]

The Blue Jack­ets’ Josh An­der­son, cen­ter, hugs Pierre-Luc Dubois after scor­ing on a Dubois as­sist less than two min­utes into Tues­day’s game against Carolina.

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