WINNIPEG -- Since he’s heard it multiple times already, Pierre-Luc Dubois knew the question was coming and he had an answer at the ready.
Since “The Shift” basically went viral on social media and various other platforms on Thursday and Friday, the new Winnipeg Jets centre has been under attack from various circles.
It wasn’t a good look and he knows it.
He didn’t run and hide, nor did he lash out at those who began to raise concerns about what the video evidence might suggest.
Dubois knows that picture doesn’t reflect the standard he holds himself to, but you’d have to look long and hard to try and find another example of something like it.
“I was doing the math earlier. I played almost 300 games, it’s almost 6,000 shifts in the NHL. So there’s a lot more than just the one shift,” Dubois said during his introductory Zoom call on Sunday. “It’s something that’s behind me and I’m just really excited to be here and be part of this team. This is a new chapter for me playing on this team.”
All three players involved in Saturday’s blockbuster are eager to start a new chapter and what type of beginning they will author is on the minds of many in both markets.
If Dubois was no longer interested in a long-term deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets, why would it be any different with the Jets?
Without going into specifics of why he asked to be moved and what it's like when a young player decides he would prefer to be elsewhere, Dubois provided a glimpse into his thought process.
“I can’t speak on behalf of Patrik, but for myself it was a long process. It wasn’t just one morning you woke up and felt differently,” said Dubois. “There’s a lot of stuff that happens, and without going into detail, I just think that sometimes you have to remain true to yourself and how you feel and how you think. I thought that as negotiations were going forward, you start to think about more things and start to have more conversations. I wanted to remain true to myself, true to the team there, to the fans and my teammates. That was a decision I took.
“That’s something that I’m moving on from. A lot of things happened in the past two or three years. I’m extremely grateful for everything that Columbus has done for me. I’m excited for this new chapter, this new opportunity with a new team, a new coaching staff, a new organization, new fans. It’s really exciting. These past 24 hours have been really crazy, but... how I look at it is that this could be an amazing opportunity to help an already really good team and to become a new and better player.”
Dubois gave a glimmer of hope when asked about the potential of him being interested in committing to a future with the Jets, who employ his father Eric as an assistant coach with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.
“My dad has been here for four or five years and every time we’d come to play against the Jets, I’d always go out with my parents. I spent my quarantine here almost a year ago. It already feels like home,” said Dubois. “I can’t see my parents right away cause I have to do two weeks of quarantine but it already feels good here. I’m getting texts from the players, I was on the phone with the organization yesterday. I have a really good feeling. Right now, I’m really just concentrating on these next two weeks of quarantine and starting the season with them. I’m just really excited to be a part of this organization that I’ve heard nothing but good things about.”
Those words set an important tone, but ultimately, it’s the actions of Dubois that will matter most in this matter.
Negotiations on a new contract can’t begin with the Dubois camp until July 28 with the new NHL calendar, but if he’s willing to sign on the dotted line before his bridge deal is complete, there’s no doubt he immediately becomes a pillar for this franchise to build around.
Being the guy brought in to replace someone as popular as Patrik Laine isn’t something Dubois considers a burden.
“He’s a really good player but I have high expectations of myself. I hold myself to a high standard and I know what player I can be,” said Dubois. “It’s a good team with a lot of skill and good size, so I think I’ll fit right in and I’ll be able to learn a lot from the guys. I don’t see added pressure because of anything. I wish Patrik good luck in Columbus, and I hope that he plays really well and we can play them every year in the finals. But I don’t see any added pressure because of anything.”
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said his staff had done plenty of due diligence on Dubois leading up to the 2016 NHL Draft -- when he was selected third overall after Laine -- but that his work since turning pro was what convinced him to seal the deal.
Cheveldayoff didn’t want to play the speculation game on why things went sour for Dubois in Columbus.
His vision of the player he is getting was what he saw when the spotlight was shining bright on Dubois in August during the qualifying series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he made life miserable for the likes of Auston Matthews and John Tavares.
By the time the Blue Jackets' bubble had burst against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, Dubois had showcased a strong two-way game.
“I can’t really speak to how things got to that point in Columbus. As an outsider, you think you know what’s going on, but really you don’t,” said Cheveldayoff. “Unless you’re in those situations on a daily basis and unless you’re in that room and you’re part of that daily thing, whether you’re a fan or a media person, or a general manager from another team, you truly don’t know. You go on the knowledge of what you see on a course of a daily basis.
“The highlights should be of what he did in the playoffs last year. If you really want to see Pierre-Luc Dubois, those are the clips that you should look at. Unfortunately, sometimes these things happen but these are young players that are in a very favourable industry. It’s a privilege to play in the NHL and it’s an opportunity that as you grow and you learn more about the league, you appreciate more. For me, those playoff highlights are the ones that are better etched in my mind and that’s the true player.”
As the son of a coach, Dubois prides himself on doing many of the important things that fall in the category of value-added.
“I’m a two-way forward, a two-way centre. I can play well defensively, play well offensively, I can block shots, I can hit, I can score, I can pass,” said Dubois. “I try to be the guy that does everything out there -- supports his wingers, supports his defencemen, talks. Ever since I was a kid, growing up with a dad as a coach, he tried to instill in me details of the game, stuff that doesn’t necessarily show up on the stats sheet, but at the end of the game matters.
“The only thing that matters is to win. Goals and assists are important but having a good stick and good positioning and all those small details, that’s something that I try to do in the game. I’m still learning but that’s what Jets fans can expect from me.”
Dubois has done an excellent job producing at five-on-five over the course of his young career and in listening to him describe his opportunity to join a Jets team that has a talented top-six, you got the sense that his point totals are going to be on the rise.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice called him a power forward that is going to develop into an elite point producer. Provided he finds some chemistry with Nikolaj Ehlers, it’s not unreasonable to believe that Dubois could grow into a point-per-game player.
“Everyone knows he’s a great player. He’s a big guy and he can skate, make plays and he’s a very smart player,” said Ehlers. “It’s going to be fun to have him on the team and we’re excited for him to get here. Honestly, he’s kind of the same player as he is now. He has the skill. He’s a smart guy and he has speed. That he’s been able to continue doing that and work on it and get better the way he has and become a really, really good player is exciting.”
The feeling was mutual.
“Honestly, he was probably the best junior player I played against,” said Dubois of Ehlers. “He would skate in circles on the penalty kill and then go change. And in the NHL, he still has that same speed and same hands and hockey sense so to be able to play with him is a really exciting thought and I heard he’s a good person, too, so I’m excited to meet him. It will be fun to be able to play with him instead of against him.”
Dubois is still waiting to hear if he’ll be in quarantine for 14 days or if he’ll be granted an exemption for the seven-day quarantine that was in place for Canadian teams during training camp.
Whenever that time arrives, Dubois will be ready.
“It’s a team that I used to hate playing against,” said Dubois. “The combination of size and skill and work ethic, and just hard to play against, and then you finish it off with one of the best goalies in the NHL. It’s really annoying playing against them, and to be able to play for them now, to play on the other side of it... it will be a perfect fit. It’s such a good team and I think the time to adapt won’t be too hard.
“If you look at that forward group, from the first line to the fourth line, there’s a lot of depth, a lot of skill. Anywhere you play and whatever player that you’re playing with, whether you’re on the wing or at centre or whatever, you’re going to be surrounded with talented players. As a forward, that’s all you can ask for and it’s really exciting to know that I’m going to be a part of that soon.”