And while the Winnipeg Jets have been much more than just a two-player show during a 7-3-3 start that includes Thursday’s 4-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks, there is no doubt who has been leading this balanced and potent offensive attack.
That Connor has already notched a team-leading 10 goals (a total that leaves him fourth in the NHL heading into Friday’s action) and 18 points to sit fifth in the NHL should not come as a surprise as he’s no stranger to raw production.
But it’s the pure determination in his all-around game and willingness to get to the front of the net (like when he got to the blue paint with a defender draped all over him to score the tying goal in the first period on Thursday) that has allowed Connor to elevate his level of play.
And he’s doing so by finding a natural chemistry with Dubois, whose renaissance now includes eight goals and 13 points in 13 games.
There is a simplicity to how the pair have been able to enjoy success on a unit with Evgeny Svechnikov, a trio that combined for 12 shots on goal and 22 shot attempts in Thursday’s victory.
“We’re reading each other really well and just taking a little more ownership all over the ice,” said Connor. “We all want the puck and to make a difference.”
The emergence of Connor and Dubois as an offensive force has been an important development for the Jets in the early stages of the season.
Watching the growth in real-time has been impressive.
“I mean, there's nothing better -- and I don't want to say I'm a spectator out there -- because I shouldn't (be),” said Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt, who scored his first goal on Thursday and is up to 10 points in 13 games. “My coach would kill me and say, ‘What are you doing watching these guys?’ But it really is fun. Like, when I'm in the O-zone, sometimes I do get watching them because it is a treat to see them down low and they're wheeling, they're dealing, they're churning, and at any time they can make a play.
“So you have to be ready at any time because they can make the plays that you don't think that they can make. And it's something that I think they're just scratching the surface of. I hope that the two of them look at their games and look at their tape and continue to talk to each other. That's what builds the relationship and the confidence in each other. You don't have to talk, you can just go out there and instinctively know where the guy's going to be. That's when you start really getting to that upper echelon of chemistry between two guys.”
“It’s awesome when those things come to fruition — you talk about something before the game and it works out.”
Nate Schmidt on his first goal with the Jets, Pierre-Luc Dubois on using size as an advantage, and more.
— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) November 12, 2021
Part of that chemistry is related to the predictability in Connor’s game. His explosive speed is tough for defenders to handle, but it also forces Dubois to get - and keep - his feet moving.
Dubois has been making a habit of putting his shoulder down and taking opposing defencemen wide this season, which makes him even more difficult to defend.
“As a defenceman, there's nothing worse than a guy that gets his shoulder on you,” said Schmdit. “You ask any of us, we'd say the hardest thing to do is when you have guys that can take a step with you, who can beat you with speed, have good enough speed, and be able to put their shoulder or their back into you and you can't get to it. Some guys have one of those two tools, right?
“When you have those two and you put them together, it's an incredible intangible. When he gets out there and uses his speed and (beats) a guy, it only takes a half a step, and puts him on his back shoulder, there's really no one that can move him. I mean, I try to move him in practice and I don't even try anymore. Like, it's not even worth my time. I actually get tired doing it so I don't want to waste my energy, right? But it's something that you can see in his game (that) is elevating.”
Dubois tossed in a new wrinkle on Thursday, starting out wide before cutting back to the middle to get a dangerous shot off.
That scoring chance didn’t result in a goal, but it will force defenders to not cheat when Dubois is coming down on them.
“You can always learn from other guys, from watching film, just thinking in different ways. I have a long reach, I'm a bigger guy, but I don't want that to be how someone describes me as a player. I want to be more than that,” said Dubois. “I want to add tools to my toolbox. And I think when you cut wide -- when I cut wide a few times, guys have to respect that - and then that's when everything else opens up.
“It's always about learning.”
Jets head coach Paul Maurice says much of that learning is driven by the players themselves, through conversations that are taking place in various settings.
“They talk on the bench. I’ve said this in the past and I believe this, players learn so much more from the guy sitting beside him than anybody else,” said Maurice. “Some of it is experiential. I can’t explain to Pierre-Luc what Kyle sees, the decisions he makes on when to go, that’s his experience on the ice. That’s the best kind of learning that happens.
“So we are responsible as coaches to kind of get five guys to move together and to almost create a place that there’s non-verbal communication. You have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen next because of our style of play or our defensive systems, that’s kind of what my job is.”
“They talk on the bench. Players learn so much more from the guy sitting beside them than from anybody else. That’s the best kind of learning that happens.”
Paul Maurice on Connor and Dubois learning from each other, improvements as the game progressed, and more.
— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) November 12, 2021
A big part of what both Connor and Dubois are doing right now is related to the diversification of their respective games.
The scary thing for opposing coaches and players is that this dynamic duo might just be scratching the surface when it comes to reaching their potential.