Jets’ Dubois just scratching surface of true power forward potential

Pierre-Luc Dubois scored twice including the eventual game winner as the Winnipeg Jets defeated the Los Angeles Kings 3-2.

WINNIPEG — Pierre-Luc Dubois wasn’t about to let a couple of costly turnovers derail his hot start.

So instead of lamenting the miscues that ended up in the back of the net two nights earlier, the Winnipeg Jets centre made sure to push forward and make an impact on Thursday night, producing a pair of goals — including the game-winner — in the 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings.

From the time he arrived on the scene, Dubois has talked openly about wanting and expecting more of himself and these days he’s making a habit of delivering.

The more responsibility Dubois has been given this season, the better he’s played.

The scary thing for opponents is that while Dubois is already playing at a high level, he might just be scratching the surface. This is a guy with the size, strength and skill set to play a true power forward game. He can get to the net, he can set up his linemates, he can finish and he can also do the job on the defensive end while embracing the tough matchups. Those numerous qualities are part of the reason the Jets were comfortable paying a steep price to acquire him in the blockbuster trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“I feel like throughout my career I’ve had ups and downs. The one thing I’ve been working on is just trying to be consistent,” Dubois, who is up to six goals and nine points in seven games, told reporters in California. “It’s a long season and I’ve gone long stretches with not scoring for many games and I’ve gone stretches scoring, feeling good for a long period of time. It’s just about finding what you do right and keep going with it. I just want to be consistent and consistently help the team win and right now the puck is going in but I want to be helpful defensively, helpful offensively, without the puck, with the puck — everything.

“It’s a part of who I want to become and the player I want to be when I’m in my prime.”

Sometimes it’s easy to forget Dubois is just 23 years old, even if he already has more than 300 games under his belt, including the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Distancing himself from the disappointment of last season was no easy task, but Dubois put in the work required to take an important step forward.

Now he’s reaping the early rewards and his contributions have been critical as the Jets put together a four-game winning streak and improved to 4-2-1 for the season.

“Yeah, I’ve learned a lot, especially in the past year and a half,” said Dubois. “The player I want to become, the player I know I can become, it takes time. Right now, part of my game that I’ve been trying to work at is when to be slow and when to be fast. In the past, if I tried to be a little bit slower, I’d play a slow game. If I wanted to speed it up one game, I’d be too fast. So right now it’s about can I be slow at times and speed it up and be unpredictable and stuff like that? It’s not easy. But I’m feeling more and more comfortable with it and like I said, it’s a long season so I just want to get better.”

When he first arrived, Dubois was on a line with Kyle Connor but the chemistry wasn’t immediate — partly due to an injury suffered after his second game coming out of a 14-day quarantine.

These days, Dubois and Connor are starting to read off one another naturally, providing the type of high-end play Jets head coach Paul Maurice envisioned when he initially put them together.

“First, there may have been an over-reaction, we all understand that,” said Maurice, referring to the criticism Dubois faced last season. “Lost in all of this is his age and what he went through. That was a tough year. Then we have to respect what he did to get better and he put in a good summer, and he’s faster. You can just see that on the ice. There’s more speed there. But confidence is just such a huge part of any player’s game, and I think he has that now, and it’s earned.

“He and Kyle have something going on there. They’re pretty dynamic with each other, and having somebody that he never really got a chance to learn anybody, because his game wasn’t where it’s at and now we’re really just starting to see him develop. I’ve also got lots of time for a certain amount of inconsistency at his age. He had a tough night the other night, but I don’t count that as inconsistency, that’s a one-off. He’s just going to keep getting better and better. I mean, a centreman who can move at that size is just so hard to come by.”

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The trio is rounded out by Evgeny Svechnikov, who earned a roster spot after coming to training camp on a Pro Tryout Offer and pushed his way into a top-line role with Connor and Dubois, his former linemate with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the QMJHL.

“(Dubois) is hot right now,” said Connor, who chipped in three assists. “He’s a big body going to the net, he’s got that straight-line speed, he’s tough to cover and he’s pretty long, too. He’s great in our d-zone, he’s so strong on the puck and he’s pretty smart, too, reading the plays. He’s got a good hockey sense, he knows where to go, and to go to the net. He’s fast and tough to cover.

“We’re getting better. (as a line). We’ve taken strides since the first time we’ve been put together, kind of a more all-around line. We’re just constantly learning and want to be the best out there.”

One of the under-the-radar storylines coming out of Thursday’s game was the play of goalie Eric Comrie, who made 29 saves in his first start of the season — and just his 10th of his NHL career.

Although the Jets have a workhorse in Connor Hellebuyck, the backup goalie position is important and the pressure is on Comrie to show that he can do the job at the NHL level.

This was merely the first step in that process, but Comrie did exactly what was asked of him.

“It was an accumulation of a lot of things, a lot of hard work and a lot of stuff that went into that,” said Comrie, who had a number of friends and family members in attendance. “At the end of the day, it’s the goalie’s job to get wins for his team and that’s the way that I’m going to look at it.”

Jets captain Blake Wheeler met his teammates in California and skated during the past several days, leaving him as an option to potentially return to the lineup in the finale of this three-game road trip against the San Jose Sharks.

Top centre Mark Scheifele is out of the NHL’s COVID protocol as well, but he remains back in Winnipeg and has been on the ice. He won’t return to action until the Jets open a seven-game homestand on Tuesday against the Dallas Stars.

Provided Wheeler is given the green light to play on Saturday night, the Jets will be able to go back to the more traditional deployment of 12 forwards and six defencemen.

What the Jets have shown in the absence of two-thirds of the top line is that Maurice has a lot of options at his disposal to stretch his forward depth over four units.

Where the pieces best fit remains a work in progress and will continue to be as Wheeler and Scheifele work to get back up to full speed.

“It’s been great that the guys have been playing so well and it makes it a lot easier when you’re missing time, to see the guys playing well and winning,” Wheeler told reporters in California earlier this week. “So, that definitely eases the blow a little bit. I don’t want to screw around with just getting back into the lineup because of a pride thing or whatever. There’s more to it than that. Also, I don’t want to screw up a good thing.

“When I can come back and contribute, I’ll be ready to go. I’m sure it will be sooner than later. I definitely have to give myself time. I don’t want to miss any more games. I’ve missed too many games here in the last little bit. So, I want to stay out there when I get back.”


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