With second straight three-point game, Jets’ Dubois proving he’s a man on a mission

Pierre-Luc Dubois scored twice and dished an assist to lead the Winnipeg Jets to a 5-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues.

WINNIPEG — Blake Wheeler knows a thing or two about being a high draft pick who takes some time to figure out just how powerful he can be on the ice.

So when the veteran Winnipeg Jets right-winger is asked about the emergence of Pierre-Luc Dubois, he’s got a wide catalogue of experiences to look back on before delving into an analysis on the obvious growth of the guy who has grown into a high-leverage situation centre this season.

Dubois is coming off an excellent season, but the body of work has only improved during the opening quarter and change of this new one, and Thursday night was simply the latest entry in this memorable chapter.

By producing two more goals and an assist in this 5-2 triumph over the St. Louis Blues, Dubois put together a second straight three-point outing, pushing himself over the point-per-game mark (13 goals and 28 points in 25 games).

“He’s just an incredibly powerful guy, you know, and he’s still just a kid so I think he’s still trying to… Sometimes, for big guys, it’s tough to understand what an asset that can be,” Wheeler told reporters. “The natural tendency is you don’t want to stand out like that. You kind of want to fit in with everyone else. He’s just a powerful guy and when he’s playing downhill, you can’t stop him, so I think he’s found a rhythm right now where, when the puck’s on his stick, he’s tough to take off of it.”

The assessment from Wheeler is bang-on.

Dubois looks like a man on a mission these days and his inspired play is one of the reasons the Jets improved to 17-7-1 on the season and continue to be tied atop the Central Division with the Dallas Stars, heading into Friday’s game at the United Center against the Chicago Blackhawks (while still holding two games in hand).

Dubois opened the scoring by getting to the blue paint and converting a nifty pass from Mark Scheifele, who scooped up a puck that sailed wide after a point shot by Logan Stanley at 15:49 of the first period.

Dubois then took a crafty pass from Kyle Connor before finding Scheifele for a one-timer that led to a rebound goal from Wheeler — a power play marker that capped a stretch of fantastic puck movement and motion.

To round out the performance, Dubois took the puck on an end to end rush and beat Thomas Greiss with a sneak-attack wrister that made it a 4-1 game and provided some valuable insurance — especially after Josh Leivo cut into the deficit just over three minutes later as the Blues made a push.

Did we mention Dubois drew another penalty?

This is becoming a true rinse and repeat moment in nearly every game, as Dubois continues to sit among the league leaders in this under-the-radar yet incredibly important category.

This penalty on Blue defenceman Colton Parayko for tripping led to Wheeler’s goal that proved to be the game-winner.

“He’s strong on the puck, he’s been good defensively. He’s been great on the power play,” Jets head coach Rick Bowness told reporters. “His line has been outstanding for us, so this is the best I’ve seen him play. We’re just going to keep pushing him because he can be a dominant centre in this league. There’s no question.”

Much has been made about the conversation Bowness had with alternate captain Josh Morrissey after he was hired, the one where he outlined how he wanted the defenceman to be in the Top-10 in Norris Trophy voting at the end of the season.

In his chat with Dubois, Bowness didn’t come right out and say he wanted him to be in the Selke conversation but he did express a desire to see him grow his all-around game.

During a post-game chat with reporters on the scene in St. Louis on Thursday about where he felt he was in the process, Dubois sees progress but also made it clear he is asking a lot of himself.

“It’s not easy. Going out there every night and trying to be a difference maker on both ends of the ice. It can easily tilt one way or another,” said Dubois, who extended his point streak to seven games. “I think some games I’ve done a good job and some games maybe tilted the wrong way. It’s a process. Talking to the staff here, they’ve been great at trying to push everybody to be the best player they can be. For me, individually, that’s what I want to become and I want to help this team. It’s a long process, but I think with hard work, video, and conversations with the staff, I have no doubt I can get there.

“Playing with my size, sometimes it can be good, but I don’t want to become static out there and not moving, and just trying to use my body. You also want to use your feet to get away from trouble. Some guys, they become the player they want to be at 19 or 20, some guys it takes longer.”

This 25-game block has only reinforced the importance of trying to get Dubois signed to a long-term extension.

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Whether that process begins in January — when talks can resume — or drags into the summer, it will be a storyline that many will monitor with keen interest.

With his blend of power and production, Dubois brings an element that is tough to find — and even tougher to replace once you’ve seen that high-end potential up close.

The Jets are going to need a replacement for winger Saku Maenalanen, who left Thursday’s game with a suspected shoulder injury after he was on the receiving end of a body check from Blues defenceman Niko Mikkola just under five minutes into the contest.

Maenalanen went into the boards awkwardly and given how he was holding his right arm as he left the ice, it wouldn’t be surprising if it was a separated shoulder.

Bowness said he wouldn’t have an update on the severity of the injury until the Jets return to Winnipeg.

Maenalanen isn’t a big point producer (four goals, six points in 25 games), but he’s done an excellent job on the penalty kill and provides a nice combination of size and skating ability while playing on a line with Adam Lowry recently.

“It’s a big wrench. That’s been a very good line, and he’s been playing the best hockey of the whole year the last five or six games. Saku is one of our top penalty killers and he’s on our checking line,” said Bowness. “He’s been outstanding for us. So that’s a big hole. You just spread the minutes out. So next man up.”

Veteran Sam Gagner is expected to draw back into the lineup on Friday, but if Maenalanen joins Nikolaj Ehlers (sports hernia) and Mason Appleton (wrist) on the long-term injury list, it will be interesting if the Jets look to bolster the forward group via trade or simply lean on internal candidates to take on an expanded role.

The Jets have built themselves a bit of breathing room in the standings — moving into first place in the Western Conference in points percentage (.700, just ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights) — but things can change quickly.

One of the reasons the Jets have enjoyed so much success is the renewed offensive attack, as they’ve scored five or more goals in six of the past seven games, which has moved them into 11th place in the NHL in goals per game (3.36).

On the flip side, the Jets are fourth in the NHL in goals against per game (2.52) and the play of Connor Hellebuyck has a great deal to do with that, given how dialled in he’s been.

“Yeah, he makes the big saves look easy almost, so that’s just a testament to how confident he is right now,” said Wheeler.

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