ANALYSIS: Hot start for Dubois a welcome sign for Jets

Some might call it a little extra spring in his stride.

Others see swagger, but the good kind.

No matter how you choose to describe it, you can definitely call Pierre-Luc Dubois a difference-maker through the first five games of the 2021-22 NHL season.

And that emergence couldn’t come at a better time for the Winnipeg Jets, who will continue to be without first-line centre Mark Scheifele and captain Blake Wheeler as they open a three-game road trip on Tuesday night against the Anaheim Ducks.

Scheifele and Wheeler remain in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol and it’s still unclear when the forwards might be able to return to action.

Rather than be overcome by an 0-2 start and the loss of two productive players, the Jets erupted for 16 goals during the past three games and collected five of six points in the process.

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Right in the middle of the action has been the line of Dubois between Kyle Connor and Evgeny Svechnikov.

Connor went into Monday’s action tied for the NHL lead in goals (six) and was named the first star of the week after collecting five goals and eight points in three games.

Connor has been turning heads with his ability to use his breathtaking speed to create scoring chances, but also on the defensive side of the puck, which was the next step in his progression.

Meanwhile, Dubois is riding a four-game goal streak and is already up to six points through five games.

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But it’s not just his production that has caught the attention of his teammates so far.

It’s the physical engagement and his ability to use his strength to win individual battles in all three zones.

“The sky’s the limit for Pierre,” said Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt, who is up to six assists in five games this season.

“You play against the guy and you see how big of a player he is, how impactful he can be. I think when you see him as a player and you see what kind of game he can bring, there’s so many intangibles with what he can do. He can play big, he can play skilled, he’s got a lot of speed.

“And people forget — I forget — how young he is. He’s still a 23-year-old guy in the league that’s been around for five, six years. He’s figuring out that this league is something that he can dominate with his body, without having to do it all with his skill. The more that he continues to build off of that, the better off he’s going to be, and the way better off we’re going to be.

“He’s taken his game to another level. The best part about it is now this is kind of what we expect. This is what we expect out of him now. I’ve only seen him on this side for five, six games. But that’s the exciting part about a player that you see blossom in front of your eyes.”

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Read more: Shorthanded Jets down Ducks for first win of the season

That Dubois is beginning to blossom should not come as a surprise, it’s a big part of the reason he was the centrepiece of the blockbuster deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets that included Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic.

Pierre-Luc Dubois in between drills during the first day of Jets’ training camp. Marek Tkach / Global News

“It’s been awesome to see his confidence,” said Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey.

“We kind of started to see that later into last season, but he’s just come back and it’s been really impressive to see the transformation in his game, his fitness level and his speed.

“He’s fast out there, and when you have a guy that’s that big and can beat a guy off the wall, it’s hard to recover if you’re a defenceman. But he’s taking pucks to the net, drawing penalties and playing with a ton of confidence.”

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This isn’t about revisionist history or about ignoring how challenging last season was for Dubois.

Things clearly didn’t go well for him upon his arrival, whether it was the 14-day quarantine he dealt with, the injury in his second game or the revolving door of linemates, but rather than dwell on the past, a highly motivated Dubois went out and did something about it.

“I know he worked his butt off this summer,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “He’s looking faster now, for sure. He’s always been a good defensive player.

“His instincts down low are very strong, but he feels that pressure to put up numbers so what I’m hoping for is his game’s good, he’s feeling good, his decisions, some of the confidence — just, some of the basic plays, he’s not forcing anything out there. He’s going to get enough looks.

“So I hope he’s relaxed. He’s playing hard. When you’re struggling, you have a tendency to carry it day (after) day and it can wear you out. And I think he had a tough year last year on just about every front. And he used his frustration of last year to push himself this summer so that he can have nights like he’s having now.”

Read more: Jets’ Scheifele joins team captain in NHL COVID-19 protocol

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Five games won’t wash away the disappointment, nor does Dubois fully want to completely forget what went wrong.

He is doing his part to reshape the narrative.

However, one thing he won’t do is lower his standards or be swept away by this strong start and become complacent.

“It obviously helps to score a few goals. Last year, I went 20-some games without scoring and I can tell you, that does not help the confidence,” said Dubois.

“Getting a few in helps. Hockey is about a lot of things and I want to do a lot of things on the ice, especially as a centre. You want to support your guys on the ice, you want to support your wingers and it’s making your wingers’ jobs easier out there.

“When you do everything right, when you’re moving your feet, when you’re thinking like a shooter, when you’re passing the puck, good things happen offensively.

“It’s a really long season and I don’t want to fall in the trap of feeling too good, but my confidence is definitely getting to a spot where I want it to be.”

Ken Wiebe covers the Winnipeg Jets for and is a regular contributor to CJOB.

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RAW: Winnipeg Jets Dubois & Hellebuyck Interview – Oct. 21 – Oct 21, 2021

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