Nothing beats hitting the ice for newest Jet

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It was an appearance two weeks in the making, with newly acquired centre Pierre-Luc Dubois donning a Jets sweater and hitting the ice for practice with his teammates for the first time Sunday.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/02/2021 (657 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It was an appearance two weeks in the making, with newly acquired centre Pierre-Luc Dubois donning a Jets sweater and hitting the ice for practice with his teammates for the first time Sunday.

Dubois had snuck in a skate Saturday afternoon, marking the official end to his required two-week quarantine, but that was only to shake off some lingering rust. On Sunday, he was thrown right into the mix, lining up between wingers Kyle Connor and Trevor Lewis on what, at least for now, should make up the club’s second line.

Needless to say, Dubois, who was traded from the Columbus Blue Jackets, along with a third-round pick in 2022, for forwards Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic, had been patiently waiting to join his new team. And although he’s been working out and going through game film at home, nothing beats hitting the ice and trying to build chemistry with teammates.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets' Pierre-Luc Dubois (13) makes the pass at practice in Winnipeg on Sunday, February 7, 2021.

“I felt good out there, skating with (Connor) and (Lewis), two amazing players. K.C. is one of the most underrated players in the NHL and Lewie brings that experience, just helping me with all the systems and everything,” Dubois said. “He can pass the puck, he works really hard, so it felt really great to be out there with those two.”

Dubois, 22, is in his fourth season in the NHL. He’s played all 239 of his regular-season games (plus 26 post-season tilts) with Columbus, accumulating 74 goals and 104 assists over that stretch. He was traded to the Jets on Jan. 23, and if all goes well, will make his Winnipeg debut on Tuesday, as the Jets prepare for the final game of a four-game mini-series with the Calgary Flames.

The Quebec native is in the first of a two-year deal worth a combined US$10 million (he has three more years of restricted free agent status) and has one goal in five games in 2021. Dubois had asked for a trade out of Columbus, and his last game with the Blue Jackets saw him boast a career-low 3:55 of ice time — all of which came in the first period, with Dubois benched for the final 40 minutes.

All of that controversy appears to be behind Dubois, who said he’s had a chance to meet his new teammates and is happy with the first impressions made by the Jets organization.

“It’s different because of the COVID obviously but the guys have been amazing to me. They’ve been super nice. I introduced myself to everybody,” he said. “Everybody’s asking questions and trying to help me with the systems and all that and learning as much as I can. Away from hockey, it’s just fun to be in this locker room. It seems like a really great group of guys and we had a lot of fun today, to be honest, in the dressing room and on the ice and even after in here. It seems like a really great group of guys out there.”

Jets head coach Paul Maurice says the focus with Dubois has shifted to getting him ready for game time. While he was provided workouts to stay in shape, nothing quite works the muscles the same as being on the ice.

Dubois said he still has some work to do to get to where he was at the start of the season. He also still has another practice Monday to help with any further adjustments.

“He handled practice without a problem. You wouldn’t have been able to come to the rink and pick the guy that’s been in quarantine for two weeks out,” Maurice said. “He pushed himself I think as much as he could when he was off the ice. And I think he’ll just get stronger and faster. But he looked right on the ice. I haven’t been on the ice in practice with the man, but I’ve watched him play enough of his NHL career that, yeah, there wasn’t a noticeable drop-off from what I’ve seen on video.”

The Jets, who are third in the All-Canadian Division with a record of 7-3-1, have seen a lot of success from their forwards group of late, creating the enviable situation of having to find room for someone as talented as Dubois.

Maurice said he’s liked a lot from the line of Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers and Andrew Copp, as well as from Adam Lowry, Mathieu Perreault and Mason Appleton. That left the Jets coach to mash up the other two lines, resulting in Dubois playing with Connor and Lewis, while Paul Stastny centres a new trio that now includes Blake Wheeler and Kristian Vesalainen.

“We felt it’s easier as a starting point to leave everybody in their natural position and give opportunity to Trevor Lewis and Vesalainen to play with a different style of player than maybe they have been playing with, because they’ve worked hard and looked good in their games,” Maurice said. “We’ve got four lines that we should be able to play and spread minutes around. Maybe that concept, get that solidified on your bench so you’re going to run short shifts, run at a high level, to prep us for a March to the third week in April that will be the busiest, most hockey these guys have ever seen.”

Dubois also figures to get time on the power play. He was slotted in with the second group, alongside Ehlers, Neal Pionk and Perreault, with Copp and Lowry making up the fifth skater.

With the addition of Dubois, the Jets have one of the deepest centre groups in the NHL. It’s the kind of depth that Winnipeg hasn’t really experienced since relocating in 2011, and it will likely change how Maurice handles his forward lines in the future.

“One of the challenges that we had here, the structure needed to be where it was with that Lowry dominant checking line kind of coming out first or second because it let us hide these kids. We’re still trying to win games but I would put young players in the three-hole and they’re producing numbers because they have a skill set that is slightly better maybe than the other team’s third line but you can’t really run them against the (other team’s) top lines. The problem with having top-six guys where all of those guys are all offence, when one of those guys is having an off night, there’s really no place to put him,” Maurice said. “Because you can’t run him… I’ll use Kyle Connor as an example because he’s been such a great performer for us. But if Kyle is having a really bad night, I wasn’t going to drop him down to the Lowry line because they have a specific checking role and if he’s having a bad night, you don’t want him there. And he’s played well enough that you don’t want to drop him to your fourth line either because there’s no minutes there.

“You’re not looking to punish the kid because it’s not going well. So you were kind of stuck with those six guys in that regardless of how they were playing kind of got to play. I would roll them off the bench differently. Now, you can just change the order of how they’re coming off the bench and that will either change the matchup or if you’re looking to send a message you can do it that way as well. Though I never really liked that phrase because it kind of applies you’re not directly telling that person, you’re sending a message a different way. I would just tell the player he’s not playing any good. But it will allow you to take a player like Trevor Lewis, who has spent most of his career on the fourth line, and let him play his own game like that but now, he moves up in the rotation and those guys then, get a way better feeling of being part of the team.”

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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Updated on Monday, February 8, 2021 7:59 AM CST: Fixes spelling error

Updated on Monday, February 8, 2021 9:18 AM CST: Minor copy editing changes

Updated on Monday, February 8, 2021 9:58 AM CST: Corrects typo

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