His arrival marked a new era for the Winnipeg Jets, shifting the spotlight away from a Finnish sniper on the wing and towards a powerful centre that grew up playing his shinny hockey in small-town Quebec.
Indeed, when the Jets acquired Pierre-Luc Dubois in a trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets that sent Patrik Laine the other way, all the talk was how the Jets had finally found their No. 2 centre they'd coveted for years. But weeks later, and just three games into his tenure in Winnipeg, Dubois is playing the left wing on the Jets' top line, alongside centre Mark Scheifele and captain Blake Wheeler.
"I still like our centre depth. The wing is a different position. It's not the same kind of wear and tear in your own end of the ice. It's an easier place, in some days, to come into the game," Jets head coach Paul Maurice said following Wednesday's practice. "I had interest in seeing him with those two guys, and you could see it. They had three shifts in the first period there in Vancouver they got rolling a little bit in the offensive zone and eventually was exactly like the goal they scored. That was there from the start. And they're excited about it."
Maurice was referring to the Jets most recent game against the Canucks — a 4-3 overtime win on the road that saw the trio combine for nine points, in what was their first time playing together. Dubois paced the Jets with two goals, including the winner in extra time, and one assist. After his first two games with the Jets, which included Dubois at centre, he had no points and had yet to register a single shot on net.
Then the injury bug struck, with Dubois suffering an upper-body ailment in mid-February. That led to missing another four games — he missed six games after having to quarantine for two weeks as part of COVID-19 health protocols — and a brief stint on the injured reserve list.
Moving Dubois, 22, to the wing is, in part, to lessen his responsibility on a night-to-night basis. Centremen are asked to do much more of the heavy lifting in the defensive zone, when compared to wingers, and are still expected to chip in their equal share at the other end.
"I think there's definitely some of that. My first game back after the two weeks... when you're battling in the D-zone for 10-15 seconds — and you can't battle with 50 per cent, you have to battle 100 per cent — and then you got to sprint to help the wingers, then you got to kind of sprint maybe to forecheck and then if it's a turnover, you come back and you're still sprinting to those battles in the D zone," Dubois said. "It's definitely less taxing on the body as a winger. And I think I felt that a bit against the Vancouver game. I felt a lot better than I felt that first game coming back."
Dubois was murky on the details, but said he showed up one day and Maurice told him he was playing with Scheifele and Wheeler. Given their early success, Dubois sees little to complain about. He also doesn't seem to have an expectation to return to centre anytime soon.
"It's not too hard to change position, to play with those two guys. It didn't take any convincing, really," Dubois said. "I don't know exactly how long I'll be there. If, hopefully, we keep having good games and maybe I stay there for the rest of the year. Who knows? We have so much depth, so many good players on this team that whether you're left wing, right wing or centre on any line, you’re in a good spot."
For those that would like to see Dubois back at his natural position, that might not be too far off from happening. Maurice hasn't exactly hesitated to mix up his line combinations, and, to be clear, he's not in the midst of redefining Dubois' game.
"The things I want to make sure with this is that Pierre-Luc understands that we're going to develop him in his best position, that we believe, I believe, he's a centreman. I'm not looking at this guy going, 'Boy there's a lot of deficiencies in his game, I'm not sure he can run in the middle.' I know he can just from the video I've watched and just seeing him in his own defensive zone," Maurice said.
"So, first will be it's got to serve the Winnipeg Jets. That has to be Priority 1. Does it give us a really good chance to be as good as we can be? And then how long it will last will be based on those two things: Is it helping us win hockey games? And I think in this situation I'm not asking anybody to make a sacrifice. Because if it's helping us win games and those guys are generating offence, all three of them will be real happy about it, Pierre-Luc included. If it's not working for us then he's going back into the middle and we'll be looking for a different combination."
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.