Pierre-Luc Dubois refuses to be defined by 45 seconds of uninspired hockey.
The 22-year-old centre has been widely maligned by hockey pundits and the vocal majority on social media for floating through a shift last Thursday night, late in the first period on behalf of his former employer, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
His apparent indifference — perceived as an act of defiance by a player who clearly wanted out — was met with swift action by his then-head coach, John Tortorella, who stopped deploying his team's most dangerous offensive performer for the remainder of the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Just 36 hours later, Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen made the necessary move, shipping Dubois and a third-round pick (2022) to Winnipeg and obtaining sniper Patrik Laine and Columbus-born forward Jack Roslovic in return.
Speaking Sunday morning, the product of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., said the short, unflattering clip shows a deviation from his routine level of engagement.
"I was doing the math earlier. I played almost 300 games, it’s almost 6,000 shifts in the NHL. So there’s a lot more than just the one shift," said Dubois, who arrived in Winnipeg late Saturday night to begin a 14-day quarantine before joining the Jets.
"It’s something that’s behind me and I’m just really excited to be here and be part of this team. This is a new chapter for me playing on this team. I’m just really excited."
Dubois, who was a restricted free agent, signed a two-year, $10-million contract with Columbus on Dec. 31, but made it clear he desired a change of scenery. After Thursday's contest, the two sides had reached the point of no return.
The son of Manitoba Moose assistant coach Eric Dubois maintains that chapter of his life is over.
"That’s something that I’m moving on from. A lot of things happened in the past two or three years. I’m extremely grateful for everything that Columbus has done for me. I’m excited for this new chapter, this new opportunity with a new team, a new coaching staff, a new organization, new fans," he said.
"The opportunity to come here and help this forward group, help the D, as the centre to help everybody out and learn from the coaching staff, from the players here — guys like (Blake) Wheeler and (Mark) Scheifele — how I look at it is that this could be an amazing opportunity to help an already really good team and to become a new and better player."
The uncharacteristically petulant behaviour displayed by the No. 3 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft draft clearly raised no alarm bells for the Winnipeg brass.
"I don't know what went on there. I know you get the camera on him and you decide what you see. None of us were a part of what went on there. You have no idea what went on in the background, so I'd be very careful with my character assassinations before I get to meet the man," Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Saturday.
"He'll walk in here, he'll present himself, we'll accept him with open arms as we always do with new players and we'll judge him by how he becomes a Winnipeg Jet."
Dubois strikes an imposing figure. He's listed as 6-3, 218 pounds and plays a heavy game, yet he's remarkably fast and possesses elite offensive instincts.
He's a play-driving, No. 1 centre on many teams but will settle in on the second line behind Mark Scheifele, and will likely have Nikolaj Ehlers — his former combatant in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League — on his left side.
"Honestly, (Ehlers) was probably the best junior player I played against. He would skate in circles on the penalty kill and then go change. And in the NHL he still has that same speed and same hands and hockey sense," said Dubois. He suited up with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, while Ehlers starred with the Halifax Mooseheads.
"To be able to play with him is a really exciting thought and I heard he’s a good person, too, so I’m excited to meet him. It’ll be fun to be able to play with him instead of against him," he said.
Maurice could elect to go with Paul Stastny on right wing or leave Andrew Copp there and drop the veteran Stastny down to a new third-line centre role, which would bump Adam Lowry down to a fourth trio.
Dubois, who watched clips of the Jets' 6-3 triumph Saturday night over the Ottawa Senators, could barely contain his eagerness to unite with the group.
"It’s a team that I used to hate playing against. The combination of size and skill and work ethic, and just hard to play against, and then you finish it off with one of the best goalies (Connor Hellebuyck) in the NHL," he said.
"You look at that forward group, from the first line to the fourth line, there’s a lot of depth, a lot of skill. Anywhere you play and whatever player that you’re playing with, whether you’re on the wing or at centre or whatever, you’re going to be surrounded with talented players. As a forward, that’s all you can ask for and it’s really exciting to know that I’m going to be a part of that soon."
Dubois fired 66 goals and registered 159 points in 239 career games for Columbus. Last season, the Blue Jackets needed him to wear a Superman cape after Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin left to free agency, and he responded with 18 goals and 31 assists in 70 regular-season games.
But he was a beast in the squad's short playoff stay in the Toronto bubble, scoring four goals and setting up six others in 10 games, while averaging 23 dominant minutes of ice time.
"I think those are the clips that, if you really want to see Pierre-Luc Dubois, that’s the clips that you should look at," offered Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, in a Zoom call Saturday. "Unfortunately, sometimes these things happen but these are young players that are in a very favourable industry. It’s a privilege to play in the NHL and it’s an opportunity that as you grow and you learn more about the league, you appreciate more. For me, those playoff highlights are the ones that are better etched in my mind and that’s the true player."
Laine, selected one spot ahead of Dubois at the draft in Buffalo, was a beloved figure in Winnipeg, as much for playful demeanour as his rifle of a shot. The Finnish phenom ripped 140 goals, many of the highlight-reel variety, and chipped in 110 assists for 250 points in just 306 games in a Jets jersey.
But Dubois isn't intimidated by the legacy Laine leaves behind.
"He’s a really good player but I have high expectations of myself. I hold myself to a high standard and I know what player I can be and I’m really excited to join this team. I think it’s a good team with a lot of skill and good size, so I think I’ll fit right in and I’ll be able to learn a lot from the guys. I don’t see added pressure because of anything," he said.
"I wish Patrik good luck in Columbus, and I hope that he plays really well and we can play them every year in the finals. But I don’t see any added pressure because of anything."
Dubois is no stranger to the Manitoba capital, enjoying home-cooked meals with his parents, Eric and mom, Jill McClure, whenever the Blue Jackets paid a visit. He also quarantined here once he returned to Canada following the cancellation of the 2019-20 regular season, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He's already well-versed on the menu of a favourite Italian restaurant and grocery store on Portage Avenue.
"Whether it was driving around the city... or me and my sister (Daphne) bought bikes and just went around, it seems really beautiful. I got familiar with De Luca's (and am) really excited to go back."
Assistant sports editor
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