Dubois continues to shine as Jets take down Coyotes before five-game trip

WINNIPEG – It’s hard to imagine Pierre-Luc Dubois making a grander entrance into the Bell Centre, at least as a member of the visiting team.

As the Winnipeg Jets get set to play their only game this season in La Belle Province, Dubois is clearly going to be under the interrogation lamp in both official languages.

Reporters will be hanging on his every word in both English and French, searching for clues about what Dubois’ future intentions might be.

The Montreal Canadiens are certainly hoping that Connor Bedard lands in their laps in the 2023 NHL Draft, but it’s hard to imagine Dubois not being an object of their desire when it comes to a potential offseason trade as they look to accelerate the rebuilding plan.

Dubois, who is a restricted free agent this summer who can potentially become a UFA in the summer of 2024, is an engaging fellow and he knows what’s coming, but you can expect him to defer all talk of the future as the Jets open a season-long five-game road trip.

That won’t stop the speculation, but that’s not Dubois’ concern.

He lives in the moment and will work on his next contract when the time is right.

His ability to compartmentalize has been on display all season long and if you thought the offseason comments made by his agent Pat Brisson that his client might want to suit up for his hometown team was a sign he already had one foot out the door, you were sadly mistaken.

Dubois continues to take steps forward with his game, the latest contribution coming in a 2-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday night.

Not only did Dubois produce his 20th goal of the campaign (in Game 44), he continues to blossom in the role of a bona fide power forward – combining skill and will on a shift-by-shift basis.

“He’s just one of those guys who’s just so smooth,” said Jets right-winger Blake Wheeler, who delivered the game-winning goal on Sunday. “It’s almost frustrating to watch him, just how easy he makes the game look. (Adam Lowry) and I were sitting together on the bench when he walked in on that power play and clanged that one off the bar.

“We were just kind of laughing. It’s elite, it’s pretty special the things he does out there. He almost makes it look effortless. For a guy his size, you know, just how big his body is, too, to be able to move that seamlessly is a real gift.”

On Sunday, Dubois joined Mark Scheifele (26) and Kyle Connor (21) as the third 20-goal scorer on the Jets’ roster.

“We need four lines, we need everybody to get going,” said Dubois, whose career-high for goals is 28. “Like I said during the intermission, goals are great but there’s a lot of ways you can contribute. For myself personally, goals are always fun to score, I’m not going to complain, but I want to be even more than that. But yeah. Three guys (at 20 or higher) and hopefully a lot more throughout the season.”

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Jets head coach Rick Bowness challenged Dubois during the offseason to improve his play without the puck as he worked to take his game to the next level.

The results to this point have been outstanding – all the while Dubois continues to improve his offensive game as well.

Watching a player unlock his full potential is something Bowness takes an enormous amount of pride in.

“You love seeing that. And again, I know he has his 20 goals now and he’s up there in scoring but he’s very underrated defensively,” said Bowness. “He’s a solid two way player right now. He really is, and you give him a lot of credit for that, because he uses his size and his reach and his strength at both ends of the rink now. He’s going to score and he’s going to create offence but if you watch him compete in our zone and you watch his reads, he does a really good job defensively. So that’s an underrated part of his game.”

As someone with a similar body type, Jets forward Morgan Barron is constantly watching Dubois on the ice for intricacies he can work into his own repertoire.

“There’s a lot to like,” said Barron. “The way he can play a power forward (game) with skill and obviously, he isn’t afraid to get involved with the chippy stuff too. He’s someone I like watching a lot and he’s someone I sit next to here in the room, so I just love picking his brain.

“There is so much he can do with the puck. You see out there, the way he protects it, the way he can cut back on guys and use his speed, use his size. Someone for me personally that I can look at, in terms of the dimensions of our body. I can take a lot of things and slowly try to apply some of those things to my game.”

No matter what happens with Dubois in the future, what can’t be denied right now is how much he’s enjoying the game and how much his game continues to grow.

He’s flourishing under Bowness, his chemistry with Kyle Connor is undeniable and Nikolaj Ehlers has proven to be an outstanding addition to that top line since he’s returned from injury.

How big a factor that will be for Dubois when it comes to his decision-making process, only he knows for sure.

He’s one of several players delivering some of the best hockey of their career and that’s part of what has made the Jets such a dangerous team.

Tuesday is sure to be a special night for Dubois, games against the Canadiens always are.

He’s also a guy who knows how to elevate his game when the spotlight is on, which is something the Jets are counting on during the stretch run and into the playoffs.

With Sunday’s victory, the Jets (29-14-1) have won nine of the past 10 games and that remarkable run has allowed them to move into sole possession of first place in the Central Division and into top spot in the Western Conference in terms of points percentage (.670) – just .003 points ahead of the red-hot Seattle Kraken.

There are no banners for being in that spot after Game 44, but it beats the alternative of being below the playoff line and battling tooth and nail to avoid falling in the standings or out of the race entirely.

“It’s great. Last year was such a disappointing, frustrating year, where you felt like, 30 games left in the season and you mathematically have a chance of making the playoffs, but you’re going to have to win 28 out of 30,” said Dubois, who is up to 49 points in 44 games. “Because at the last point of the year, good teams win and the bad teams don’t necessarily win as much. That playoff race is so important. The better you can set yourself up for that point of the season, the bigger it is for the end of the year. You want to finish strong at the end of the year. You don’t want to finish just feeling decent about yourself going into the playoffs.”

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