TORONTO — Pierre-Luc Dubois said he believes he can help the Winnipeg Jets contend for the Stanley Cup this season by getting back to “the true me.”
The center said he knows he failed to meet expectations when he was traded to the Jets by the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 23. Columbus received forwards Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic, with Winnipeg also acquiring a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.
Dubois scored 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 41 regular-season games after the trade, which came after he scored one goal in five games for the Blue Jackets. He had three assists in seven Stanley Cup Playoff games but did not score a point after top-line center Mark Scheifele was suspended in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Second Round, when the Jets were swept by the Montreal Canadiens in four games.
He said his performance wasn’t good enough.
“I kind of lost myself last year in the trade and the injuries, and my play, who I was on the ice, off the ice, I felt wasn’t the true me,” Dubois said last week at the NHL/NHLPA Player Media Tour.
Dubois said he was not in the best shape to start last season because of COVID-19 disruptions, which affected his offseason training, and the 14-day quarantine he served after the trade. He sustained a lower-body injury in his second game with the Jets, keeping him out of the lineup for four more games.
Now he is ready to return to form.
“I feel great,” Dubois said. “I love working out at my gym, so to have the full 12 weeks with my trainer, and getting on the ice more often, it really felt great. To have four months of no hockey, just getting ready for the season, learning from my mistakes, I think this year will be the same me as before, not the me from last year.”
Dubois had scored at least 48 points in each of his previous three NHL seasons, including an NHL career-high 61 points (27 goals, 34 assists) in 82 games in 2018-19. If the Jets are to make a run at the Stanley Cup, he will be expected to play a key role.
“Any year you don’t aim to win a Cup is a lost year,” Dubois said. “You can never take a year for granted, but you look at our roster and the potential we have, I’m not promising a Stanley Cup, but if we do the right things and prepare the right way, the sky is the limit for us.”
Winnipeg helped solidify its defenseman group in the offseason by acquiring Brenden Dillon in a trade with the Washington Capitals and Nate Schmidt in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks. With those additions, a deep group of forwards and Connor Hellebuyck, who won the Vezina Trophy voted as the top goalie in the NHL in 2019-20, Dubois said he feels the Jets have all the pieces they need.
“You look at our team, we don’t have many holes,” he said. “It’s really looking good for us. Now it’s just can we piece it all together?”
As for whether that’s too much pressure to put on a team that hasn’t advanced past the second round of the playoffs since losing to the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2018 Western Conference Final, Jets coach Paul Maurice said, “I don’t know how I feel about that, that pressure. I know I’m excited to come into the rink, and I feel that. To tell you the truth, I think we did an unbelievable job last year with that [defense]. There were four teams that had a better season than we did. A really painful end and that hurt, but I like this group.
“I think there’s a balance there now that we haven’t had, that we can do a whole bunch of different things on the ice that we’ve never done before, and I’m excited about that.”
Dubois said he welcomes such pressure.
“As someone who wants to be the best they can be, there’s always that pressure,” he said. “One of my favorite quotes is from [former Philadelphia Flyers coach] Fred Shero, and he said, ‘If you don’t want to be criticized, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.’ I know where my game can be at and I know where it was last season, and that’s not where I want it to be. It’s not like I thought I was playing my best hockey either.
“I think there’s another step to take. If you are content with where you are at, that’s where the best players separate from just average players.”