'I think it'll be a perfect fit': Dubois eager for fresh start with Winnipeg Jets

Pierre-Luc Dubois isn't about to let his final moments with the Columbus Blue Jackets colour his future.

The star centre had already publicly expressed his desire to move on from Ohio when Columbus coach John Tortorella benched him early in Thursday's 3-2 overtime loss to Tampa Bay for a listless performance.

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On Saturday, Dubois got his wish — the Blue Jackets dealt him and a 2022 third-round draft pick to the Winnipeg Jets for forwards Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic.

With the deal done, Dubois is moving past his final outing for Columbus.

"I was doing the math earlier — I’ve played almost 300 games, almost 6,000 shifts in the NHL, so there’s a lot more than just the one shift," he told reporters on a video call Sunday. "It’s something that’s behind me and I’m just really excited to be here and be part of this team."

The 22-year-old from Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., arrived in Winnipeg late Saturday night and sat down to watch highlights of his new teammates trouncing the Ottawa Senators 6-3.

The Jets (4-1-0) are a team Dubois said he used to hate playing against.

"The combination of size and skill and work ethic, they're just hard to play against," he said. "And you cap it all off with one of the best goalies in the NHL, it was really annoying playing against them."

Picked third overall by Columbus in the 2016 NHL draft, Dubois hasn't been easy to play against over his three seasons in the league.

Though he was limited to a single goal in five games with the Blue Jackets this year, he led the team in scoring last season with 49 points (18 goals, 31 assists). Over 293 career NHL games, he's chalked up 159 points (66 goals, 93 assists).

Dubois signed a two-year, US$10-million contract with Columbus before the start of the season, but made it clear he wanted to play elsewhere.

"It was a long process. It wasn’t just one morning you woke up and you felt differently," he said. "There’s a lot of stuff that happens.

"And without going into detail, I just think that sometimes you have to remain true to yourself and how you feel and how you think."

Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff believes the six-foot-three, 208-pound forward will fit in well with the offensive core the Jets have assembled.

It's a group that's seen success early this season, climbing into second place in the North Division, just two points behind the Montreal Canadiens.

"I think if you look at Pierre-Luc’s analytics, you look at how he drives play through the middle of the ice and you look at his performance in the playoffs, those are enticing things," Cheveldayoff said Saturday.

"He seems to rise to the bigger games in that regard and he’s looking for the opportunity to play in a market that’s crazy about hockey."

Dubois believes he'll complement Winnipeg's existing pieces, too.

"I think the combination of size and skill is something that I have too, so I think it’ll be a perfect fit," he said. "It’s such a good team that the time to adapt won't be too hard."

It could be some time before Dubois hits the ice with his teammates, however, due to federal quarantine requirements.

While sitting in a hotel room for 14 days may be a challenge physically, the Jets' latest addition plans to use his time to get up to speed on how his new squad plays. He'll take part in team meetings via Zoom, and watch plenty of games and video.

Dubois said he's already received a number of texts from his new teammates.

He's also got a built-in welcoming committee in the city — his dad, Eric, is an assistant coach for the Jets' American Hockey League affiliate, the Manitoba Moose. Dubois said every time he's come to play in Winnipeg, his mom has provided him with a home-cooked meal.

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the NHL in March, Dubois retreated to Winnipeg to be with his family.

"It already feels like home," he said. "This could be an amazing opportunity to help an already really good team and to become an even better player."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2021.

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