Pierre-Luc Dubois felt like an impostor. Forced to deal with several quarantines, a high-profile conflict with his ex-coach, a very close exchange, injuries and loneliness, the center of the Winnipeg Jets has never been comfortable during a campaign. 2020-2021 roller coaster amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
And Dubois knows very well that some will consider these explanations as excuses. But that’s his reality when he looks back on a grueling season that has worn him out both physically and mentally. “I didn’t feel like myself,” he explained. I know that’s not the real me. It’s almost like I’m wearing a mask. “
Now rested and reinvigorated from a more usual summer, the third pick in the 2016 NHL Draft is confident this season will be different.
“Finally, the mask has fallen,” Dubois added during the NHL / NHLH media tour last week. I am back to my normal state. “
The road was strewn with pitfalls, however. After an exceptional contribution with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2020 NHL playoff bubble, Dubois struggled to train and find ice time at home in Montreal due to restrictions on coronavirus.
He was not in his usual physical form when he returned to Ohio last fall to continue preparations for an abbreviated schedule before finding himself in quarantine when a COVID-19 outbreak raged in the Blue Jackets’ locker room .
Having already asked to leave Columbus, things then escalated once the season started in a January game when he was benched for more than two periods by John Tortorella, who felt the player was not putting all the hard work required.
Dubois was then traded to the Jets for Patrick Laine and Jack Roslovic two days later, in a transfer that also saw the Jets secure a third round pick in 2022.
But instead of immediately hopping on the ice and getting to know his new teammates, he instead had to undergo another two-week quarantine – this one demanded by the Canadian government – at a hotel in Winnipeg.
And even at the end of these 14 days of lockdown, Dubois has not been able to truly integrate into his new team due to restrictions due to COVID-19.
There were no dinners with teammates, no group outings on trips abroad, no chats over a beer, no screaming from the local crowd.
“It’s difficult when you don’t know the people,” continued the 24-year-old. How do you communicate? How do you tell them you want the puck here? It was hard. I tried to get to know them as much as possible at the arena, but everyone has their own life. “
“I feel like I am [encore] new… I feel like guys don’t really know who I am. I feel like I don’t really know my teammates. “
With a salary that counts for US $ 5 million at the salary cap this season and eligible for the free agent market with compensation in July, Dubois ended up ending a season in which he was held back by injury with eight goals and 20 points in 41 games with the Jets after scoring once in five games for Columbus.
The six-foot-two, 205-pound forward added three assists in seven playoff games as the Jets swept the Edmonton Oilers before being eliminated in four straight games by the Montreal Canadiens.
“You’re obviously disappointed because you never know when you can win a Stanley Cup,” Dubois said. A week later, I was like, “OK, I can finally reset”. “
“It’s hard to reset everything in the middle of a season. “
But the athlete, who had a career-high 27 goals, 34 assists and 61 points in 2018-19, believes he’s here now.
“I feel like the real Pierre-Luc Dubois and not like the guy who is concerned with getting back in shape, preoccupied with integrating,” added the native of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts. A lot of these things that I had never experienced in my life, all happened at the same time. To say I’m excited would be an understatement. “
And that bodes well for the Jets and head coach Paul Maurice, impressed when told Dubois was ready to take responsibility for what happened last season, as the team is about to begin his training camp on Wednesday.
“It takes a lot of courage from a young man,” he said. It’s so rare that you find people who want to take responsibility for things that didn’t go well. “
Maurice is also encouraged by a player who has not yet reached his full potential, entering his fifth season in the NHL.
“I have full confidence in this young man,” said Maurice, who is about to start his 24e season as a head coach in the NHL, and his 9e in Winnipeg. When we met at the end of the last season [en juin], I knew exactly how he felt about his year. He had a very good understanding of the situation. Lots of people can talk, but the most important thing for me is when our fitness trainer comes back and says, “Oh my God he looks great”. You can’t pretend. “
Dubois has 74 goals and 179 points in 280 NHL games with eight goals and 14 assists in 33 playoff games, including this 10-point performance in 10 games in the summer bubble in 2020.
After going through his most difficult season yet, Dubois feels like this player again. “The real Pierre-Luc Dubois is back,” he summed up.