Last summer we looked at Winnipeg Jets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois, fresh off an underwhelming debut season with the franchise.

Twenty points in 41 games is nothing to scoff at, but the Jets were hopeful the player they were acquiring was the same one who took the 2019-20 Stanley Cup Playoffs by storm with his dominating two-way play for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

One of the concerns with Dubois’ disappointing first season – and I use the word disappointing only in relative terms; he’s clearly a fantastic player – was an inability to elevate the play of those around him. The team needed some secondary scoring behind the Mark Scheifele line, and that didn’t materialize.

Additionally, Dubois’ reputation as a gifted off-puck player didn’t amount to much in the way of defensive improvement either. Winnipeg’s inability to play with the puck and control the pace was non-existent. Rather than Dubois lifting the performance of others, it was the others acting as an anchor of sorts on Dubois’ play.

It made this season a pivotal one – doubly so for a player who enters restricted free agency this summer. And has Dubois ever delivered. On the offensive side of the ice, Dubois’ 22 goals are second best in the Winnipeg lineup (behind Kyle Connor’s 32) and 32nd in the National Hockey League, sandwiched between players like Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov and San Jose’s Tomas Hertl.

We expected some regression to the upside after last season’s quiet offensive production, but it’s notable to me the 23-year-old forward is running career highs in scoring this season.

Consider his offensive output (all situations) since entering the league, and notice how Dubois as an individual attacker has dialled up the intensity this season:

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Those are significant moves. What’s different? The short answer is Winnipeg has been much better at sustaining offensive-zone pressure. Year-over-year, the Jets have seen a 13 per cent improvement in the volume of shots they’re generating, and a 16 per cent increase in expected goals (shots adjusted for quality). Much of that improvement has come inside of the top six, and on Dubois’ line in particular.

I mentioned personnel factoring in earlier. Last year, Dubois played primarily with Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Paul Stastny up front, with Derek Forbort and Josh Morrissey backstopping his line. Dubois is still playing healthy minutes with Connor (and this pairing has been sensational all year), but he’s also been given two new weapons in the form of Evgeny Svechnikov up top, and Nate Schmidt behind him.

Courtesy HockeyViz, we can see how these groups (with a focus on Dubois’ minutes) performed year-over-year. Below shows the Dubois line at 5-on-5 last season versus this season, with a focus on the offensive side of the ice:

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It’s not just more volume for the Dubois line, which is significant. They also fixed a fatal flaw the second line kept running into last year, and that was an inability to pierce the interior of opposing defences. Exposing that area of the defence is perhaps the hardest thing to accomplish in the modern NHL, and it usually requires incredible individual talent or routine playmaking as a five-man unit. At any rate, they’re doing it with a fury now.

Not surprisingly, the added pressure offensively has led to a bit of pressure relief on the defensive side of things. The Jets still can find themselves in trouble away from the puck, but the constant shelling of Connor Hellebuyck from in tight – at least with the Dubois line on the ice – has dissipated this season:

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The Jets are still a very average team, and the reality is they have about a one-in-five shot of reaching the post-season – hardly where Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff expected this club to be.

But sometimes you have to look at the bigger organizational picture. Irrespective of what happens to the Jets this season, Dubois has been outstanding for the Jets, answering every question they may have had about his game and his future in Winnipeg from last summer. It seems the Jets have found another core piece to go along with Connor, Scheifele, Hellebuyck, and Ehlers.

If that’s the case, building out the rest of this roster should be a very manageable challenge.

Data via Natural Stat Trick, Evolving Hockey, HockeyViz,