The Winnipeg Jets have between seven and 14 days before they’ll have to address one of the most pleasant dilemmas a hockey team could ever have. Somewhere in that time frame, newly acquired center Pierre-Luc Dubois is due to come out of quarantine and be ready to join his new teammates. The only problem with that his teammates are playing so well right now that it’s hard to see where he fits into the lineup.
We joke, but only a little. The Jets did not give up Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic to get Dubois, only to bury him on the lower half of the roster. But when the forwards have been playing as well as they have of late, you wonder about how much you want to mess with a good thing. But there is not a coach or a team in the world who would ever complain about having too many talented players. This is indeed a very good thing.
“You would look at things that you really like and not wanting to disrupt that,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice. “You’re going to find a spot for him. I’ve got a spot for him if everybody’s healthy, if all the lines are playing well. I’ve got an idea of where he goes if one of the lines is struggling. We’ll get to the day that he’s back on the ice, get him back up to speed and whoever is going will stay together and whoever needs some help, that’s probably where he’ll go.”
And seven games into the season, therein lies the problem, specifically finding a line that is not going for the Jets at the moment. There’s no reason to even tinker with the first unit of Mark Scheifele between Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler. But after that, things get really interesting. The second unit of Paul Stastny between Andrew Copp and Nikolaj Ehlers has been sensational. In fact, when it comes to playing both sides of the puck, you could make the case that Ehlers has been the best player in the NHL so far this season. Ehlers has five goals and 11 points in seven games so far, which is good for third in NHL scoring, despite the fact that he has averaged less ice time than anyone who is currently in the league’s top 15 scorers. That is a testament to the Jets’ depth at forward. And Maurice is just as impressed with the fact that Ehlers is leading the league in plus-minus at plus-10.
“I understand the value of the stat, that it doesn’t tell you as much as you think it does,” Maurice said. “But at the same time, it tells you something. One of the advantages we have here from the way that we’re structured, is that they can play almost third-line minutes, which is in that 14-16 minute range. But (Ehlers) is clearly not a third-line player. The thing that impresses me the most about Nikolaj is how far along he is in his development. We feel he’s turned pro, as you say. He’s not a guy we come to the rink wondering what kind of player he’s going to be tonight.”
In some ways, Ehlers has found the perfect linemates, who allow him to maximize his dynamic skating abilities and are able to get him the puck. Or as Copp said recently, “Nicky doesn’t have to hesitate in his reads and that makes him look and play faster. The changes the entire complexion of the line based on him skating fast, playing fast with the puck instead of him just skating fast to nowhere.”
So perhaps there’s room on the third line at the moment. Yeah, about that. It has drawn raves from Maurice as well for its ability to play on the defensive side of the puck and create offense as well. Third-line center Adam Lowry has 4-3-7 totals in his past five games, so that’s going pretty well.
One possibility that has been bandied about has been moving Copp down to the third line to play with Lowry and moving Stastny to left wing on the second line to accommodate Dubois. That would give the Jets some of the best forward depth in the NHL and give them three lines that can share the workload and make life generally pretty miserable for their opponents. Dubois is in quarantine until Feb. 6, but may need some time to find his legs. The best part for the Jets is that, at least for the time being, there’s no sense of desperation that will force them to rush him into the lineup.