When the Toronto Maple Leafs won the NHL’s draft lottery in 2016 it changed the fortunes of the Winnipeg Jets forever. While the Jets didn’t end up with the first overall pick, they were lucky enough to jump to second in a year where there just happened to be another potentially franchise alerting prospect available.
2015 gave us McDavid and Eichel and 2016 would not be outdone providing the hockey world with Matthews and Laine.
Patrik Laine came into draft day a skinny 18 year old prospect that had just completed one of the best years for any Finnish junior hockey player. 2015 was Laine’s first full season for Tappara in the Finnish men’s top League, Liiga. Tappara would make the playoffs and be led by the rookie Phenom scoring 10 goals and 15 points in only 9 games. This came after he helped Finland win the WJHC Gold medal on the back of his 7 goals and 13 points.
To say there was hype surrounding Winnipeg’s first round pick would be such an understatement. His earth-shattering shot and ability to score seemingly from anywhere had fans in Jetland dreaming of a past Finnish sniper who shattered the NHLs rookie goal scoring record in a Jets jersey many years ago.
Now, no one realistically expected Laine to come anywhere close to 76 goals, but many wondered if a 20-30 goal season could be had. Keeping in mind only 12 rookies in the last 11 years had scored 30 or more goals, so this was no easy feat.
With a goal and assist in his NHL debut, fans got a small look into what was to come from the young Finn. His coming out party came in game 4 when the Jets were taking on the Toronto Maple Leafs and Laine “rival” Auston Matthews. This was where Laine would score the first of his hat tricks that season in a stunning 5-4 OT game that saw Laine pot the dramatic game winner. This still stands out as most fans favourite moment from his young career.
The second hat trick came against Dallas on November 8th in an 8-2 win over the Stars.
And then on Valentine’s Day, Laine was given an extra sweet gift because at 18 years and 302 days old, he became the youngest player in NHL history to record his third career hat trick. This also came in a 5-2 drubbing of the Dallas Stars.
(Another historical note is that due to some strange rules the NHL has with records and team histories, Laine is now the “franchise” record holder for rookie goal scoring for the Winnipeg Jets 2.0. Teemu Selanne’s 76 goal season for the original Jets is currently the property of the Arizona Coyotes, but that’s a topic for another day…)
Laine made his way through his rookie campaign relatively healthy; missing only 9 games (mainly) due to a concussion. This occurred on January 7th in a game against the Buffalo Sabres. Jake McCabe leveled Laine in the neutral zone leaving the Jets sniper out cold in the middle of the ice. This was Laine’s first real taste of adversity at the pro level as at the time of the hit he was leading all rookies in scoring. However, it only took him two games though to return to his scoring ways after the injury and if he hadn’t missed that time, probably would have outscored Matthews (40 goals) on the season.
Overall he was able to score 36 goals and amass 64 points (both totals have him in the top 10 for best rookie seasons since 2005-2006, with the 36 goals being fourth best over that span) in his rookie campaign.
So how would the budding superstar follow up his historic first year? By continuing his elite goal scoring habits of course.
Now we jump to this week where he just finished playing in his 100th NHL game and scoring his 13th goal of the season. That goal was his 49th NHL goal, making him only the fourth player since the beginning of the 2005-06 season to score at least 49 goals in his first 100 games. (The other three are Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews and Sidney Crosby. Pretty good company to be in, I’d say).
So what will the next 100 games hold for Patrik? More goals would be my guess. While much has been made of Laine’s comments last month about hockey being hard right now, and how his confidence isn’t as high as he’d like, he is still scoring at a .481 Goals per game rate, which puts him on pace for nearly 40 goals again this year. And that’s with his lack of confidence. What’s he going to do once he starts to really feel it? Score 50? 60?
The sky is the limit with Laine and I’d be doing him a great disservice if I tried to put a ceiling on his production. If he finds his confidence (and a hot streak), there’s no reason to believe he can’t see that first 50 goal season as early as this year.
The fortunes of the Winnipeg Jets changed forever the day Laine was selected; now it’s time for the Young Finnish star to help the club realize it’s potential. Joined alongside other young stars in Mark Schiefele, Jacob Trouba, Kyle Connor, Nik Ehlers and Connor Hellebuyck the next 100 games should be even more incredible and may even contain some extra hockey come this spring.