International Ice Hockey Federation

Laine shoots for glory

Laine shoots for glory

Finnish teen has carried momentum from 2016 WJC

Published 25.04.2017 09:17 GMT-4 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Laine shoots for glory
Even though Patrik Laine won't play for Finland in Montreal, his success shows how the World Juniors can be a springboard to NHL success. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Bryan Adams once had a hit with “18 Til I Die.” Looking at Patrik Laine’s feats this year, the Winnipeg Jets would probably be fine with him staying 18 forever.

The Tampere-born right wing is vying with Sidney Crosby for the NHL goal-scoring lead. It’s remarkable to see how much Laine has done since helping Finland win the 2016 World Juniors with seven goals and 13 points in seven games in Helsinki.

“It’s just been an amazing start for my first season in the NHL, but I have to get better,” said Laine. “Focus on those little things during the games and hope I can improve my skills every day.”

In May, he was named the MVP of the 2016 IIHF World Championship in St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia. Also named Best Forward and a tournament all-star, the natural sniper tallied seven goals and five assists as Finland claimed the silver medal. And that came on the heels of winning the Finnish championship with Tappara and taking MVP honors with 10 playoff goals.

Laine won’t be at this year’s World Juniors in Montreal, which – on a purely chronological basis – is unusual. After all, he’d be eligible to play in the 2018 tournament in Buffalo at age 19 as well. It speaks to his great talent.

Most Finnish stars play in multiple World Juniors, especially since the nation of 5.4 million has a small talent pool to draw on. Jari Kurri suited up in 1979 and 1980, Saku Koivu in 1993 and 1994, and Tuukka Rask in 2005, 2006, and 2007.

A notable exception to that rule was the retired forward to whom Laine is most frequently compared: Teemu Selanne. “The Finnish Flash” only made one World Junior appearance, at the 1989 tournament in Anchorage, Alaska. In 1992-93, Selanne would set jaw-dropping new NHL rookie records with 76 goals and 132 points for the Jets.

Laine has reaped comparisons not only to Selanne, but also to contemporary superstars like Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Steven Stamkos. Vancouver Canucks defenceman Chris Tanev, a cornerstone member of the Canadian team that topped Finland 2-0 in the 2016 World Championship gold medal game, said: “Him and Ovechkin probably shoot it the best in the league.”

He’s had a smoother adjustment to the NHL so far than his 2016 World Junior linemate, Jesse Puljujarvi, who has struggled to produce for the Edmonton Oilers. Their slick centre, Sebastian Aho, has fit in nicely with the Carolina Hurricanes, but hasn’t taken the league by storm like Laine.

It’s amusing Laine was nicknamed “Patsyuk” back home in honor of former Detroit Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk. The Russian veteran is primarily known for his virtuoso stickhandling and two-way game. Laine, despite being blessed with great hands, mainly gets notoriety for his powerful shot, and his defensive play is still a work in progress.

At the Jets’ team skills competition on December 16, Laine barely lost out to hulking American defenceman Dustin Byfuglien in the hardest-shot category. Byfuglien registered 101.3 miles per hour (163.026 kilometres per hour) to Laine’s 101.2 (162.865). However, Laine won the accuracy contest, going 4-for-4 on targets in 8.4 seconds with his whippy Bauer stick with an 87 flex rating.

Drafted second overall behind Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs in June, Laine has shone on an exciting top line for the Jets that features two other IIHF stars: Danish winger Nikolaj Ehlers (2015 World Juniors, 2016 Worlds) and centre Mark Scheifele (2012 and 2013 World Juniors, 2014 Worlds, and 2016 Worlds gold). As an NHL rookie, Laine has already scored more goals in fewer games than he did with Tappara (17 goals in 46 games) last season. Many feel he’s the front-runner for the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year.

Only once in 2016 has Laine truly found himself firing blanks. He got 10 shots on goal but registered zero points in three games at September’s World Cup of Hockey. Finland came eighth and last in Toronto. It was a learning experience, but it didn’t dim the big blonde kid’s confidence. Laine made headlines when he potted a one-timer off the rush against the Colorado Avalanche on December 18 and then told a Finnish reporter afterwards he’d score from that spot 99 times out of 100. Teenage bravado? Or an honest self-assessment?

“It’s part of who I am and it’s a big part of my game,” Laine said. “I know what I’m capable of and how good I am and that’s not a bad thing. People can think what they want but I know how good I am and I’m not afraid to say it.”

He’s not afraid to show it either, and that’s exciting for fans both of the Winnipeg Jets and the Finnish national team. While Patrik Laine is doing just fine at 18, he’s only going to get better.


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