The Winnipeg Jets are probably not disappointed with their choice at #2 overall in the 2016 NHL Draft, but it seems some of the fans — and analysts — aren’t thrilled with the 20 year old.
But the Winnipeg Jets have Patrik Laine to look at as a turning point in their franchise. No, he wasn’t the first draft pick they had to really pan out (looking at you, Mark Scheifele), but he’s the most polarizing.
Laine burst onto the scene after being taken just after Auston Matthews, and they’ll be forever linked. Kinda like Carmelo Anthony / LeBron James / Chris Bosh / Dwyane Wade were after going in the first five picks in 2003. I mean, since then, James has separated himself, but this isn’t a basketball website.
In 2016, their rookie campaigns, Matthews averaged .49 goals per game and .35 assists per game on his way to winning the Calder. Laine? He averaged .49 GPG and .38 APG, but he missed nine games and finished with lighter numbers.
But since, Matthews has dealt with injuries, missing 20 games last season and he’s already missed some time this year. Laine had a great year as a 19 year old, scoring 44 goals and 70 points.
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The Winnipeg Jets have been getting better and it looked as though Laine would ascend to stardom. He struggled in the playoffs, however, and was clearly exhausted, which is understandable for someone his age who hadn’t ever played that much hockey before.
And when the Jets lost, love for Laine seemed to go out the window with it. As expectations rose, people on Twitter and around the game had far less patience with his development.
And now this season, he’s still getting the goals, averaging .52 per game, among the best in the NHL. But assists? They’ve dropped to .19 per game, as he has just nine on the season — tanking his overall numbers in the process.
Listen, development is not linear. And this dude is still below the legal drinking age (in the US). He’s still top 20 in the NHL in goals. And tied with the lead on the Central Division-leading Jets.
In comments sections, though, he’s routinely blasted as he’s gone cold following his ridiculous streak of 13 goals in six contests. That put him on pace for over 70 at the time, which was obviously never going to happen.
Yes, Patrik Laine is a flawed player. He’s not the best skater, but he’s learning to use his size (6’5, 205lbs) to his advantage. And while I wouldn’t put him on the PK, he’s a hell of an asset on the man-advantage, wherein the Jets are one of the best in the NHL.
There are things not to like about his game, though. He doesn’t drive possession, but he should have someone on his line that does to maximize his production. Bryan Little is not that. As a result, the Finnish Force™ has a 47.8% Corsi and a -9 plus/minus, which is by far the worst on the team.
Little, unsurprisingly, is second worst among the regulars…at minus 2. So his defense needs some work, and his possession numbers could stand to get better. But Laine didn’t get any time in the minors.
He went straight from Finland to the NHL, and held his own immediately. And while he’s hit some bumps, a 20 year old with 105 career goals is a really nice player to have. Especially when he’s the fourth highest scoring player on the team.
I understand the criticism of Laine to a degree, but it seems many Jets fans aren’t willing to accept anything but Alex Ovechkin numbers. Scheifele’s ascendance and Blake Wheeler‘s late-career breakout have made the Winnipeg Jets firm contenders.
But also, they’ve made the growing pains of a 20 year old hard to stomach for fans who haven’t had much to celebrate recently. In that way, I understand. While Laine isn’t a perfect player, though, he’s better than most would have you believe.
Just wait until his next hot streak.