Jets’ Laine Has Evolved into a Complete Player

Remember the Patrik Laine of yore who was a liability when he wasn’t lighting the lamp?

That player is long gone.

Laine’s Game Has Exponentially Evolved

Laine’s third-period goal on Saturday afternoon in the Winnipeg Jets’ 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators is a prime example of how much his game has evolved since last season.

He made a blunder in the offensive zone while the Jets were on the power play, which led to the Senators breaking out three-on-one. Laine busted his butt to backcheck and break up the shorthanded chance at his own blue line before the Senators could get a shot.

The Jets came back the other way on a four-on-one, which culminated in Laine one-timing a Blake Wheeler dish past Marcus Hogberg and completing the eighth hat trick of his career.

Laine would have given up on that play, and many others like it, last season, when his defensive-zone deficiencies were disturbing and he seemed either utterly disinterested or completely incapable of winning a battle or getting a clean clearance.

Last season, he was on the ice for 50 goals for and 69 against, a minus-19 differential. This season, he’s been on the ice for 56 goals for and just 41 against, a plus-14 differential.

A One-Trick Pony No Longer

That’s an incredible swing, and one of the biggest signs the Finn has developed from a one-trick pony into a total 200-foot workhorse.

Patrik Laine Winnipeg Jets
Patrik Laine’s evolution into a complete player is a sight to behold. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Although the 21-year-old would be the first to admit he still loves scoring above all else, he’s looking to do more than just put the puck in the net. He has already set career-high in assists with 29; his passing prowess is an underrated aspect of his game and something he showed hints of last season as “Patrik the Playmaker” on a line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.

Laine’s overall offensive awareness has come a long way, which was especially apparent when he played on a heady top line with Scheifele and Kyle Connor through the Jets’ franchise record 10-win November.

Related: Jets Top Line Beginning to Shine

And he showed it again Saturday — none of his trio of man-advantage markers came from his “office” where he stands, stationary, waiting to get a pass he can one-time. The first goal came from right in front of the net on a rebound, the second came on a deft deflection, and the third came off the rush.

“I gotta find new ways to score,” Laine said post-game Saturday. “I haven’t scored that many goals from ‘my spot’ so I just try to change it up a little bit, go to different spots and get those kind of dirty goals and tips…”

Laine’s Playing Like a Power Forward

Laine’s shot is so strong that he’s been able to score goals from outside the “home plate” area throughout his career. However, his newfound willingness to go to different areas to produce offence makes him far more valuable to the team. He “only” has 24 goals this season with 25 games to go and is unlikely to come close to his career-best of 44. However, if he keeps being active in different areas, the points are bound to come. We’ve seen that as he’s tallied four goals and an assist in the first two games of the Jets’ do-or-die six-game homestand.

His power forward tendencies are shining through in other ways too; the 6-foot-5, 205-pound forward has dished out a career-high 82 hits and is logging more ice time on average than ever before.

Winnipeg Jets Patrik Laine
Laine’s play has been more akin to a power forward this season than a sniper. (Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

The fact Laine’s taking pride in his defensive game shows he is maturing: “you always got to backcheck, it doesn’t matter what the score is. That’s going to look stupid if you stand there and don’t try,” he said of the play that resulted in his third goal Saturday. “I’m proud of that. Even, if after that, the result is not a goal, that doesn’t matter. I still take a lot of pride from that play and got to keep playing like that.”

To hear Laine say he wants to learn, be continually better, and “not only be that guy who just puts it in” is also encouraging. For the first time, it seems genuine and not just lip service.

Laine Gaining Leverage

In less than a year-and-a-half from now, Laine’s modest, prove-yourself year bridge deal — which he signed less than a week before the regular season began — will be up for renewal.

If he can keeping scoring from places other than ‘his spot,’ be a point per game guy, and continue to round into shape defensively, he’ll be able to cash in handsomely come summer 2021.

Patrik Laine Winnipeg Jets
If Laine keeps doing what he’s doing, his next contract will be a big one. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

After getting the bridge deal done, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said “We’re just starting to scratch the surface of what (Laine) actually brings to the table. We’ve got an opportunity here to see it all unfold before our eyes.”

Cheveldayoff was right. It’s unfolding now and it’s great to see, because Laine 2.0 is a player you can feel good about giving a long-term deal.

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