The Winnipeg Jets at the Draft: Patrik Laine

On April 29, Patrik Laine wasn’t really part of the plan for the Winnipeg Jets. As April 30 turns into May 1, he’s all Jets fans want to talk about.

It’s amazing what a lottery pick can do for your franchise. You go from likely looking at the sixth overall pick and a bevy of solid players to the second overall pick and a shot at Laine, a towering Finnish sniper who could jump straight to the NHL in a top-six role next season.

Laine, who some consider to be the best prospect available for 2016, is the kind of player who can instantly turn the fortunes of a franchise around, and the Jets are unbelievably lucky to have a chance to draft him. While June 24 is still a ways off, consensus is that the Toronto Maple Leafs, the winners of the lottery, will use the pick to draft Auston Matthews, the number one centre they’ve coveted since Mats Sundin left. That leaves Winnipeg, the unlikely winner of the second pick, with a lovely consolation prize falling into their laps.

Everything about that Tweet from Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun should have Jets fans rubbing their hands together in glee. Some networks actually have Laine listed 6’4 and over 200 pounds and all of them have that impressive stats line. He put those numbers up in the Finnish elite league, one of the toughest leagues in Europe, playing against grown men. His learning curve for the NHL should be short, and his impact is projected to be huge.

So, now that the Jets have won the lottery (or one of the lotteries) what should their fans know about Laine?

A Future Finnish Flash?

Okay, so the comparisons to Teemu Selanne are just a touch unfair, but there are some mutual skills there, and the fact that Laine is going to the reincarnation of Teemu’s old team won’t do anything to blunt the comparisons. Neither will Laine’s wicked shot. That’s the first thing Jets fans should know about him: this kid is a terrific sniper. His release is lightning-quick and his shot is highly accurate. His 10 goals in 18 playoff games stand as evidence of his ability to find the net, and his playoff MVP honours illustrate his ability to produce in big games.

Laine may not be a great set-up man, but when you can shoot like he can you don’t need to be. He channels his inner Ovechkin on the power play and parks at the top of the left circle to unleash a wicked one-timer. Nobody on the Jets can pull this off as well as he can, and he would instantly give the Jets another threatening weapon on the PP. And if the one-timer isn’t an option, Laine is just as comfortable with a quick and deadly wrist shot.

 

YouTube player

With fast hands, a scorer’s touch and an overpowering shot, it’s easy to see why he’s drawing comparisons to Finland’s greatest player ever. Add to that equation imposing size and you have a recipe for a terrific hockey player.

Winnipeg is starting to amass a collection of players who can really rip a puck. Mark Scheifele’s wrist shot is well known, Nikolaj Ehlers can fire it, and Kyle Connor has a great release off the rush. Add Laine to that mix and opposing goalies will quickly get sick of the Jets.

Laine’s shot is definitely his calling card, and for a Jets team that was far too often reluctant to shoot the puck last year this could be saving grace. It’s also evident, watching his highlights in Finland and watching him play at the WJC, that he is comfortable shooting from just about anywhere, so opponents must always be on their toes.

With the size needed to play a grinding game, the skill needed to rack up points, and a shot that would impress Steven Stamkos, it’s easy to see why scouts are so high on this kid. Everything from “future 40-goal scorer” to “Finland’s next great hockey player” has been tossed around describing him, so you can also see why Jets fans are so excited, and where the comparisons to Selanne start to creep in.

Laine has been terrific in international competitions too. His World Juniors for gold medalist Finland were outstanding, as he put up an incredible 7 goals and 13 points in just 7 games. He was clutch in the medal round, and a force all over the ice. Just as he was in the playoffs for Tappara, Laine was the biggest player in the biggest games for the Finns.

Sportsnet analyst Sam Cosentino says Laine  can do things at top speed and lauded his combination of speed, size, and skill, and he, like many other scouts, praises the Finnish sniper’s elite shot. Really, I could go on about that shot all day (hey, I’m excited too) and the thought of Laine one day terrorizing goalies from the right hand side while Connor victimizes them from the left is enough to make even this most recent dismal season in Winnipeg seem worth it.

Because some scouts feel Laine has surpassed even Matthews as the best player in this draft, the possibility exists, however remote, that he could go first overall before the Jets snag him. Not that Winnipeg getting Auston Matthews would be the worst thing for them, but at this point it seems unlikely.

It may eventually be, however, that even though Winnipeg picked second they got the best player in the draft. June 24 can’t come fast enough.