Jets Need ‘Clutch’ Laine for the Playoffs

The Winnipeg Jets haven’t yet gotten a taste of Finnish superstar Patrik Laine’s playoff prowess. That, however, is about to change.

While Laine’s pre-NHL accomplishments have been buried under a wave of accolades on hockey’s biggest stage, sometimes we forget what made Laine so highly touted in his draft year. His shot was a big part of it, but his production in key situations was also a factor.

With the Jets bound for their first playoff series since 2015 and hoping for their first win in franchise history, everybody needs to be at their best. Despite the gap between the two in the standings, there’s no doubt Minnesota is a challenging first round draw.

As such, Winnipeg is going to need the version of Laine that cemented him as the second overall pick in his draft year. They need the Laine who scored 10 goals in 18 playoff games to lead Tappara to a league title. They need the Laine who scored in the gold medal game at the World Juniors as part of a run where he scored seven goals in seven games

Patrik Laine Jets bench
Patrik Laine has celebrated many regular season goals, and if the past is any indication he’ll be celebrating in the playoffs too. (Photo: Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With such a deep team up front, the Jets are not going to live and die by one player. But one player willing to take the team on his back can make a world of difference. That player could be Laine.

Jets Need ‘Streaky’ Laine to Be Hot

In the NHL at least, Laine has been a remarkably streaky player. He’s gone seven games without a goal and talked about how hard hockey suddenly was. He’s also gone through stretches where he looked invincible and blasted goals left and right.

Laine always comes out of these slumps firing on all cylinders. He goes from not being able to score to not being able to stop scoring. It’s been happening all year, and all throughout his young career really.

The end result of that streakiness, over an 82-game season, is magic. Laine made a strong push for the Rocket Richard Trophy this year and set a new record for European teenagers.

The unfortunate thing is, Laine won’t have a long time to correct himself in the playoffs. He can’t afford to go cold for six or seven games at a time. The Jets need him hot early on.

With that in mind, the fact that Laine scored just once in his last ten games might not be as panic-worthy as it looks. Laine actually looks like he’s about to bust out of a slump, not sink deeper into one.

By way of evidence for that, look at the shot totals from Laine’s recent games. He put 25 shots on net in that span and was never held without one. As they say, good players are only really worried when they’re not getting chances.

If Laine does get hot, he’s nearly unstoppable. The Jets have enough forward depth to recover if he falters, but what team wouldn’t want a player producing at the clip Laine has at various points this year.

In his most prolific stretch, the sniper posted 18 goals in just 15 games. When he’s hot, there’s nobody better. His shot on the power play is something teams always have to respect, but when Laine is on his game, it’s something they cheat towards, opening up other players.

The Jets need that against Minnesota. The Wild may not be as formidable as the Jets on paper, but take it from someone who’s seen them in the playoffs in many a series, they know how to play above their heads. They know how to upset teams.

The Wild can play stingy defensive hockey, and they’ve got a good mix of size and skill up front. They lack Ryan Suter, it’s true, but the team’s youngsters have stepped up beautifully in his absence, and the Wild enter the playoffs at 4-2-4 in their last ten.

A New Challenge for Laine

Watching Laine’s blistering goal against Carey Price, referenced in the above tweet, one thing jumps out: no one tries to block the shot. A couple of Canadiens think about blocking it, but both decide not to in the end. That won’t happen in the postseason.

This is the NHL playoffs. This is the time of year where players break their legs blocking shots and still finish their shifts. This is the time of year when players up and down the lineup throw themselves in front of pucks and the window to shoot gets a lot smaller.

Jets right wing Patrik Laine
Patrik Laine doesn’t need much time to unleash his shot, and that’s good because in the playoffs he won’t have it. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Laine won’t have much time to wind up or release the puck. Not that he needs either, but the lesser amount of time will be an adjustment.

It may also be his time to shine, however. With so little time to get the puck to the net, only a handful of players can be really deadly shooters in the postseason. Laine has the tools to be one of them.

If Laine can do that consistently, he’ll add to his folk hero status in a city that already loves him and that he loves in return. And the Winnipeg Jets can reward their long-suffering fans with a big-time playoff run.