Patrik Laine is all at once the Winnipeg Jets’ most electrifying scorer, and their most frustrating. When he’s on, he’s seemingly unstoppable. When he hits a cold streak, he’s basically invisible. So, with Laine mired in another slump, one of the lows that have come to contrast the highs of his career, it’s no surprise some Jets fans and observers would vent frustration or offer solutions. What’s surprising is some people seem ready to ship him out.
The impatience shown towards Laine is partially a demon of his own making. After all, how can a player who is at times brilliant and able to score almost on a whim, suddenly go so ice-cold? A player with lower expectations would have fewer detractors. Fans have reached the point where they expect Laine to score. They still do, even in the midst of his now weeks-long cold streak. You still hear the intake of breath at Bell-MTS Place when he gets the puck in shooting position as fans prepare to cheer.
So when Laine doesn’t score, fans grumble. A player who is perceived as a one-dimensional goal scorer not scoring is not usually met with patience. Nothing new there. What’s new is the reaction from other parts of the hockey world.
The most high-profile reaction came from Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet, who said he doesn’t believe Laine will sign long-term in Winnipeg. He also said he doesn’t necessarily see Laine staying in Winnipeg as part of their bigger future plans. It’s a reminder that sometimes media analysts can be as fickle as fanbases. Would anyone question Laine’s long-term status in Winnipeg if he was hot? Nobody was talking about this in Laine’s historic month of November.
How Young is Laine?
We often hear about Laine’s youth. “He’s just 20 years old” is a common refrain when preaching patience, and one I’ve used myself. But how young is he really? Let’s put this in perspective. Laine was born on April 19, 1998. He won’t be legally able to buy alcohol in the United States for three months. He was a teenager until the playoffs last season.
Laine is still young enough to be playing junior hockey in Canada. In fact, the SJHL’s Estevan Bruins, the team I call games for on the radio, have three players on their current roster older than Laine.
Did you know Patrik Laine is 20 years old? I have a daughter that is 20 years old. What were you doing at 20? Final year at RRC for me and I had no clue what was in store for me.
Lay off the dude. He will be fine. #GoJetsGo
— Steve (@doctor_petsche) February 1, 2019
Let’s turn to NHL comparables. Laine is the same age that Mark Scheifele was when he cracked a full-time NHL roster for the first time. That season, Scheifele went on an incredible run of futility with a 24-game goalless drought. Jets fans have likely put this out of their minds as Scheifele has turned into one of the NHL’s premier centremen since. But that season was the one that earned Scheifele the nickname “Bambi” among fans and drew calls for him to be sent to the AHL.
Laine is also the same age Kyle Connor was when he actually was sent to the AHL. The demotion is a distant memory now as Connor slowly but surely snipes his way to his second straight 30-goal season. And of course, the comparison that has dogged Laine throughout his career: Alex Ovechkin. At age 20, Ovechkin was making his NHL debut. Questions about his defensive play hounded him for the first decade of his career.
When you look at what Laine has become for the Jets by the tender age of 20, it becomes a lot easier to look at his work and realize how important patience is. After all, when Laine climbs out of this hole he’s in, and he will, his short history indicates his resurgence will be a sight to behold.
Laine Bounces Back Big
One only has to look as far back as November to see what happens when it all comes uncorked for Laine. The first signs that things were about to go his way came against the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 27 when he ripped six shots on goal. Unfortunately, the next night against the Boston Bruins was another setback.
The numbers tell the story for Patrik Laine of #NHLJets in Tuesday's game at Boston. Zero goals, zero assists, zero shots, zero shot attempts, zero hits, minus-1, 31.25% possession, 10:55 of ice time. He needs a wakeup call.
— Ted Wyman (@Ted_Wyman) January 30, 2019
The suggestions for remedies to what ails Laine have ranged from changing up his linemates to sitting him in the press box for a game. While the passive approach is often unpopular, however, it may be the right one with Laine. He has shown himself to be a streaky scorer through his entire career. That this seems to catch people by surprise every time is a little eye-roll inducing but also not really surprising. When he busts his slump, the court of public opinion will rule in his favor again.
In the meantime, however, it’s far too easy to forget not only what Laine can be at his best but also why he might not be. We’ve not even touched on the fact that he’s missing his usual running mate in the injured Nikolaj Ehlers. It’s true that Ehlers and Laine haven’t always produced together, but Ehlers’ presence in the lineup allows the Jets to put Laine with Connor. That duo has proven, in their time together, to be dynamic and dangerous.
The ripple effect a player can have by his presence in the lineup is another aspect of Laine’s game we haven’t touched on. Though he may not be scoring now, his shot still demands respect. That respect requires teams to cover him, leaving other options available. Laine may be going through a rough patch right now, arguably the roughest of his career, but this is nothing new for him. It’s tempting to write him off, and even suggest he’s not part of the long-term future in Winnipeg. The Jets, however, will undoubtedly feel differently.
So fret not, Jets fans. Laine has not become trade bait. The Jets would be crazy to abandon a young asset like this, and their track record with young players shows no signs of that insanity. Laine is not going anywhere.