Laine returns with a hat trick of one-liners Fun never stops for red-hot Finn

Patrik Laine has always been a straight shooter, both on and off the ice. Not to mention a bit of a budding standup comedian. And the former Winnipeg Jets sniper was in fine form Friday as he made his much-anticipated return to the city.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/03/2022 (193 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Patrik Laine has always been a straight shooter, both on and off the ice. Not to mention a bit of a budding standup comedian. And the former Winnipeg Jets sniper was in fine form Friday as he made his much-anticipated return to the city.

“Excited to see — not you guys, obviously — but everyone else,” the Columbus Blue Jackets winger cracked, seconds after entering a jam-packed media room at Canada Life Centre. Zing.

Laine, 23, was only getting warmed up. On facing best buddy Nikolaj Ehlers for the first time ever, the pride of Tampere, Finland fired off this verbal blast.

“He better keep his head up and watch out,” Laine joked. “If I get a chance, it doesn’t matter who is it…there’s no friends out there. Hopefully, I can snipe a couple on Helly at least. Not gonna make any promises, but I’ll try to at least.”

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Former Winnipeg Jet, Patrik Laine, who was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2021 talks to the media about playing his first game as an opponent in the Canada Life Centre. 220325 - Friday, March 25, 2022.

Turns out it was Eric Comrie, not Connor Hellebuyck, who started in goal for Winnipeg. But the bravado was appreciated. As for what he expected from the Jets faithful in his first game back since the January 2021 blockbuster that sent him and Jack Roslovic to the Blue Jackets in exchange for Pierre-Luc Dubois, Laine offered this bulletin-board gem.

“For us to win. That’s what I expect,” he said, with a sly smile. “From the fans, I have no clue. I don’t know. I’ll take whatever they give me. Just try to be the same guy on the ice, and off the ice, that I was here. And I think that’s just it.”

Beneath the yuk-yuk routine is a quality human being, a sincere and genuine young man who seemed humbled by all the attention he was getting. And there’s no question this was a special day for him.

“Kind of nervous a bit, not gonna lie,” said Laine.

“It’s definitely been marked on my calendar. Especially just playing Winnipeg. Obviously, didn’t get the chance to play them when they were in Columbus (Laine was injured for that November 2021 game). I’ve waited for this day for a while. Not so much playing Winnipeg, but just coming back here and playing in front of these great fans again. It’ll be fun. I enjoyed every minute of playing here. Because of the fans. This is one of the best places I’ve ever played hockey, when I played here. So, it’ll definitely be exciting.”

“It’s definitely been marked on my calendar. Especially just playing Winnipeg.” – Patrik Laine

Laine came to town on a heater, with a sizzling 19 goals and 14 assists in his last 24 games prior to facing the team that drafted him second-overall behind Auston Matthews in 2016. After a bit of a sluggish start which included missing almost two months with injury, along with the death of his father, he is up to 25 goals and 23 assists through 45 games. That’s the best point-per-game average of his career, now in his sixth full season.

“Yeah, it’s been kind of a roller-coaster emotionally this year,” said Laine. “It’s been definitely one of the toughest years, not hockey-wise, that I’ve had. But I think it’s just a good time to learn and grow as a human. I feel like I’ve done that so far. It’s been a weird one.”

Laine, just like Dubois last year in Winnipeg, struggled to immediately adapt to his new surroundings. He had just 10 goals and 11 assists in 45 games in ‘20-21, and hopes of a long-term, big-money contract seemed to be fading.

“Last year was just overall tough. I didn’t want to think about anything,” Laine said. “Right now, just appreciate the time that I spent here. All the great memories here. A lot of great times. But now, just happy to be where I am right now. Obviously miss a lot of the guys still. Try to keep in touch with them. It was a great chapter I had. I had a lot of fun and enjoyed it. But it was time to move on for myself and for the team. Really happy with where I am right now.”

“It was a great chapter I had. I had a lot of fun and enjoyed it. But it was time to move on for myself and for the team. Really happy with where I am right now.” – Patrik Laine

Just as Dubois has taken flight this year in Winnipeg, Laine looks the part of an elite player in Columbus. He is making US $7.5 million this year and will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer. Indeed, he’s learned some painful but valuable lessons along the way.

“I’ve always believed, and I’ve been told, that every time you work hard, the success is going to come at some point. It didn’t come last year, and I wasn’t working hard enough. That’s no secret,” said Laine. “Kind of let it go at times. But try to learn from your mistakes and not make them happen again. So, that’s kind of what I took from last year, that I don’t want (that) kind of season ever (to) happen to me again.”

Columbus coach Brad Larsen said it’s not just Laine’s highlight-reel one-timers and offensive ability that stand out, but his work away from the puck. In what will certainly sound familiar to Jets fans, he described a player who can often be his own worst critic.

“He’s still a young man and what’s exciting is that I think his game is growing and I think he’s seeing it, he’s feeling it,” said Larsen. “That’s the one thing with Patrik, there was always talk about him being lazy or (having bad) body language or different things but what you understand a little bit better, it’s not a selfish thing. He puts a lot of pressure on himself. He wants to be a great player every night and I don’t know if he’s handled it perfectly every time and he would probably self-admit that, but I think he’s growing from that.”

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS "From the fans, I have no clue. I don’t know. I’ll take whatever they give me. Just try to be the same guy on the ice, and off the ice, that I was here," Laine said.

Larsen, who played nearly 300 NHL games himself, described Laine as a “one per center” in that he can do things very few others can.

“He’s a special player. All of those things Winnipeg saw for a lot of years, you’re starting to see that at a consistent pace,” he said. “If that trajectory keeps going up, he keeps maturing his game and adding – we talked about adding to the toolbox. Brad McCrimmon, who coached me – may God rest his soul – talked about that a lot. When I played and when I started coaching, I talked with him a lot, and he said you always got to be adding to your toolbox, or you fall behind. So, if (Laine) keeps adding like what we expect from all our guys, yeah, he can be a real dangerous player here for a lot of years.”

Before he headed back to the visitors room at the downtown rink — something he admitted was a strange feeling — Laine was asked if he’s been keeping tabs on his old team, and whether he has any idea why the Jets have struggled to find consistency.

“I wish them all the best. Just not (Friday night).” – Patrik Laine

As per usual, he answered with honesty. And a dose of dry humour.

“Obviously always checking the scores and how the guys are doing. A lot of the guys have had great years,” said Laine. “For the team’s success, I have no idea. I haven’t watched it enough. It’s not really my job to try to analyze why are they where they are right now. Just happy for the guys, a lot of my good buddies, they’re having really good years. I wish them all the best. Just not (Friday night).”

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Patrik Laine was in fine form Friday as he made his much-anticipated return to the city.
MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Former Winnipeg Jet, Patrik Laine, who was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2021 talks to the media about playing his first game as an opponent in the Canada Life Centre. 220325 - Friday, March 25, 2022.
MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Former Winnipeg Jet, Patrik Laine, who was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2021 talks to the media about playing his first game as an opponent in the Canada Life Centre. 220325 - Friday, March 25, 2022.
MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Former Winnipeg Jet, Patrik Laine, who was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2021 talks to the media about playing his first game as an opponent in the Canada Life Centre. 220325 - Friday, March 25, 2022.
Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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