Forward finds fast Laine

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Patrik Laine tried too hard to impress his employer with his first NHL contract running out. Or, perhaps, maybe he wasn’t trying hard enough.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/10/2019 (1155 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Patrik Laine tried too hard to impress his employer with his first NHL contract running out. Or, perhaps, maybe he wasn’t trying hard enough.

Those contrasting viewpoints left the young Winnipeg Jets winger bothered and bewildered at times during a disappointing 2018-19 season, Laine admitted Thursday.

The 21-year-old is off to a solid start this season, benefiting from time on the left side of the top line with centre Mark Scheifele and right-winger Blake Wheeler. He’s been aggressive on pucks and his energy level has been cranked up in all three zones.

(AP Photo/Michael Owens) Winnipeg Jets right wing Patrik Laine, middle, seems to have found a home on the team's first line with centre Mark Scheifele, left, and right wing Blake Wheeler.

Speaking after the morning skate, Laine noted he’s having fun again, playing with a clear head — no impending contract squabbles clouding his thoughts. It’s the first time the burgeoning playmaker has admitted he was uncomfortable as a pending free agent.

“I think, last year, I was just stressed about contracts and all of that kind of stuff. Now, I have it in my pocket, so now I can just play hockey and not worry about that,” said Laine, who missed training camp before inking a two-year, US$13.5-million contract on Sept. 27.

Laine, selected second overall in the 2016 NHL draft, scored 36 goals as a rookie during the 2016-17 campaign, beefed up the total to 44 a year later but slipped to 30 last season. Despite that marvellous November, when he netted 18 goals, the 6-5, 206-pound Finn added just a dozen through the other five months. Laine said he didn’t really appreciate the meaning of maximum exertion until now.

“Still learning — every year, every day, something new. Maybe, last year, I thought I was working hard and now I feel like maybe it wasn’t as hard as I thought. I’m still 21. Hopefully, I’m gonna have a lot of games in this league and time to learn. The quicker the better. I’m trying to learn from all the pros in this room and, especially, from my linemates. That’s something I’ve gotta still work on.”

Inconsistent for much of last season and looking lazy for stretches, Laine has been anything but as he begins his fourth NHL season. He burst from the gate and was a force as the Jets picked up a pair of wins in four tries on the season-opening road trip.

“It was better than I expected, kind of had not really any expectations for this road trip. Just wanted to get out there, obviously, play well. I knew that I had a good summer training hard in Switzerland. I knew I was ready to go. It was kind of a question mark still but it’s felt pretty good so far,” he said.

“Obviously, (Scheifele and Wheeler) better players this year than they were last year. And I think for me, maybe it wasn’t clicking before because I think this year I’ve been working my back off every single shift. They’re always working together. It’s not them. I think it’s been me before that hasn’t been working and now I feel I’m always working hard every shift and that’s been the key for me and that line’s success. When you work hard every shift with those type of guys, you’ll get points somehow.”

● ● ●

Dr. Craig Slaunwhite, the Jets’ now-former director of high performance, has been hired by the NBA’s Sacramento Kings to take on similar strength and training responsibilities.

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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