Record: 52 – 20 – 10
On the receiving end of the cross-ice pass was Patrik Laine, the Jets most dangerous shooter, in what was an unusual moment for the young Finnish sniper. The 19-year-old has built up quite the reputation for his ability to seemingly score at will. So to see him that wide open in front of the net, with no defender close and just the goalie to beat, was certainly a rare scene.
"I guess I’m so invisible in front of the net that nobody saw me. I was pretty surprised there was a lot of room," Laine would say after the game. "(Stastny) found me with a nice backhand pass and I just tried to (shoot) quickly to the net."
What happened next is something that has become all too familiar to those who have watched the young superstar, now in his second season in the NHL. Laine cradled the twisting puck for only a quick second before shooting it between the legs of Capitals netminder Phillip Grubauer, notching his 41st goal of the season, one behind Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin for the league lead.
Though it’s uncommon that Laine will find himself alone in front of the net, he often beats goalies cleanly no matter where he is on the ice. His shot — which has the rare combination of a quick release, proper mechanics and perfect timing, to go with his superb hockey sense and unwavering confidence — has quickly become the trademark of his superstardom.
No player has scored more goals over the past two seasons than Laine, who has netted twine 77 times over his 142-game career. That’s more than Ovechkin (75), Nikita Kucherov, Evgeni Malkin (72) and Auston Matthews (68) over the same span.
To perhaps best explain just how hot a start Laine has had, consider this: his goal Monday put him in sole possession of third place in NHL history for most goals scored by a player before his 20th birthday.
He is behind only Jimmy Carson (92) and former Winnipeg Jet Dale Hawerchuk (85), surpassing an impressive list that includes the greatest player ever to tie up a pair of skates in Wayne Gretzky, who had 76, Brian Bellows (76), Sidney Crosby (75) and Steve Yzerman (69).
With 13 regular-season games remaining, Laine needs just two more goals to move into a tie for fifth spot with Mario Lemieux for the most goals scored in a single season by a teenager (Carson leads the way with 55).
When the Jets selected Laine with the No. 2 selection in the 2016 NHL Draft, they knew they were getting a guy who loved to score and who could do it often. What’s been most impressive is how he makes things look so easy, with a shot that is considered by many to be among the best in the league, rivalling the likes of Mike Bossy, Brett Hull and Ovechkin.
Laine has been hesitant to speak about his techniques and approach to shooting, which he began perfecting in his parents’ backyard in Finland, where he would shoot at soda cans. But several shooting coaches, all of whom work with players at the NHL level, provided a few insights to explain his effectiveness.
Patrik Laine has notched 77 goals through 142 NHL games in two seasons with the Winnipeg Jets. The goals are broken down into two categories — “pure” shooting (a result of a clear shot on a goalie facing the puck) and “other” (tip-in, tap-in, rebounds or empty net-goals). We take a look at the shots No. 29 used to score the pure ones and where he was on the ice.
Total Goals: 77
Pure goals: 55
Other goals: (tap-ins, rebounds, dekes, empty-net): 20
• Total: 41 (18 on power-play)
• Pure: 32
• Other: 9
Type of pure shot
• Wrist shot / snap shot: 23
• Slap shot: 9
• One-timers: 11
• Left circle: 18
• Slot: 6
• Right circle: 8
• Total: 36
• Pure: 24
• Other: 12
Power play - 9
Type of pure shot
• Wrist shot / snap shot: 18
• Slap shot: 6
• One-timers: 10
• Left circle: 13
• Slot: 6
• Right circle: 5
Body type: At six-foot-five and 206 pounds, Laine has the size and strength to create a mismatch with most defenders. Perhaps his biggest advantage is the ability to use his body to create added space with the puck.
Even though Laine is a right-handed shooter who plays the right wing, he spends most of his power-play time on the left side, where 18 of his 32 "pure shooting" goals — scored off a clear shot, excluding rebounds directly in front of the net and empty-net tallies — have occurred this season.
Since Laine is mostly recognized for his goals at or near the top of the left circle, whether it be a one-timer on the power-play or a loaded shot of his own, it might come as a bit of a surprise that eight of those "pure shooting" goals — or 25 per cent — have come from the right side of the net.
"If he’s on an outside drive on the right-hand side, the angle to the net isn’t great but the defenceman can’t reach there, because he’s guarding the inside," said Svend Wiele, who played professional hockey in Germany before arriving in Canada, where he has spent the last seven years as one of Hockey Canada’s top skills coaches.
"Laine scores goals a lot like that, where he uses his wingspan to pull the puck in by maybe a foot, and then he whips the shot quickly and the defence has no chance to get there."
Type of stick: Having the proper stick is as important as anything when it comes to being an elite shooter.
Though that might seem incredibly obvious, Tim Turk, known in hockey circles as The Shot Doc after spending the past 19 years working with NHL shooters, says you’d be surprised by how many players look simply for what "feels right" and ignore other elements required to get the best out of a shot.
Laine, he adds, isn’t one of them.
"Laine has a perfect stick height, the puck is always in the pocket of his pattern on his curve and the line matches his technique really good," said Turk, who has worked with the likes of P.K. Subban, Andrew Ladd, Mitch Marner and Brendan Gallagher. "It’s not like he has to play around and kind of make the puck spin, he just naturally reacts and the puck does exactly what he wants it to do almost every time."
To better understand what he talking about, Turk said to watch the next time Laine retrieves a pass and see how quickly it takes for the puck to settle into position on his blade. While others might require time to feel the puck — an action Turk refers to as "dusting the puck" — or have to stickhandle to find that comfort level to shoot, Laine wastes almost no time in his preparation.
"Because he is completely confident that the puck is going to rest in the pocket of his blade and it’s going to get there quickly, when the pass comes across — and we’re talking like in less than half a second — the puck is on his blade, in his pocket and then in the back of the net," he said.
"The hand speed that he generates in a short distance is way above average, even at that level."
Wiele noted that Laine uses an 85-flex stick, with a low-kick point. By having a low-kick point – as opposed to a medium kick-point (often used for one-timers) or high-kick point (for all-around usage) – Laine can speed up the release of his shot.
"I compare it in some ways to Brett Hull, who was using a 65-flex," Wiele said. "He used the flex like a whip — like a slingshot — and that’s what Laine does so well."
That quick release also serves to deceive goalies. It also helps that Laine often uses defenders as a screen, rather than looking for an open shot.
"For Laine, like a lot of good shooters, or guys with quick releases, they bring the puck in. So now there arm is getting closer to their body, to their core and what is does is a bunch of little things," said Turk. "It adds power, because it’s closer to the core and it also adds more deception. So in his case, you can’t see that there’s no space between his arm and his body so the goalies can’t visualize when that release is taking place if they can’t see where the puck is. That inward pull creates so much power and deception."
Proper Mechanics: It’s one thing to have the right stick, but it’s a completely another thing to be able to use it properly.
Where skills coaches have gained the most ground is being able to break down shooting into a science by studying the biomechanics elite shooters possess.
"Just because you can shoot well doesn’t mean you can score and just because you can score doesn’t mean you can shoot well," said Ron Johnson, who has a master’s degree in hockey biomechanics and is certified by Hockey Canada as an elite coach.
What impresses Johnson most about Laine’s shot is how synchronized he is with his mechanics, which helps him reach maximum output — an impressive feat, given Laine doesn’t do much formal training.
"Try to think of shooting as physics — it’s all about leverage," said Johnson, whose resume includes working with Joe Pavelski, as well as Laine’s Jets teammates Kyle Connor and Andrew Copp. "You’re trying to load kinetic energy into the shaft of your stick any way possible and you’re trying to optimize that kinetic energy. Then you’re trying to get that stick to recoil and return that energy back into the shot and he maximizes that."
Turk added that Laine, like most elite shooters in the NHL, is near-perfect when it comes to hand positioning. Because Laine is right-handed, most of the power comes from his right hand. But it’s what he’s able to do with his other hand at the top of his stick that adds velocity to his shot and separates him from the average shooter.
"There is a motion pattern to shoot the puck— think of a catapult: you load it up with something and then on the other end you’ve got to create some sort of force — and our stick is our catapult and our top hand is the pulling force and it gives the puck its velocity," he said.
"If you pull it straight back like Laine does, with a little bit of a wrist-snap rotation to get the toe of the blade to go towards the target, that there is one reason why the puck is moving so quickly and so tight, and why often his shot generates second chances.
"And his bottom hand, watch the direction he pushes. It’s not towards the target but it’s towards the ice. If the stick is flexed, it doesn’t want to stay flexed, it wants to straighten out, so that kick-return energy, based on where that bottom hand is placed and the flex on his stick — he gets it past the six-inch point, meaning the bend is six inches from when it starts to where he pushes his hand to — is unbelievable. That’s why he’s a top-10 shooter in the NHL right now."
Confidence and passion: Laine has been blessed with all the physical traits required to be a top-end shooter in the NHL. But it’s the things you can’t always teach that has just as much a role in his success as anything physical.
"The passion for scoring is natural. For some guys it’s like a drug, when they score goals they just need more," said Johnson. "That’s really what makes guys different. Some guys are so passionate that when they get one goal, they want two and if they get two they want three — they just won’t stop. They will find any way they can to get the puck on their stick."
Laine seems to have always possessed a high level of confidence in his game, dating back to before he was in the NHL. Two years into his career, he has been honest with reporters when asked to evaluate his play and rarely ever does he appear satisfied with his production.
"Laine is that guy who just does it," said Turk. "He’s a monster when it comes to generating that power and just so passionate, not just in helping himself, but his team to succeed whenever he is on the ice."
Wiele said confidence almost looks too natural to Laine for someone his age. He often chuckles when he sees him on TV doing interviews, marvelling at just how comfortable he is under the spotlight.
"He’s the kind of player that you want to shoot all the time because he has a desire to shoot," he said. "It’s not just natural abilities or being technically sound, but all of it together. Mental toughness in any sport is just getting bigger and bigger and his mental toughness is one of the strongest in the league, especially for his age."
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
Updated on Tuesday, March 13, 2018 at 11:50 PM CDT: removes sidebar
March 14, 2018 at 2:02 PM: Tweaks headline