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Laine keen to hit the ice, despite potential challenges of new playoff format

Jeffrey T. Barnes / The Associated Press Files</p><p>Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine</p>

Jeffrey T. Barnes / The Associated Press Files

Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine

His hockey skills may admittedly be a bit rusty these days, but Patrik Laine hasn’t lost the dry wit or brutal honesty that makes him one of the great characters and interviews in the game.

The 22-year-old Winnipeg Jets sniper was in fine form Friday during a Zoom call with media from his off-season home in Tampere, Finland. He’s currently waiting for word on a possible resumption of the NHL season, which shut down in mid-March owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"If I look at myself and think about myself, my game’s probably going to look terrible since I haven’t skated for two months, and it’s always a struggle to come back after a long period when you haven’t skated," Laine said.

The most likely scenario is a 24-team playoff tournament in which the Jets would meet the Calgary Flames in an opening-round best-of-five series, likely in early to mid-July provided several significant health-related hurdles can be overcome between now and then.

"I don’t really care, personally (about the format). I just want to play, and I can do whatever format they decide. It’s just still hockey, but I don’t mind the format. It’s not an issue for me," said Laine. 

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said earlier this week 17 per cent of the league’s players are currently in Europe, and the league is still working with health and government officials on how to get them back into North America.

As for the prospect of playing in a hub city for an extended period of time and being isolated from family and friends, Laine said there will be some challenges.

"I think I have to bring my computer so that I can play some video games. I think it will be boring, but if that’s what it requires to play hockey still this summer, that’s fine with me. I don’t mind and I don’t need to go anywhere but my hotel room. So that would be just normal for me on the road. If that’s necessary, I don’t mind it," he said.

Laine has been staying busy overseas by working on his golf game and adding to his tattoo collection, revealing he just got his full arm sleeve finished. And while he hasn’t kept in touch with the majority of his Jets teammates, the one exception is close buddy Nikolaj Ehlers.

"I’ve been sending pics to Nikky from my Lambo (he has a Lamborghini Urus) and he’s been sending pics of his," Laine cracked. 

Laine got in a playful jab at Ehlers as he recalled his first career hat trick, in his rookie season against the Toronto Maple Leafs, which came on a two-on-one rush in overtime.

He was asked if he ever considered passing to Ehlers.  

"Absolutely not. I’m always thinking about shooting it, especially with Nikky on the other side. I had to shoot it if we wanted to score," he joked. 

Now in his fourth full NHL season, Laine was on pace for a career-best in points, with 28 goals and a career-high 35 assists in 68 regular-season games. He signed a two-year bridge deal last fall that pays him US$6.75 million per season, making him a restricted free agent with arbitration rights in the summer of 2021.

"I took some big steps this year, especially in my all-around game. It was the first time in my career I had more assists than goals, so hopefully, that’s not going to happen again. But yeah, the all-around game was good this year. Kind of get some more consistency out of my game. It was a good year. Too bad we had to stop the season," said Laine. 

He suggested there’s still plenty of room to improve, including one area that may surprise a lot of fans.  

"I think it’s just as a producer and hopefully a first-line player. Obviously getting more points is one, and just be even better in my all-around game, which improved a lot this year. But there’s always lots of room to improve. Maybe some PK (penalty kill) in the future, who knows. But yeah, just more ice time, more responsibilities and just better all around," said Laine. 

Finally, Laine put to rest any thought of bringing back his gnarly facial hair, which he sported during Winnipeg’s run to the Western Conference final in 2018 and has been seen in plenty of televised replays of those playoff games lately. 

"No. No that was once, just once for me. Once was enough. And it didn’t look good either, so I’m done with the beard," he said.

 

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg 

 

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

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.

Read full biography

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