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This article was published 6/9/2018 (345 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It turns out his scraggly beard isn't the only thing Patrik Laine lost this summer. The clean-shaven Winnipeg Jets sniper also shed 14 pounds since last season ended, a move he believes will add yet another weapon to his already impressive arsenal.
A leaner-looking Laine arrived in town earlier this week and has been participating in informal on-ice workouts with many of his teammates at Bell MTS Iceplex.
"I tried to get quicker, more speed, tried to lose some weight so I can get faster. It feels pretty good," Laine said following Thursday's skate which included more than half of the regulars from last year's NHL squad.
Laine, 20, said no crash diet was required — he simply made a few adjustments to his snacking.
"I didn’t eat any s—t food," he said. "Not a lot of candy, not a lot of sugars."
Laine possesses one of the most lethal shots in the game, a major contributor to the 80 regular-season goals he's scored in his first two seasons since being selected by the Jets with the second-overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft.
But his foot speed is definitely an area that can use some improvement, and Laine said he's taken the necessary steps to address that.
"Obviously when you lose weight it’s easier to be quicker. I tried to work on those couple first steps during the summer and it feels good," said Laine.
Another big change this summer was the number of times Laine hit the ice while training in Finland. Last year, he arrived to camp in September and said he'd put on the blades only about a half-dozen times while also bulking up by adding muscle and weight.
"When August started I started to skate a lot. Much more than six times," Laine said. "That was one of the things I wanted to change, to be on the ice more and be ready when the camp starts."
And so what might this mean for a player who put up 44 goals in his sophomore season, after an impressive rookie debut of 36?
"I don’t know yet, the season hasn’t started," said Laine.
He hasn't set any specific targets for himself but admits winning the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's top goal-scorer is in his sights. He finished second last season, trailing only Alexander Ovechkin's 49 tallies.
"If I see myself improving that’s gonna be enough for me. I just want to be a better player and help my team win more. If I can do that I’ll be happy," said Laine. "When the team plays well and you do the small things that need to be done for your team, you’re going to get rewarded at some point. That’s just the main focus, and the goals will come if I work hard."
Laine is entering the final year of his entry-level deal and is due for a massive raise next season, with some pundits believing he could be looking at something in the range of $10 million per season. With Blake Wheeler's five-year extension announced earlier this week, talk has naturally turned to whether Laine may also ink a new contract now rather than wait until next summer.
Laine said he isn't aware of any ongoing discussions between his agent and Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, who has had plenty of other higher-priority contracts to deal with so far this summer.
"If they are talking that’s their business. I just want to focus on playing here and, like I said, I’ve got one more year so I don’t have to hurry it," he said. "I think I'm not who makes the decision. I'm going to do whatever guys want me to do. I'm just excited to be back and get this season started."
Laine said it's impressive to see players such as Wheeler being here for the long term, along with other core pieces like Mark Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck and his best buddy, Nikolaj Ehlers. He's also not surprised to see such a huge turnout already in Winnipeg still a full week ahead of the official start of training camp.
On Thursday, Laine joined Wheeler, Bryan Little, Adam Lowry, Brandon Tanev, Marko Dano, Jack Roslovic, Tyler Myers, Josh Morrissey, Dmitry Kulikov, Ben Chiarot and Joe Morrow as other regulars from last year's team all skating together.
"I figured I’d come a bit early and skate with the guys. It’s always better to have a lot of guys already," said Laine, who arrived a day before camp last season.
"Everybody wants to get the season started. It’s kind of knocking on the door already. Just excited to be back, and I think everybody feels the same way."
Laine said expectations will be high heading into this season following last year's run to the Western Conference final, but nothing is going to come easy.
"It's going to be hard. Even harder because we’re not the only team that wants to improve. There’s still 15 teams that won’t make it (playoffs). We can’t assume that we’re going to do it again. Obviously we want to and we have the ability to do that. It’s not going to be even easier because last year we did it. We just have to be prepared and hopefully do the same thing," he said.
One big question heading into camp is who will be Laine's centreman. Paul Stastny found instant chemistry with Laine and Ehlers after joining the team at the trade deadline. But Stastny opted to sign with Vegas on July 1, creating an intriguing job opening. Potential options include Little and Roslovic.
"We had a great run when Paul joined the team. It was unfortunate to see him sign somewhere else but that’s how it is. You just gotta deal with it and just play with the guys that coach tells you to play with. We have a lot of good guys on the team, so we don’t need one guy," said Laine.
In addition to focusing on his fitness this summer in Finland, Laine also got to play in a charity hockey game on the same line as Jets legend Teemu Selanne. The pair also played tennis against each other.
That prompted the question of who was better on the court.
"Well I think he is right now. But he has all the time in the world to play every day and I still gotta focus on my hockey. But I’ll try to catch him," said Laine.
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.
Updated on Thursday, September 6, 2018 at 4:41 PM CDT: full write-thru, added photos