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This article was published 10/1/2017 (1006 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Patrik Laine arrived in Winnipeg with such humble aspirations: he just wanted to make the team.
Not only did the Finnish-born phenom easily crack the Winnipeg Jets’ opening-day roster, he’s also an NHL all-star.
Laine, 18, is the lone Jets representative on the Central Division roster for the 2017 NHL All-Star Game, the league announced Tuesday. The all-star weekend is Jan. 28-29, hosted by the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center.
"What a great honour for such a young man. He’s earned it," said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. "He’s such an exciting player to watch — in a 3-on-3 format it would be fun to have him... hopefully, he can go. And, very probably, it won’t be his last one."
The question is whether the young sniper, currently out of the lineup with a concussion, will be able to participate.
Laine, who has 21 goals and 16 assists to lead all rookies and was tied for 13th in NHL scoring before Tuesday’s games, suffered the injury Saturday in Buffalo. He is out indefinitely.
He’s been around the Jets locker room the past few days, but because he’s injured, isn’t available to speak with the media.
Maurice said he smiles when he thinks back to what the young man said during training camp.
"I laughed at that quote from the very start of the year: his goal was to make the team. He felt that and I believe he felt that," the coach said. "He certainly has the confidence he can be a great player, so he’s got some humility in this package of talent. I think because of that he’s driven to be a better player."
Only defenceman Dustin Byfuglien has represented the Jets at the all-star game since the team moved north from Atlanta in time for the 2011-12 campaign.
If Laine can’t play, expect either centre Mark Scheifele or left-winger Nikolaj Ehlers to suit up in his place.
The linemates share the team lead with 37 points apiece.
"I think the most frustrating part of the injury is the four or five games leading into it," Maurice said. "That line, and (Laine) especially, his game had made such improvements since the start of the year… hopefully, he’ll be back soon and continue on from there."
Laine was taken second overall last summer at the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo.
He had an immediate impact after making the team, scoring a goal and adding an assist in the third period as the Jets rallied for a 5-4 overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in the season opener at the MTS Centre. He already has two hat tricks, coming at the expense of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars.
Laine’s teammates say he’s an obvious candidate to represent the club in L.A.
"It’s not surprising to me," said veteran forward Mathieu Perreault. "I think, with the pace of the goals he’s been scoring and the ways he’s been scoring his goals, the skill set that he has, he definitely deserves to be in that game."
Winnipeg centre Nic Petan agreed: "It’s awesome. I think of myself as a young guy, but he’s three years younger than me. It’s pretty cool. Awesome player, awesome shot. He deserves it."
Maurice said if Laine is unable to accept the NHL’s invitation, captain Blake Wheeler would be a worthy replacement as well, noting Wheeler’s leadership on and off the ice was critical as the Jets struggled through a streak of injuries and a hectic schedule prior to Christmas.
"We’re in a block of games with seven guys out of our lineup and he’s playing with Nic Petan at centre and Kyle Connor on the left wing. And we’re on the road and we’re trying to win games," Maurice said. "Then we played him twice at centre ice in Chicago and in St. Louis and won both those games. "So, in terms of value, us surviving that very, very difficult stretch, he was maybe the most important forward we had."
Assistant 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).
Updated on Tuesday, January 10, 2017 at 4:15 PM CST: Updates