There are times when Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine can fill a reporter’s notebook almost to the same extent he fills an opponent’s net. During a videoconference call on Friday, when Laine spoke to reporters from his hometown of Tampere, Finland, there were flashes of “the unfiltered Finn.”
The 22-year-old star forward, who says he has mostly been hanging out and watching a lot of movies and TV shows during the coronavirus pandemic, offered up a brutally honest self-assessment of what he is expecting when training camp eventually begins.
“If I look at myself and think about myself, my game is probably going to look terrible because I haven’t skated for two months,” he said.
But Laine is confident he can regain his form in time for what he expects will be a good playoff run, with everybody rested and hopefully healthy, in part because he was having what he considered to be a pretty good season when NHL play was paused on March 12.
“I took some big steps this year. Especially my all-around game. (It was the) first time in my career I have more assists than goals, so hopefully that’s not gonna happen again,” Laine joked with reporters.
The second overall pick of the 2016 entry draft was almost a lock for his fourth consecutive season of 30 or more goals to begin his NHL career, sitting on 28 to go along with 35 assists for 63 points in 68 games.
Laine’s previous best assist total was 28 during his rookie season. But first and foremost, he’s a shooter, and being relied upon as a producer is among the goals he has set for himself in the years to come.
“Hopefully, a first-line player, and obviously getting more points,” Laine said. “Be even better in my all-around game, which improved a lot this year. Maybe some PK (penalty killing) in the future, who knows.”
Laine’s performance certainly backs up that claim. He went from a team-worst -24 ranking in 2018-19 to an eight this season, which was the fourth-best ranking on the Jets. So was it spending more time breaking down video that helped him become a much better 200-foot player?
“It’s honestly helpful since there is so much video available these days,” said Laine. “But I’m not one of those guys who always watches their shifts after the game and after every shift. If I want to see something — a specific play or something I want to improve — then I’ll watch it. Otherwise, I’m not a big video watcher.”
But Laine is a big video game player. And he says that hobby will be relied on if the Jets do wind up quarantined in a hotel in one of the NHL’s selected “hub cities” when the season resumes.
“I think I’ll have to bring my computer so I can play some video games because I think it will be boring,” Laine said. “But if that is what it requires to play hockey this summer, that’s fine with me. I don’t need to go anywhere from my hotel room so I think that would be just normal for me.”
Laine doesn’t have an opinion either way on the 24-team bracketed format the NHL Players’ Association executive board is voting on as part of the league’s return-to-play strategy.
“I don’t really care, personally. I just want to play, and they can do whatever format they decide. It’s just still hockey.”
In the meantime, Laine says he’ll continue to play golf with his friends, which he feels is going pretty well because of a dialled-in driver. He’ll also continue to send pictures of his “Lambo” to his good buddy and sometimes linemate Nikolaj Ehlers, who apparently sends pictures of his Lamborghini right back to Laine.
But one thing Laine won’t be bringing back is that playoff beard from the Jets’ memorable playoff run to the Western Conference final two years ago.
“Once was enough,” he said. “It didn’t look good, either. So I’m done with the beard.”
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