Patrik Laine gathers up the puck at centre ice, moving in on Edmonton Oilers goalie Mike Smith. Coming in with good pace, he lasers a wrist shot stick side before reaching the hash marks in the offensive zone, and Smith can do nothing but watch it fly by his right arm for the goal, giving the Winnipeg Jets the win.
It’s not an uncommon sight for Jets fans to see Laine score goals, as the young winger has 113 career regular season goals to go along with eight playoff goals and another eight shootout goals as he begins his fourth season.
What is new for Laine is an improvement in defensive play. Often critisized in his teenage years as being ‘one-dimensional’, Laine, 21, was often seen struggling defensively and in puck battles. If there was a battle along the boards between Laine and another player, the odds suggested he wasn’t going to win it. In his first three seasons, Laine gave away the puck 154 times compared to 100 takeaways.
But something has changed this season. While just 10 games in (and acknowledging that that isn’t a large sample size), Laine’s defensive and forechecking play has improved with leaps and bounds. He’s dished out 17 hits to this point, which has helped him earn 12 takeaways. He’s also been a bit harder to win the puck from, with six giveaways. Part of this has to do with him using his 6’5”, 206 lb frame to its potential, as he uses his size to separate players from the puck, or cause them to turn it over.
With Laine still being young, despite already being in his fourth season, these parts of his play, like his ability to dish out assists, can be expected to improve. Which bodes well for a guy tied for fifth in league points.