Many young players go through some rough patches during the early stages of their careers. Be it a sudden decline in shooting percentage, struggles to adapt to the NHL caliber of competition, or the pressures of being a kid in an adult sport, it can be a psychologically isolating and distressing experience. Few players on the Jets roster may be facing as much internal pressure as Patrik Laine, the blond-haired starlet from Finland. After posting two seasons of over 35 goals each, something cratered for Laine in 2018-19. He was, in many ways, breaking apart...
To put it bluntly, Laine was one of Winnipeg’s worst overall skaters, ranking in the bottom fifth of the roster in almost every category. His lines got absolutely pummeled in scoring chances against, and his ability to get pucks on net was a shadow of its normal self. Even Laine’s infamous shooting percentage took a bit of a nosedive. What on earth happened to him this year?
For one thing, the Jets as a whole took a tremendous step back in their quality of play when compared to the 2017-18 season. Only 5 Winnipeg skaters still on the roster posted above a 50% CF, and almost the entire top-6 was excluded from this group. The Jets got smoked, and no combo got as heavily crushed as the Little-Laine combo. For some reason, those two together spelled absolute disaster for Winnipeg anywhere near the defensive zone. Stranger still was the fact that Laine was then asked to facilitate zone transition on a near constant basis. His skating and poor board work are pretty well known. Why force him to make plays for his linemates that they’d be better suited to helping him with?
Maurice’s commitment to the Little-Laine duo continued for most of the season, and things didn’t improve much when Laine was paired with Scheifele. Though Patrik was able to make better use of his teammates with the more dynamic Scheifele in tow, Scheifele’s own performance was cratering around the same time. No matter where Laine went, his defensive deficiencies weren’t going to be masked like the previous season. Everyone considered crucial to Winnipeg’s offense was playing below par.
It’s genuinely hard to say what’s going to happen with Laine next season. While he has had struggles in his own end, he’s shown visible improvements in trying to pre-empt reads and better handle zone breakouts. Patrik’s still got a long ways to go, but I’m hoping this season was more an aberration than a continuing trend. Laine’s due for a contract extension soon, but the rumor mill has been abuzz around his future with the Jets. It’s impossible to say what his long-term plans are, but Winnipeg needs to make sure it makes the right choice with him. Players with generational goal-scoring ability don’t come around often, and selling low on Laine before we’ve seen his best would be a shame.