If the 2015 NHL draft was a two-headed hype monster—McDavid and Eichel as a clear 1A and 1B—maybe it’s not to early to start thinking of 2016 not as merely the Auston Matthews draft, but as draft that brought us Matthews and Patrik Laine. The Winnipeg Jets rookie now leads the league in goals.
Laine scored three last night in the Jets’ 8-2 win over Dallas, his second hat trick in just 14 NHL games. The 18-year-old Finnish winger now has 11 goals and 15 points on the young season.
This was what we expected from Laine, in form if not in quantity: He is a scorer. He’s big (listed at 6-foot-5 and 206 pounds, and still filling out) and his shot is quick and accurate, but more than anything else he seems to have a nose for putting himself in the right place. You wouldn’t necessarily say he did the hardest work on any of his goals last night, but on each one he managed to get on net—all alone on the final two—and used his good hands to finish things up. His offensive profile tends more towards sniper than puckhandler, and he’s got work to do shoring up his two-way game, but let’s not pretend there are many things more valuable than players who have the instinct and the ability to score.
Laine was actually preferred by some scouts to Auston Matthews, and while that wisdom won’t shake out for many years, the Jets are no doubt thrilled. (And not for nothing, but Laine’s linemate Mark Scheifele leads the NHL points.) Laine’s shooting percentage is unsustainable, but even with a realistic regression he’s got a good shot at 35 goals this season. That’d be seventh best in league history for a player in his age-18 season, and the most since some guy named Sidney Crosby.