The idea of Patrik Laine being among the league leaders in some offensive categories is far from foreign. The 21-year-old sniper is a Rocket Richard Trophy waiting to happen, he’s got potential to be a top power-play ace, and the Winnipeg Jets would probably be happy to see him among the NHL’s top shot-takers.
What Laine hasn’t traditionally been known for is piling up assists. The dangerous winger’s career high for helpers in a season is 28 back in his rookie year and he managed just 20 in 2018-19. Laine is a gunner first and any playmaking he does is a bonus as far as the Jets are concerned. That’s why it’s a surprise to see him tied for the league lead in assists after adding two to his total on Thursday.
Not only did he add a pair to his ledger, one of them was an absolute beauty as he dangled Jordan Greenway, froze Devan Dubnyk, and put Kyle Connor in position for one of the easier goals he’ll score this year.
Watching that goal, and knowing that Laine is leading the league in helpers, makes it easy to come to the conclusion that his game has evolved and he’s becoming more of a distributor. You could take those things as a suggestion Laine is taking the step Steven Stamkos managed in 2016-17 when he totalled 59 assists and rounded out his offensive profile.
Unfortunately, looking a touch deeper shows that’s just not the case. Laine’s early-season apple binge is the result of luck far more than any kind of profound change in what he’s doing on the ice. Other than the play above, only two of Laine’s seven assists have been of the primary variety. One where he was trying to find Nikolaj Ehlers in front, only for the puck to find Tucker Poolman by mistake...
... and one where he just ripped the puck on net and watched it get crammed in.
That doesn’t mean that some of Laine’s helpers weren’t good hockey plays. For example, this goal by Mathieu Perreault never would have happened if Laine didn’t apply a dogged and effective forecheck to Taylor Hall.
Plays like that are what you want second assists to reward. Similarly, on Ville Heinola’s first NHL goal Laine made a crucial play to continue the cycle and allow Mark Scheifele to set up the 18-year-old rookie.
Even though these moments reflect well on Laine as a player, they don’t demonstrate a new gear of playmaking on his part. Based on what we’ve seen so far, there’s little reason to expect anything but another year of pure goal scoring from him. That’s not a criticism of Laine’s game, if anything he’s probably been unfairly maligned for being one dimensional in the past. The reality is that if you score goals at an elite clip that’s basically all you need to do to help your team win.
What Laine’s brief flirtation with the top of the points leaderboard should teach us is that early-season statistics just aren’t to be trusted. Whether it’s team performance, player production, or league-wide trends, what we’re seeing now isn’t necessarily a reflection of what we’re going to see all year.
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