By trading for Patrik Laine, the Columbus Blue Jackets have an offensive threat they've lacked since the Artemi Panarin era. And for a team that ranked 27th in the NHL in goals a season ago, the acquisition is symbolic of the holes that have been ailing this team for years: a struggling power play, an inability to score an 'easy goal', and an offensive star that can bring the (proverbial) fans out of their seats.
Plenty has been written about what Laine is expected to bring to the Blue Jackets lineup, but how - and where - does he fit in their lineup? Here are three reasons John Tortorella should play Laine alongside Max Domi and Oliver Bjorkstrand on the club's top line.
The Offensive Dynamo
As soon as he walks in the locker room, Laine will be the undisputedly most talented finisher on the team. The Blue Jackets will be well-served to give him as many resources as possible to allow him an opportunity to thrive. As former Toronto Maple Leafs staffer Jack Han wrote in the fall, Laine, like most high-end shooters, is "reliant on getting quality passes from his teammates".
"Elite scorers use a small number of highly-effective plays repeatedly to achieve extraordinary production."
That isn't necessarily a knock on Laine, more so a manual on how to extract his peak effectiveness. Playing Laine with the Blue Jackets' most gifted play driver(s) is a good place to start.
We'd be remiss to not mention his underappreciated passing/playmaking skills. While Laine is known for his wicked shot, he's shown a propensity for creating for his teammates.
The Play Driver
Max Domi arrived in Columbus with high expectations. He was billed as the club's second-line center, with the hope that he would push Pierre-Luc Dubois and possibly become the team's top-line center. And while his play has been just okay in the early going, the recent trade suddenly elevates the 25-year old into a first-line role.
"Domi is by no means a perfect player - his defensive impacts are poor, he has a tendency to get out-muscled along the wall and he may not get on with every one of his colleagues." writes Han, in his analysis of Domi, "But he is undoubtedly a driver for change, whose particularly effective way of playing seems to rub off on his teammates."
Domi and Laine should benefit from this symbiotic relationship. Laine is reliant on a playmaking, play-driving player to get him quality looks. Domi can be that player, and having an elite shooter alongside him should do wonders for his confidence, and allow Domi's best assets to be brought to the table.
While it doesn't take a rocket scientist to envision Laine (who can play both LW and RW) and Domi (C) will have a chance to play together, the right-winger on that line is truly up for debate.
One school of thought is that someone like Nick Foligno, a veteran, blue-collar type player who can win pucks and has an adequate scoring touch, fits the bill. The elephant in the room with Domi and Laine is their weak defensive game, and someone like Foligno, while not a first-line player, could help stabilize that line.
While it wouldn't be shocking to see Foligno in that spot, Oliver Bjorkstrand makes much more sense. For starters, he's also an incredibly strong defensive forward.
And while Bjorkstrand's defense puts him in the conversation, his offense puts him over the top. He's no Laine, but his shot is among the best in the NHL. Opposing defenses will have to account for not just Laine, but Bjorkstrand, in transition and on the rush, as well as in the offensive zone.
Laine immediately gives the Blue Jackets a weapon they've craved for years. While his defense has come into question, the hope is the Blue Jackets defensive system (which, to be fair, hasn't been as solid yet as in recent years) should help cover up some of his - and Domi's - warts.
The Blue Jackets have to hope that a motivated Laine will be committed to improving his defensive game, but we've seen flashes of his backcheck leading to offense the other way. Check out the below clip, where he causes a turnover and is rewarded with a goal seconds later.
Laine and Domi appear to be a perfect fit for one another, with the only caveat being they lack the defensive fortitude to legitimize an NHL first line. By adding Bjorkstrand to the mix, the Blue Jackets add a third player with major offensive talents but also an impressive defensive game.
While playing someone like Cam Atkinson or Foligno may be tempting to the coaching staff, Bjorkstrand compliments this duo to perfection, creating what should be the strongest offensive line the Blue Jackets have had since the Panarin-Dubois-Atkinson days.