After missing more than five weeks with an oblique injury, forward Patrik Laine is nearing his return to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Word of Laine's return was tweeted late Sunday by Aaron Portzline of The Athletic, with the expectation that the top-line sniper would rejoin the team sometime Monday.
Told #CBJ Patrik Laine will meet the Blue Jackets in Vancouver late tonight or early Monday.— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) December 13, 2021
While there is no mention of a return to the ice in the tweet and the Blue Jackets are yet to activate Laine from the injured reserve list, he's in the sixth week of an oblique injury that was expected to sideline the 23-year-old for four to six weeks.
His return from the injury is one thing, but Laine's return to the ice will be an emotional one. Laine's dad, Harri, passed away unexpectedly November 21st at the age of 54.
Laine had been away from the team in recent weeks to rejoin his family in Finland.
When he rejoins the team on the ice, Laine should have no problem transitioning back into his role as one of the Blue Jackets perennial forwards. Before the November 3rd injury, Laine had three goals and seven assists in nine games, averaging more than one point per game.
His absence has been most notable on the power play. While there were no power play goals from Laine prior to the injury, four of his seven assists had come while on the man-advantage. The ability Laine has to score is enough to create chances for other players, and it had paid off large for the Blue Jackets: Columbus had six power play goals in the nine games Laine was healthy, and they've bested that by only one — seven total goals — in the 17 games without him.
Overtime, too, has been a bit tougher without Laine. The Blue Jackets were 4-0 in overtime before Laine's exit, with three of the four wins not needing to go to a shootout. Laine had two of the overtime game winners.
Since his exit, Columbus has went to overtime three times. Two of them went to a shootout, one of which gave them their first OTL of the season, and it wasn't until Saturday in Seattle that the Blue Jackets got an overtime game-winner with Laine out of the lineup. Cumulatively, the team was 6-3-0 with Laine in the lineup, and they've went 8-8-1 in his absence.
His return will almost definitely pair him again with Jakub Voracek, who leads the league with 17 primary assists. Who plays between the two at center remains a mystery. That spot belonged to Cole Sillinger six weeks ago, but Sillinger has just five points (two goals and three assists) since Laine exited the lineup, and his minutes have been cut too. After seeing more than 15 minutes in eight of the first 15 games of the season, he's now went 11 straight games without seeing more than 14:03.
A majority of Voracek's ice time has been shared with Sillinger or Boone Jenner over the last month. Could Sillinger's struggles be related to not being able to play alongside Laine? If head coach Brad Larsen wants to reunite that line, a top line of Laine-Sillinger-Voracek may happen on the current road trip.
Laine-Jenner-Voracek played together, as well, but the analytics show that line may not be as productive as it they sound on paper: the trio played 75 minutes together, and their 1.92 expected goals per 60 was the lowest of any of the four Blue Jacket forward groups with at least an hour of shared ice time this season.
What about Alexandre Texier? With nine, he's tied for second on the team in goals and is already at a career high. It would be a risk, but after an impressive season so far, does Texier deserve another chance to play near (or at) the top of the lineup? Jack Roslovic has come around as of late, as well; does he get a chance?
Larsen will have plenty of options at his disposal, and with Columbus still amongst the ten best teams in the league in goals per game, Laine's return to the lineup only creates more opportunity for an offense that has beat expectations thus far.
The Blue Jackets are bottom ten in goals allowed though, so let's just hope that opportunity can outscore their opponents.