He's Heating Up: Patrik Laine Is (Quietly) Finding His Game With The Columbus Blue Jackets

By Ed Francis on January 31, 2022 at 1:45 pm
It may not be in the dominant fashion the Columbus Blue Jackets expected (yet), but Patrik Laine is slowly showing that his time in Winnipeg wasn't a fluke.
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Patrik Laine is in his sixth season in the NHL, a number that seems about right.

He's also 23 years old, an age that seems about right.

But for some reason, the fact that he's only 23 and yet has six years of experience in the NHL seems to mystify the mind.

Laine had only been 18 for a few months when he made his NHL debut, a few weeks younger than Cole Sillinger was when he debuted with the Columbus Blue Jackets in October. He scored 36 goals and added 28 assists in his rookie season with the Winnipeg Jets, totaling 64 points in 73 games. That normally would be good enough to take home the Calder Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year, but Auston Matthews snatched that up, despite having only four more goals and one more assist in nine additional games played. (Zach Werenski finished a distant third.) 

His sophomore season, to date, has been his best. He scored 40 goals and finished with 70 points — as a teenager. Exactly half of those goals came on the power play, where he led the league in that category. For the second straight year, he made the NHL's All-Star team. 

Despite his first two seasons resulting in his best numbers, it's not as if Laine fell off the face of the earth. Year three brought 30 goals, 20 assists, 50 points, and one ridiculous five-goal game. Year four, another solid season. A stat line of 28g-35p-63p, but in just 68 games as a result of the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was in his fifth season, early in 2021, that Laine was dealt to the Blue Jackets. He had worn out his welcome in Winnipeg, and both parties wanted to move on. Columbus made the best offer, sending Pierre-Luc Dubois north of the border, and after a quarantine period as a result of the pandemic, Laine was in his new home. 

But things didn't click — he scored just ten goals in 45 games, added 11 assists, and finished with a career-low plus/minus of -29. Extrapolated over a full season, Laine would have finished with just 38 points. By far, his worst season as a professional. A multitude of reasons were possible for this, ranging from adapting to a new team and new teammates, to a rumored tough time transitioning into the preferred style of former head coach John Tortorella.

This season, the internet would lead us to believe that Laine is as "bad" as he was last season. That he's not scoring enough goals, that he's not the player he was in Winnipeg, that he's not a top-line player, etc. There are some — about 50% of voters in our current poll — who want to see Laine shipped out of town as soon as the trade deadline in March and no later than the end of the summer. 

The reality is that that's not reality. Look at his career stats if he were to have played a full 82-game season each year:

82-Game Averages for Patrik Laine
Season Goals Assists Points  Rank
2016-17    40    31    71    2nd
2017-18    44    26    70    3rd
2018-19    30    20    50    5th
2019-20    34    42    76    1st
2020-21    21    21    42    6th
2021-22    29    39    68    4th
 Career    35    29    64     x

His 68-point pace (over 82 games) this season would be more than any Blue Jacket would have had in 82 games last season. Or the season before that. Over the last five seasons, only two Blue Jackets have averaged greater than 68 points: Artemi Panarin (twice) and Cam Atkinson. The difference with Atkinson is a single point. 

This season alone, Laine has suffered an oblique injury that kept him out for six weeks, and in the midst of that, he unexpectedly lost his father, whom he was very close to. All of that, of course, came in the middle of a surging pandemic that led to an early pause for the Holiday break and the league's decision to not allow their players to play in the Beijing Olympics.

And despite that, the team leader in points per 60 minutes at 2.75? Laine. The player that opposing teams fear most on the power play? Laine. Here's one that doesn't get talked about perhaps as much as it should: the shooting talent above average. In essence, the higher the percentage, the more highly skilled that individual is deemed a shooter. Laine leads the team at 25.7%, nearly twice as strong as Oliver Bjorkstrand's 13.6%, which ranks second. Laine ranks sixth in the league among qualifying players, and is just ahead of New York's Artemi Panarin.

Laine had two goals in Sunday's 6-3 win over Montreal, his first multi-point game since returning from the oblique injury. It was his second consecutive multi-point game and for the season, Laine has five multi-point games in the 23 games he's played in. 

He doesn't have the talent that surrounded him during his time with the Jets, but he's making the most of what he has — and when the team is better, there may be no single forward that benefits more from that than Laine.

He doesn't need to be traded. Laine needs to be given a fair chance.

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