Three Questions: Patrik Laine Heads Into Training Camp With His Third Coach Since Joining The Blue Jackets

By Dan Dukart on August 28, 2023 at 10:15 am
Patrik Laine looks to pass against the Vancouver Canucks
Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Don't look now, but Patrik Laine is suddenly a 25-year-old veteran of nearly 500 regular-season and playoff games. He heads into training camp this fall no longer a prospect, but still a player with plenty to prove. Here are three questions surrounding the talented Finnish forward. 

How Will Laine And Mike Babcock Coexist?

Laine, who is entering his fourth season with the Blue Jackets, will be with his third head coach. Mike Babcock has spent plenty of career coaching talented, offensive-minded players, and has managed to find success with many of them. 

But Laine is perceived to be a challenging player for coaches to work with. How much of that is true is open for debate, but it's probably safe to say he's not going to win a Selke Trophy in his career. It's paramount for the star forward and new head coach to get on the same page ASAP, though. Babcock has coached plenty of talented offensive pieces, but each situation is different. How these two interact will be a storyline in and of itself throughout training camp and into the season.

Will He Be A Winger Or Center?

In the midst of last season's debacle, Laine moved from wing to center for a brief cameo. The thought process was simple. The downside is low, and the upside is interesting, if not high. Babcock referenced his desire to play two centers on every line. If things go well, it's possible that Laine is one of those eight centers. 

Even with the additions of Adam Fantilli, Dmitry Voronkov, and Alexandre Texier, it's fair to wonder who will be the four (or eight) centers on the roster. If Laine can become a trusted player in Babcock's system, it could do wonders for his confidence in other parts of the game.

The conventional wisdom thinks he'll play on the first line alongside Johnny Gaudreau and with center Boone Jenner. That's probably the right fit, but it's safe to say that he and Gaudreau weren't exactly thunder and lightning last season. If the chemistry isn't right, I would imagine he would get the demotion before Gaudreau. On the second line, he'll get (theoretically) easier defensive matchups but will play with (theoretically) lesser players. What if he plays alongside, for example, Fantilli and Kent Johnson? That could be a fun line to watch - at least when they have the puck.

Can He Stay Healthy?

In the past two seasons, Laine has played in just 56 and 55 games, missing serious time in both campaigns due to injury. Historically, that's not been an issue. He played in 73, 82, and 82 games in his first three years in the NHL, and in his first season with the Blue Jackets - the Covid-shortened season, he played 45 of 56 games. 

The Blue Jackets need to take a step this year, and much of that revolves around the play of their top players. And the play of their top players is very much tied to their ability to play games. Availability, as they say, is the best ability. 

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