TLN Draft Prospect Watch: Patrik Laine

It’s a bit of
an overstatement to say that Patrik Laine wasn’t on the radar at the start of
the 2015-16 season. He was certainly a prospect that people had their eyes on
in September, but generally as a top 15 or top 10 pick. Bob McKenzie’s rankings
had Laine at 4 and was probably pretty telling of how things would eventually
play out for the young Finn.

The
Consolidated Rankings we ran at the beginning of December had Laine as the 5th
best prospect in the draft, behind Matthews, Puljujarvi, Tkachuk, and Chychrun.
Then the World Juniors happened and by our updated Rankings in late January,
Laine was in the second overall spot, and hasn’t budged from their since, with
only Craig Button and ISS ranking Puljujarvi ahead of Laine. In their January
rankings McKeen’s had Laine ahead of Auston Matthews, and have now returned
Laine to first overall in their April rankings. Here is their explanation where
McKeens compares Patrik Laine to Mario
Lemieux.

“He’s the
first prospect that reminds me of Mario (Lemieux) since Mario,” noted one
senior NHL scout who was blown away by Laine’s performance at the WJC over the
holidays, where the 6-4 left winger compiled seven goals and six assists in
seven games while leading Finland to a Gold Medal victory at home.”

While that may seem like a bit of a stretch, whenever someone
is willing to throw out a comparison like that, it certainly makes you a bit
more curious about that player.

What Does
He Do Well?

It’s rare for someone to be considered a lock for the top
three and have skating not being part of their calling card, and in Laine’s
case, speed and acceleration are not currently part of his selling points. At
6’4, his stride has made it so he has no trouble keeping up with play in the
top league in Finland, and it’s unlilkely to be a drawback.

The three main selling points on Laine are…

1.Precise
Shot.
The same way that Phil Kessel or Alexander Semin can quickly
release a shot and have it go exactly where they need it to is something that
Laine has as well. The fact that he can hammer the puck with that accuracy is
an added bonus, and is a threat to sneak back to the point on power plays or to
take the opportunity to do a Stamkos knee drop impression.

Laine playing the point on the power play

2.Possession
via Patience.
Laine is very comfortable with the puck on his
stick, and uses his size and strength to protect it well. He doesn’t seem to
panic and relies on his vision and puckhandling skills to create space for
himself.

Start around the one minute mark

3.Size. Sigh. I
hate to include it, but let’s face it, it’s a factor that teams are valuing.
It’s also how Laine uses his size. He’s not going around crushing anyone, but
he does hit. He’s using his reach and strength to protect the puck, he creates
an effective presence in the high danger areas of the ice, and he’s an
excellent retriever. 

Drawbacks

We’ve already touched a bit on his skating, which isn’t
really flawed, just not at the same level as some of the other higher ranked
prospects in this draft. The most significant drawback is that Laine isn’t
exactly in touch with his defensive side.

Laine wouldn’t be the first high end winger to have to hear
this criticism, it’s a label that’s followed Ovechkin, Kessel, and Hall around
the NHL for years. And if you’re going to compare Laine to Mario Lemieux, one
of the best ways of doing so is by their disinterest in what happens below
their own blueline.

The nice thing about Laine is that you wouldn’t be drafting
him to kill penalties, block shots, or takeaway shooting lanes, you’d be
drafting him to be that presence on the ice, that opposition plays a little
closer to avoid Patrik being the exit strategy for the defensive zone.

Considering Laine’s comparisons, his numbers this season don’t necessarily point to a guy that will be the next Mario Lemieux. Patrik put up numbers good enough to be the 35th highest scoring player in the Liiga this year, but compared to previous underagers like Barkov, those numbers are low. That’s not to say that Laine isn’t going to be great, but just a sign we should pump the breaks on the generational talent comparisons. 

By the Numbers

Through an absolute miracle of wonderful convenience, the Finnish Liiga has begun tracking Corsi, Zone Stars, and PDO and not surprisingly, the numbers once again support that Laine is a very good player.

lainestats

Laine is averaging 17:16 minutes a night with regular usage on the power play, but no penalty kill time. From his zone starts we can see that Tappara hasn’t been too worried about using him in his own end as well, and his ice time by period is pretty much even, so he hasn’t been utilized any differently depending on the situation. 

What
Others Are Saying..

From HockeyProspectus.com

“Laine
is unquestionably one of the best sniper prospects to emerge since the likes of
John Tavares and Steven Stamkos. His game has matured a lot even during this
season and after a great performance in the WJC he has really picked up his
game in Liiga also. His lethal shot makes him a very valuable asset for any
team on the power play. Physically, Laine is already close to being NHL ready
and will probably make the leap across the pond for next season. He is nothing
but a lock to get picked in the top 3 in the upcoming draft.”

From Corey Pronman (ESPN)

“Laine possesses elite skill, an elite power game
and an elite shot. This combination of attributes makes him an absolute
nightmare to check, and has allowed him to dominate the high-skill environments
like the WJC, and the more physical, fast-paced environments like Finland’s top
professional league…”

From
McKeens

“He looks like Mario when he’s carrying the
puck,” noted one top scout during the U-20, and he wasn’t alone in that
assertion.  When asked for a comparison, Teemu Selanne brought up Lemieux
as well, and McKeen’s chief amateur scout Grant McCagg was making the
correlation between the two even before there were others echoing it…he first
made the suggestion early on in the World juniors, and he hasn’t changed his
mind.  If anything it has only been reconfirmed.
“I can’t
honestly recall scouting a forward over 6-4 with a skill set as similar to
Mario’s as Laine’s,” says McCagg. “The way he creates space when he has the
puck, his hands, his release, his shot, his vision…maybe he’s not quite at
Mario’s level…but he’s not that far off.  He’s a tier above Rick
Nash
 at the same age…and as we know both Nash and Mario were first
overall picks. I have a hard time thinking anyone should be drafted ahead of
him even if I really like Matthews a lot…I see a future 50-goal NHL scorer,
maybe a 60-goal guy. I don’t see that same upside with Matthews.”

Does He
Make Sense For the Leafs?

Let’s get the overall answer out of the way first. Yes.
Absolutely. Patrik Laine is a top talent who every team on the league would
gladly add to their roster. You can certainly debate whether he’s ahead of or
behind Puljujarvi in your draft order, but there’s really no debating who the
top three of this draft are.

That being said, the wing is the one area the Leafs could
actually consider themselves to have depth at. Mitch Marner and James van
Riemsdyk both carry some similarities to Laine, and beyond that the Leafs have
Kasperi Kapanen, Nikita Soshnikov, Connor Brown, Tobias Lindberg, Brendan
Leipsic, Andreas Johnson, Dmytro Timashov, and Jeremy Bracco in their pipeline.
None of these players are Laine, but certainly finding a winger wasn’t the most
urgent need for the Leafs.

Of course, a winger with size has been something the Leafs
have been looking for, so I’ll argue against my own point. Komarov has done a
good job of providing some edge in the top six last season, van Riemsdyk has
the size and reach, but not the physicality, and it’s still early to say what
the Leafs have in Soshnikov.

Conclusion

Potentially elite power forward that seems to find the back
of the net at will. Laine is easily one of the Top 3, and the likely
consolation prize to the team that misses out on Auston Matthews. Once that
team gets past the fact they didn’t get a center, they’ll realize they’ve got a
guy who would probably have earned more consideration for 1st
overall if he played down the middle. 

  • FlareKnight

    In the end, if they somehow get the 2nd overall pick…yeah take Laine. Sometimes you just take the BPA and let that be that. Having excess in an area isn’t a bad thing, it gives you options to make moves.

    All the skill there is just something you can’t turn down when the opportunity is presented.

    Would be equally as hyped to get this guy, even if wing isn’t the biggest immediate need for the Leafs.

    • magesticRAGE

      I hear you on that. I honestly think higher of Puljujarvi, a faster and more complete player than Laine. He has a longer reach, and with more bulk, his power game will become more dominant. He has breakaway speed, and his shot should be respected as well, just not to Laine levels. Puljujarvi is a player who wants the puck to take to the net, and his responsible play, would definitely play into Babcock’s systems.
      Just looking at his game, I would like to experiment with trying him at center.

  • Gonzomaus

    Just a little word of caution:
    I believe what the Finnish league calls “Corsi” is (shots on goal for)/(shots on goal against).
    This is also the first season they have started tracking these stats. I would take these stats with a huge fistful of salt. (His CA/60 is 39.9 for example, the LOWEST any NHL team had this season was the Devils at 42.2).

  • CMpuck

    It bears mentioning that both Laine’s and Pulijarvi’s world juniors numbers were benefitted immensely on the strength of Finland’s power play. But Finland had their team picked a year in advance and was already working on systems including the power play long before the other hockey powers, who were instead having 50 player evaluation camps just to pick their teams and who didn’t start systems until days before the tournament even started.

    Finland’s key to victory in that tournament was their special teams and they knew this and worked very hard to their credit. But none of the other hockey powers had the time or put as much effort into special teams as Finland did.

    So these two Finns appeared to be dominant but take away a bad penalty against Canada and Finland might not have even made the medal rounds. And take away a power play that beat up on weaker countries and/or teams with less prep time and the Finns don’t seem as impressive.

    Neither Laine’s nor Puliarvi’s numbers are very impressive in SM Ligga. The lowest quality professional league in Europe with an NHLe below the OHL and just above the Q. Puliarvi’s .56 pts/game is only slightly higher than Kapanen’s .51 pts/game from his draft year. Not that impressive for a 2nd/3rd overall.

    Both of these Finns are benefitting from 2 major biases: an over-emphasis on one WJC tournament, and the notion that bigger must mean better.

    If everyone else is convinced that these 2 players should go 2,3 overall, and the leafs have one of those picks the should trade down! These 2 players are good but no where near top three overall. 8th-10th at best.

    • silentbob

      I don’t know if I agree 100% with what you’re saying, but I am always…..cautious about the players who jump up several spots based on 1 stand out year before they are drafted or a good WJC the year they are drafted. Sometimes players just have a great year or a great tournament.

      It’d be interesting to get a list of players who made jumps up the draft boards like that and how they have historically turned out in the NHL.

    • magesticRAGE

      That’s what good teams do, capitalize on special teams. Finland has always been well coached with good defense, through all levels of international play. Almost all top picks are heavily used on the power-play, because they are SKILLED players. You can’t decrease a player’s ability because they belong to a well planned team, if anything it elevates it. They can execute systems.
      Puljujarvi actually had 2 WJC appearances, and was a standout in both. He has been on the radar for a long time. The fact is that scouts, people who judge players for a living, in mass agree that they are top 3 talent. You are the first I’ve heard that thinks otherwise. I saw most of the tournament and a lot of clips, they are legit talent, regardless of size. Being big usually means harder to move and longer reach, which means a natural advantage. I just don’t see your logic.

    • CMpuck

      “Neither Laine’s nor Puliarvi’s numbers are very impressive in SM Ligga. The lowest quality professional league in Europe”

      lol you really have no idea what you’re talking about lmfao

      First of all the Finnish league is the second highest league in Europe, just barely behind or equal to the Swedish league. Both trounce all over any North American league bar NHL. And yes, it’s a better league than the Swiss league where Matthews played.

      Second of all, about the numbers not being impressive… Laine is the leading goal scorer in the playoffs by a large margin and he broke the record for most goals scored by a rookie and U18 player in the league playoffs, ever.

      Both players played at about a point per game in the playoff series. They didn’t just score pointless goals in a peewee series against kids in a North American kids league like the other candidates on the list. You had a glimpse of what that would be like when they played in the WJC (broke the all time scoring record, just FYI)

      And it’s Puljujarvi btw. And you can go watch both their highlight reels from multiple years in the U20 and U18 WJC, they’ve been on the radar for a LONG time.

    • magesticRAGE

      So you are telling that SM-Liiga is the lowest quality league in Europe? That statement only tells us that you have no clue about european hockey. Finlands top league SM-Liiga is ranked the most high-quality league in europe with Swedish SHL. For example Extra liga from Czech republic and the League A from Switzerland comes way behind SM-Liiga.

      I prefer the statements what the scouts are telling, that Laine could be number 1 over Matthews, who plays in League A that is (I’m sorry to tell) easyer league then SM-liiga. If you don’t believe it check out the european-trophy (now days Champions hockey league) top 8 teams since it started and you will see that allmost every one of those 8 are from SM-liiga or SHL.

      ps. European trophy (Champions Hockey League) is a tournament, where are all the best teams from Europe.

  • silentbob

    why do you hate to include size in a players list of attributes? It is/can be a factor in a hockey game/to a hockey player.

    It doesn’t matter what position a player plays, if he is the best player available when the Leafs pick thats who they should take. Not all the Leafs wingers listed will be in NHL players, some can moved to center (specifically looking at Marner), and if in 3-4 seasons the Leafs problem is “we have too many good wingers”……how is that bad thing? They are now able to make deals from a position of strength to address weaknesses.

    • Doeb

      I think the only tangible advantage that being big has, is that people perceive it to be a big advantage.

      Big players automatically draw more attention from coaches, they get more ice-time and are paired with better players as compared to smaller players. When a big player struggles, coaches make excuses like “he’s in a rut” and the keep playing them. When a smaller player struggles coaches say “I knew that small guy couldn’t do it”.

      It’s not true that being big protects you from getting hurt. Probably the opposite. He who plays with fire sometimes gets burned.

      • silentbob

        HOckey is a physical game – a player who is bigger and stronger then other players as an advantage in battles that take place on the where strength is a key factor. They also have a reach advantage & can generally generate more power in their shots.

    • Gary Empey

      We can do better in this draft than grabbing another prospect with skills that are only slightly superior to those of Kapanen’s. .56 pts/gm vs. .51 pts/gm in the same pro league! We can do better than that.

      Dubois, Chychurn and Tkachuk are all superior draft choices compared to either of the Finns. If we could trade down grab one of these three, and get a 2nd round pick, I would prefer that immensely!

      I’m sure Dubas and Hunter will see right through the hype of these two.

  • Doeb

    the 1st comment the writer makes, on whether Laine was on the radar at the season’s beginning, the response to this statement also answers issues about what he did before, and how consistent his development is.before the 2015 world U18,he was in Mestis, not getting minutes, but still a 16 year old promoted to the mens league. as a 16 year old at U18, he dominated more than at the following Juniors, averaging over 1 gpg. some of the writer’s other comments, about daring to ask if size matters, or should a team take BPA at 3rd, are just weird.

  • magesticRAGE

    the 1st comment the writer makes, on whether Laine was on the radar at the season’s beginning, the response to this statement also answers issues about what he did before, and how consistent his development is.before the 2015 world U18,he was in Mestis, not getting minutes, but still a 16 year old promoted to the mens league. as a 16 year old at U18, he dominated more than at the following Juniors, averaging over 1 gpg. some of the writer’s other comments, about daring to ask if size matters, or should a team take BPA at 3rd, are just weird.

  • magesticRAGE

    the 1st comment the writer makes, on whether Laine was on the radar at the season’s beginning, the response to this statement also answers issues about what he did before, and how consistent his development is.before the 2015 world U18,he was in Mestis, not getting minutes, but still a 16 year old promoted to the mens league. as a 16 year old at U18, he dominated more than at the following Juniors, averaging over 1 gpg. some of the writer’s other comments, about daring to ask if size matters, or should a team take BPA at 3rd, are just weird.

  • Gary Empey

    The good news is, at the beginning and mid-term the consensus was there is Matthews then consolation prizes. That has definitely changed. One can’t ignore the fact that so many scouts are rating Laine #2 and Puljujarvi number #3. I think one would be foolish to underestimate the CHL talent this year. For once the Leafs are sitting pretty in this years draft. I don’t rate the Finns as low as “mst”. I do think passing on Dubois, Chychurn and Tkachuk must be carefully considered.

  • Gary Empey

    Re- ” skating not being part of their calling card’

    How can a scout compare him to Mario Lemieux? One of the smoothest skaters to every play the game