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.
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
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.
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…
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Others Are Saying..
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.”
“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
“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.
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.”
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.
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.