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Laine looking forward to All-Star weekend

Coach Maurice says Laine "earned" the invitation

by Mitchell Clinton @MClinton007 /

It has been a season of firsts for Patrik Laine.

His first NHL goal came in the team's home opener against Carolina. He netted his first NHL hat trick only a few nights later, in a thrilling 5-4 overtime comeback against Toronto.

Check the rookie scoring list, and the 18-year-old Finnish winger sits, where else, but first with 40 points.

This weekend, the rookie phenom will experience another first: His first NHL All-Star event.

"I'm super excited. It's an honour to be selected," said Laine. "Hopefully I can go there and have fun with the other players. I think it's quite a nice opportunity."

Paul Maurice is just as excited for Laine. The head coach is happy that Laine not only made a safe return from missing eight games with a concussion, but that the recovery also allowed the forward to attend the festivities.

"What a great honour for such a young man. He's earned it," said Maurice. "He's such an exciting player to watch. Certainly a 3-on-3 format would be fun to have him in it."

Video: Laine completes the hat trick

Even with 22 goals in 44 games, the adjustment to the smaller ice surface hasn't always been easy. Laine came to the NHL after a season that included IIHF World Junior Championship gold, IIHF World Championship silver, and an SM-Liiga championship with Tappara.

Individually, Laine was named the Finnish Player of the Year, SM-Liiga's MVP of the playoffs (Jari Kurri Award) and Rookie of the Year, and IIHF World Championship MVP.

But those accolades didn't make Laine over confident. He knew he had work to do when he arrived in Winnipeg after being selected second overall at the 2016 NHL Draft.

"It's hard to convince people because he came into the league and started scoring right away… But the quality of his game from the start until where it is now is night and day," said Maurice.

"He sits and watches his video, and he's tied into it. When he has his practice, he had a real tough practice there last week. The natural reaction for young players is to get through it. Just survive it. The veteran guys know what you're doing and they'll try to push themselves through it. He spent everything he had in that practice to get better.

"He's in that group of players that I've coached that are either elite or in the Hall of Fame, they all have a drive to be better. It's not just about playing well, winning, and having fun. They have a deep seeded drive to make their game better."

The experience the NHL All-Star game provides young players like Laine is invaluable in the mind of Maurice. Just being around perennial All-Stars and talking with them can help an elite player like Laine continue to improve.

"That's the reaction of young players that leave the game, just sitting in the room with these guys makes you feel a little bit more like them, and it's there for you," said Maurice. "They're all kids that grew up watching these guys on TV and they're gods, and they're light years away from where they are. You're 18 years old, and you're sitting in the room, you leave there thinking 'two arms, two legs. I can do this.'"

So who does Laine want to meet? Oddly enough, two of them play for the team the Jets beat 5-3 to go into the All-Star break on a winning note.

"Of course every guy there is an amazing player. It'll be nice to see guys like (Sidney) Crosby, (Patrick) Kane, and (Jonathan) Toews. Guys like that," said Laine. "I just (want to) have a lot of fun and just enjoy the weekend."

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