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Patrik Laine handling high expectations

by Shawn Roarke / Winnipeg Jets

HELSINKI, Finland -- The pressure on Team Finland forward Patrik Laine is immense.

Laine, 18, already is being compared by his countrymen to Teemu Selanne, perhaps the most famous Finnish NHL player of all time.

But if he's feeling any extra pressure, Laine isn't showing it.

"I just want to be brave on the ice and play my own game and our team's game," he said. "After every game we are going to check the result and see how the game was.

"I think I am used to playing under pressure. I don't think that affects me. I want to play hockey. I know I am a good hockey player so I just want to play hockey and have fun on the ice."

Selanne made his reputation with an NHL rookie record 76-goal season in 1992-93 with the Winnipeg Jets, who chose him with the No. 10 pick of the 1988 NHL Draft. He finished his career with 684 goals, the most by any Finland-born player in an NHL career that lasted 1,451 games.

Laine has yet to play a game for the Jets, who selected him with the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft. He will report to his first NHL training camp after Team Finland concludes play at the World Cup of Hockey 2016.

Yet his promising resume hasn't stopped the outlandish comparisons being generated by the Finnish hockey community, which is desperate for a new, game-changing offensive star.

"Ever since the [2016 IIHF World Junior Championship], the media has been talking about him and it is kind of unfair at times," Team Finland goalie Tuukka Rask said. "They print what kind of car he drives and when he goes to cut his hair and things like that. That's kind of unnecessary and builds up the pressure. But he is a smart kid and he is going to be able to handle that."

Laine (6-foot-5, 206 pounds) had a breakout showing at the WJC, which was played in Helsinki. He tied for the tournament lead with seven goals, and he had 13 points to help Finland win the gold medal. He was named to the all-tournament team.

Then came the playoffs in Liiga, Finland's top professional league. He had 10 goals and five assists in 18 games, helped Tappara win the championship and he won the Jari Kurri Trophy as playoff MVP. He regularly showed a flair for the dramatic, scoring the tying goal in the last minute in three straight games during the semifinal round.

At the 2016 IIHF World Championship he sent expectations through the roof. Laine had seven goals and 12 points to help Finland won the silver medal. His seven goals tied for the tournament lead, and his 12 points were the most by an under-19 player at the tournament since Sidney Crosby had 16 for Canada at the 2006 Worlds. Laine was named the tournament MVP.

"There's so many headlines about him, but I think he deserves it," said Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov, who centered Laine at the World Championship and will do so again at the World Cup. Panthers forward Jussi Jokinen will play right wing on the first line, as he did at the World Championship.

Now Laine will be expected to produce for Team Finland. He'll play left wing on the first line and also will be on the No. 1 power play. It's all heady stuff for such a young player, so much so that Selanne, an adviser for Team Finland, said Monday he plans to have a conversation at some point this week with Laine about what lies ahead, during the World Cup and after in Winnipeg.

It may not be necessary, according to those that are close to Laine. Like Selanne, Laine appears immune to the expectations placed upon him by others.

"He doesn't feel pressure," Barkov said. "He just plays. He loves hockey and he just wants to play hockey."

Said Jere Lehtinen, Team Finland general manager and a former NHL forward: "His head is so good. I don't see any concerns from that point of view."

Laine has a skill set that makes the game fun more often than not. Among his best assets is a shot that already is world-class, according to Barkov.

"I think he already has one of the best shots in the League," Barkov said. "I am amazed by his one-timer. I can pass [a bouncing puck] and he shoots it top shelf. I wish I had the same shot as him.

"[Alex] Ovechkin, [Steven] Stamkos, guys like that, he's pretty close to them when it comes to his shot."

The World Cup of Hockey, which will be held at Air Canada Centre in Toronto from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1, is Laine's first true best-on-best tournament. It also will be played on an NHL-size ice surface, which is narrower than the international surface on which he's accustomed to playing.

There is much interest in how Laine responds to these new challenges. But Rask, for one, is already convinced he has the goods to dominate because of his heavy shot and lightning-quick release.

"He is a very good shooter," Rask said. "People have said that all along and now I've gotten to experience it. It's something special to see."

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